Old Bridge High School has been really good in softball for a few years now.
But the Knights just can’t quite win a trophy in the spring sport.
In 2017, they lost in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament championship game to Montgomery High School, 1-0. One year later, Old Bridge dropped the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament title game to Bishop George Ahr High School, 4-3.
Two championship losses by a single run in consecutive years. That’s heartbreaking stuff.
But it won’t stop this year’s Knights from trying again, and they may just have enough talent to win that elusive trophy.
“We feel really good,” said senior shortstop Jessica Gaughan. “There’s a lot of positive energy.”
Old Bridge is 1-2 through three games. It beat Colonia High School, 9-3, on the road on April 4.
That victory should be the first of many. The Knights have the three essential ingredients for high school softball success.
A leadoff hitter who almost always gets on. A power hitter who almost always brings her home. And an ace pitcher who can dominate anybody.
Gaughan is the leadoff hitter.
She struggled with injuries during her first two high school seasons, missing about half of each campaign. But Gaughan broke out last spring with a .498 batting average, 47 hits and 31 runs scored.
“Jess just works hard,” said Old Bridge coach Angela D’Amico. “She will do anything it takes.”
After a bad day at the plate, Gaughan brings her bat home and takes extra swings in the batting cage in her backyard. Those reps have turned the senior into a spray hitter to all fields. She doesn’t hit for power, but she usually makes hard contact.
“I like setting up the game with a good at bat,” Gaughan said.
“It feels like she gets on to lead off every game,” D’Amico said.
Junior first baseman Paige Nugent is the power bat behind Gaughan in Old Bridge’s order. Like her teammate, Nugent enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2018, batting .474 with two home runs, seven doubles and 27 runs batted in.
The 5-10 slugger swings hard and hits the ball even harder. Her hits “pick everybody up,” D’Amico said.
For Old Bridge to score a lot in 2019, Gaughan and Nugent just have to reprise their roles from last year.
“The two of them produced a lot together,” D’Amico said. “Hopefully they do the same this year.”
They will also have plenty of help throughout the rest of Old Bridge’s lineup. Sophomore outfielder/second baseman Mariah Carrasco batted .362 last spring. Sophomore left fielder Sam Wares and sophomore designated player Gianna Volk both ripped multiple hits in the team’s season opener this year.
And the Knights’ lineup will be backed by that ace hurler, Angelina Casey. At the beginning of last season, Casey was in a three pitcher battle for her team’s top rotation spot. But by the second half of the year, D’Amico “couldn’t not pitch her.”
Casey’s calm temperament helped her succeed against players three and four years older than her.
“She always had the same expression,” D’Amico said. “We expect her to continue where she left off.”
The coach also expects her ace to improve in 2019. Last year, Casey proved she could play on varsity. Now she has to show that she can thrive.
“I need to have more energy and keep it up,” Casey said. “I even put the word ‘energy’ on my wrist every day to remind me to have it during the game.”
“I’m hoping with a year of experience she’ll find more success,” D’Amico said.
D’Amico feels the same way about her team. The title defeats were hard, but they also strengthened Old Bridge’s resolve.
“Those experiences should help us win,” D’Amico said. “We hope to win a title.”