As efficient as Brandon Holup has been on the mound over his past five starts, a case can be made that maybe - just maybe - his services could be put to far greater use beyond the dominance he’s displayed on a pitching mound.
Perhaps, Holup might consider a career in Washington D.C. where experts continue their attempts to improve the nation’s financial climate. Who knows, they may just welcome a young man who has shown over the last month an appreciation for the importance of being economical.
His right arm, whether spinning a curve or unleashing a fastball with the precision of a diamond cutter, has certainly been taxing on opposing hitters while hanging up zeros with an effortless ease. On Monday night, Holup put the exclamation point on a brilliant closing run by tossing a two-hit gem en route to his fifth consecutive shutout as top-seeded Jackson registered a 7-0 victory over 15th-seeded Toms River North for the Shore Conference Tournament title at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood.
Holup was at his best in the final start of a high-school career that blossomed over the last two seasons. The senior right-hander needed just 69 pitches to complete his commanding performance and notched seven strikeouts against no walks.
Just how sharp was Holup? He fired 54 strikes, worked one full count, needed just eight pitches to retire Toms River North (17-9) in both the third and fourth innings and stamped his eighth win of the year by setting down the Mariners in the top of the seventh with the minimum three offerings.
And, it was all fashioned by a pitcher programmed to ignore whatever the scoreboard might say.
“I like to approach every inning like the game is zero-zero,” said Holup, who knows a little something about goose eggs, ending his career with 35 straight scoreless frames. “Even when we’re winning, I don’t like to think about it. I approach every inning like I have to keep us close.”
For the first three innings, Holup didn’t have to use any imagination as Toms River North starter Nolan Diaz (4-1) matched him pitch for pitch. Neither side could muster a hit much less a rally as both hurlers were on their games.
But, Jackson (25-3), No. 4 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, broke out in the bottom of the fourth with a spark from a prideful Spencer Young.
Following a one-out single from Ed Guippone, which marked Jackson’s first hit, and a double from Joe Ogren to put runners at second and third, Toms River North opted to intentionally walk slugging junior catcher Matt Thaiss in favor of pitching to Young, who was apparently eager to make the Mariners rue the decision.
“That’s happened too many times and I’ve struggled in the past in those spots,” said Young, a junior second baseman. “I had to come up with a big hit sooner or later and I was glad it happened in a big situation like and happy to get the job done for the team.”
The move was wise considering Thaiss’ propensity for power (team-high seven homers) and run production (team-best 31 RBI) but nonetheless, Young weighed it as a bit of a slight and wasted no time addressing the matter. He lined a first-pitch fastball inside third base for a two-run double to snap the deadlock.
“Spencer is so good when he lets the ball get deep,” Jackson coach Frank Malta noted. “He smokes that ball down the line because he stayed back. I think he was really jumping at pitches at times during the season in similar spots because that gets you fired up and he’s a fiery kid.”
Mike Folk was intentionally walked to reload the bases and Malta sent up Tom Abarno, who responded for the second straight game in a pinch-hitting role by looping an RBI single to right. Matt Guarino capped off the outburst with a two-run single down the right-field line as Jackson erupted for five hits during the rally.
Jackson tacked on two more in the sixth courtesy of a Guarino sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single from Nick Dabrio to close out the scoring.
While the offense took some time to get in gear, Jackson’s defense was flawless from the start. Holup stayed down in the strike zone, entrusting an infield that had his back all night. Ogren displayed exceptional range at shortstop, Folk was cool handling hard grounders at third and Young flaunted his own glove work as Holup induced a dozen groundball outs for an error-free defense to gobble up.
“I know if I miss my spots and leave something over the plate, my infield is going to take care of me,” said Holup (8-2). “I can rely on all of them to pick up ground balls.”
The way Ogren figures, if his pitcher is going to deal at the sharp rate Holup was, the least he can do is hold up his end of the deal.
“He is just an animal,” Ogren said of Holup. “Every pitch that should be thrown, he throws perfectly. Our demeanor wasn’t all there in the first couple innings, but he comes out pumping and that drove us. He makes you want to make plays for him.”
Junior Ronnie Marinaccio touched Holup for Toms River North’s first hit when he singled to center to start the fourth. A sacrifice bunt moved the runner to second but Holup wasn’t the least bit fazed, recording a strikeout and grounder to get out of the inning.
Senior second baseman Scott Buxbaum, who made a super diving stab to rob Dabrio of a base hit in the third, lined a shot through the box with two outs in the fifth for the Mariners only other hit.
Guarino, who came into the game with two RBI for the season, collected three in the championship while Jackson flaunted its offensive balace with eight different players supplying one hit to the attack. Young and Folk each scored a pair of runs.
The triumph marked the fourth of the season for Jackson at the expense of Toms River North, its Shore Conference, A South Division rival. It also delivered a second championship for the Jaguars, who won the Ocean County Tournament as well.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner