BRIDGEWATER, NJ -- The high school baseball season is short enough that sometimes the breaks don't even out for some.
After experiencing more that anyone's share of hard luck in both baseball and football in 2018, Greg Verano is finishing his senior season at Bridgewater-Raritan with a flourish.
Verano pitched a three-hitter and drove in five runs with a home run and a single to send the Panthers to a five-inning, 10-0 baseball victory over Phillipsburg in the quarterfinal round of the Section 2, Group 4 state tournament on Friday. Bridgewater-Raritan will play at Ridge Tuesday afternoon in the section semifinal.
When he was a sophomore, Verano won three games on the mound and pitched to a sparkling earned-run average of 1.89. Then, in the fall of his junior year, he quarterbacked the BRHS football team to the sectional Group 4 championship game at MetLife Stadium. But a year of misfortune followed: Verano lost all seven of his pitching decisions as a junior last baseball season despite pitching consistently well for a low-scoring BRHS team, and then, this past fall, a knee injury sidelined him for virtually the entire football season.
While starting in the outfield and leading Bridgewater-Raritan in many offensive categories this baseball season, Verano was used mostly on the mound in short relief stints while he strengthened his knee. But on Friday, the 6-foot-1 senior put it all together.
After David Olsakowski and Jake Hendershot started the bottom of the first with singles, Verano blasted a three-run home run down the left field line to give Bridgewater-Raritan--and his pitching self--a 3-0 lead. Verano struck out four batters and walked none in a drama-free pitching outing, and then he capped the day with a two-run single in the fifth inning that gave the Panthers a 10-0 lead and enabled the "mercy-rule" to be invoked, ending the contest.
"We didn't score a whole lot of runs for Greg last season," said Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Max Newill. "This year, he spent some time finding his stride coming back from the knee injury, Early in the season, we didn't want him to overdo it (on the mound)."
Through it all, Verano has been a consistently productive hitter, and he pitched impressively even last season, when every opposing pitcher seemed to throw his best game against BRHS when Verano was on the hill.
"The guys picked me up today. It feels good to see a full team effort," said Verano, who is now unscored upon in his last 8 2/3 innings and who is batting over .360 this season. "Recovering from my knee injury, I needed to get more work in before I could start."
Of his first-inning, tone-setting three-run homer, Verano said, "It was a 3-2 fastball. I was looking for anything to hit there. It definitely felt good to take a lead like that back to the mound. I was able to keep my composure after that."
Verano threw just 61 pitches over five innings, and consistently nicked the outside corner with both his well-spotted fastball and breaking pitch.
"I have a good guy behind the dish in Elliott Rodgers framing those pitched for me," Verano said of his catcher.
Olsakowski was also in the middle of the Panthers' four-run uprising in the fourth inning with the third of his three singles. Justin Sinibaldi singled in two runs in that inning, and two more came in on balks by Phillipsburg's starting pitcher.
Olsakowski was 3-for-4 with two runs scored, as he and Verano combined for five of Bridgewater's nine hits.
"A few games ago, David was struggling a bit out of the leadoff spot," Newill said of Olsakowski. "So we moved him down in the order, and in his first game after we did that he had a triple and a home run, so we moved him right back up to the top. When he gets on base for us, we are a much better offensive team."