Holup helps Jackson to Ocean crown
Brandon Holup practically cringes at the suggestion he’s established himself as Jackson’s ace.
Perhaps, it’s because the mere thought contradicts the modest demeanor and unassuming style that has clearly earned him such consideration.
The senior right-hander doesn’t have the velocity that sends fans racing to sneak a peak at the nearest radar gun or the 12-to-6 break on his curve that buckles knees.
But, what Holup does possess is a quiet assuredness that the heady command delivered with each effortless offering is good enough to outwit an opposing lineup. Even greater than that, he operates with the utmost respect from a pitching coach that knows a little something about the art and the backing of teammates who have no doubt he’s well-equipped to have the ball in big-time games.
Holup reward all that faith by crafting arguably the finest performance of his career. The senior right-hander showed unlimited confidence in his curveball, which enhanced the pace of fastball, in spinning a three-hit shutout that lifted top-seeded Jackson, No. 3 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, to a 1-0 triumph over sixth-seeded Brick Memorial in the Ocean County Tournament final on Thursday night at Toms River North.
The victory was particularly sweet for Jackson, which bowed in the championship game in each of the last two seasons and hadn’t won the event since the OCT debuted back in 1972. And, it was achieved behind a pitcher who only continues to improve each time he’s handed the ball.
“He finally has that sense of belonging,” said Jackson pitching coach J.M. Gold, just a few feet away from the mound on which he starred as a dominating right-hander who was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round of the 1998 MLB draft out of Toms River North.
“The thing with Brandon was just getting him some experience. He climbed the ladder last year and became the guy we threw in big games, even though he didn’t fully believe he belonged in those games yet. He got his feet wet and you see the progression this year. He’s gone up against some studs and went out there and done what we expect. We know what we are going to get from him.
“He has worked his butt off. He’s that guy who you never have to ask if he’s putting in his work on an off day. He keeps coming and he’s still getting better as the season moves along. Nothing gets to him. He keeps his poise and throws everything for strikes. If you walk up to a field without a scoreboard, you’d never know if he was up, 12-0 or down, 12-0. He deserves all the credit. He’s come so far so quick and this was the hardest he’s thrown.”
Holup couldn’t have been much more efficient, using 87 pitches to notch his second straight shutout in the OCT and lock up the tournament’s Most Outstanding Pitcher award. The East Stroudsburg-bound hurler registered eight strikeouts against one walk and saved his best for the final inning.
After opening the top of the seventh with a strikeout, Holup yielded a single to Kevin Corris and pinch-runner Kyle Skoog stole second to put the tying run in scoring position. Holup wasn’t the least bit fazed, roaring back with two more strikeouts, both on curves to stamp the win.
He retired nine of the last 10 batters he faced, six by strikeout.
“It was really important,” Holup said of the reliability of his breaking ball. “This season, I’ve been throwing it a lot more and it was almost 50 percent of my pitches tonight. I have a lot more confidence in it. Then, I can locate my fastball and get guys off balance.”
“He’s gaining velocity and movement on his pitches. I can tell a big difference from last year just in the way he carries himself on the field,” Jackson junior catcher Matt Thaiss noted of his batterymate. “He’s humble but he has that confidence when he’s out on the mound that he’s going to strike out everyone.”
Also important is the quick pace Holup settles into. There’s no strolls around the mound during a performance, just a honed-in approach that keeps those eager to work behind him completely focused on the task at hand.
“He gets one run and you still feel comfortable and that gets us rolling on defense,” said Jackson senior shortstop Joe Ogren, who batted .416 with three doubles in four OCT games to earn tournament MVP. “It’s one of the best feelings making plays behind him.”
Jackson (19-2) got all the support Holup would need in the bottom of the first. Senior left fielder Nick Petrizzo led off with a walk and junior center fielder Ed Guippone reached on an infield single before Ogren moved the runners to second and third with a ground out. After the first of two intentional walks to Thaiss, junior second baseman Spencer Young drove in Petrizzo on a fielder’s choice.
“That first run was big but I didn’t expect it to be the only one we scored,” said Petrizzo, who has scored 25 times this spring while batting .403. “I’m really comfortable deep in counts because that puts pressure on the pitcher. I want to work my way on any way I can.”
Against Brick Memorial’s Brian Cottrell, Jackson had little choice but to manufacture a run. The junior right-hander (6-1) suffered his first loss despite a brilliant effort. He painted fastballs on the black, changed speeds and did a superb job of neutralizing one of the more potent batting orders in the state in fashioning a four-hitter.
Ogren touched Cottrell for a one-out double in the fifth and Thaiss was issued his second intentional walk but Jackson’s threat was extinguished with a 6-4-3 double play, the first of two recorded by the Mustangs.
“This is a feeling I can’t describe,” Ogren said of Jackson finally grabbing hold of the elusive OCT championship. “I’ve been on the other side the last two years, watching someone else dogpile after winning it. To do it, there’s no better feeling. All the hard work you put in at practice, it all pays off right now."
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner