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Old Bridge tops North Brunswick in the GMCT quarterfinals
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Old Bridge tops North Brunswick in the GMCT quarterfinals

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NORTH BRUNWICK – When Frank Paepo drove around first on a key late home run, he had an whoops.

As in: oops, I forgot to touch first base. So the eldest of the Old Bridge simply turned around, stomped on the white square and then continued walking. He could laugh about it later.

“I just kind of missed the bag,” he said, laughing. “It happens.”

And that seemed to sum up the Knights’ 8-5 victory over North Brunswick in the quarterfinals of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament on Wednesday.

More: Baseball May recap: results, analysis, links for GMC, Skyland and Union County area

It may not have always been smooth or pretty, but the third-seeded Knights found a way to straighten things out and avoid the upset against 11th-seeded North Brunswick.

Old Bridge trailed 4-0 and 5-4, but came back with four runs in the bottom of the sixth, highlighted by Papeo’s two-run explosion to seize the lead.

Both teams showed gritty playoff baseball and found ways to score.

“It’s just the environment,” Old Bridge coach Matt Donaghue said. “The quarter-final brings a bit more pressure, so the boys just tried to do too much. Once they calmed down and settled into the game, they started playing the way they know how to play.

And that is hitting on time. Really, it was small ball and moving the runners that got the Knights back in.

JT Meyer hit an RBI single in the fourth to cut the deficit to 4-1. An inning later, No. 9 hitter Christian Cavanaugh led off with a single, followed by a single by John Smith and runscoring singles by Chris Crosta and Papeo. Another run was scored on Justin Hascup’s ground-out, making the score 4-4.

North Brunswick took a 5-4 lead in the top of the sixth inning on their third unearned run of the game.

The Knights calmly rallied in the bottom half of the inning. No. 7 hitter MJ Altman led off with a double and Meyer’s RBI single brought him home and tied the score, 5-5. After an out, Crosta came through with an RBI double and Papeo’s shot made it 8-5.

Luke Hagen picked up the save with a scoreless seventh.

Starter Justin Hascup allowed two earned runs in five innings for the win. He was helped by second-year second baseman Crosta, who made a diving stop with the bases loaded to get out of the inning.

“It’s never easy to give up three unearned points in a quarter-final game and stay calm, and he kept his composure,” Donaghue said. “He kept us in the game and limited the damage. Crosta comes up with that bases-loaded diving play, which is huge. That could have been two runs if he didn’t make that play. Baseball is a funny game, you know.”

North Brunswick opened a 4-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning when Avery Price got a two-RBI double to left field and scored two runs on an error. Price, Tim DeGaetano and Kyle Anderson each had two hits and Alejandro Jabar struggled in his start, giving up four runs in four innings.

But the day belonged to the Old Bridge. The Knights will play 10th-seeded Sayreville, which upset No. 2 Woodbridge 4-3 in Saturday’s semifinals.

“We usually talk about it,” Hascup said. “If we keep the energy high, it’s very difficult to beat us – keep the energy high. And once we started swinging and getting more aggressive on the record, we were done.