SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. -- Less than 24 hours after a crushing loss in the semifinals of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament, the South Plainfield varsity softball team was back out on the diamond on Thursday afternoon for another pivotal game.
This time, sixth-seeded South Plainfield took to its home field and defeated 11th-seeded Manasquan, 10-0, in six innings, in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 tournament.
The Tigers (19-5) could have came out flat with their heads hung low from the night prior after losing a heartbreaker to Iselin Kennedy, 2-1, but the exact opposite unfolded. They were all smiles, loose, and ready to go.
“It’s awesome. I was worried,” South Plainfield coach Don Panzarella said. “You play a game last night -- 10 innings no less -- and it started at 6:30 at night and we didn’t get back here until 9:00. It made it tough for the kids to come back today, and I give them all the credit in the world.”
Jill Holoboski, who earned her 18th win of the season from the circle, allowed just three hits and a walk with five strikeouts. Holoboski set the tone by retiring the side in the top of the first inning and then South Plainfield went to work in the bottom half at the plate.
Cameron Marks started things off with a walk and later came around to score on a chaotic play and error by the Manasquan (9-11) center fielder to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. Then, Julie Davis delivered 3-run home run over the centerfield wall, and just like that, the home team was up 4-0.
South Plainfield added two more runs in the second, fifth, and sixth innings to force the mercy rule. The Tigers tallied 11 hits, led by Holoboski, who went 3-for-3 with two RBI and a run.
Marks had two hits and scored three times, Delaney Born went 2-for-3, scored, and drove in a run, Danielle DeCarlo, singled, plated two runs, and drove in another, and Davis also singled and finished with four RBI. Jennifer Flasser notched an RBI and Shailynn Martinez singled and scored.
It was all-around, well-balanced and played game by South Plainfield.
“I think they bounced back awesome,” Panzarella said. “Jill pitched great, the kids played good defense, and we had timely hitting. We’ll build on this one for next week and I’m looking forward to the next round.”
In the quarterfinals of the sectional state tournament, the Tigers now hit the road to play third-seeded Raritan. The Tigers and the Rockets scrimmage in the preseason back on March 25 in South Plainfield, so the teams are familiar with each other.
Raritan beat 14th-seeded Monmouth, 5-1, in its first round contest.
“We scrimmaged them. Every year we scrimmage them. They’re the same kind of team as us,” Panzarella said. “It should be a good game. We’re as good as each other. I think it’ll be an excellent game. I like them. They’re a good bunch of kids.”
Winning games, especially in the playoffs, is hard. Everyone knows it. Everyone also knows you have get some breaks that go your way.
Panzarella was asked what he needs from his team to keep advancing. His answer?
“You got to be lucky,” said Panzarella, New Jersey’s all-time winningest high school softball coach. “I mean, if we pitch well and play good defense and get some hits, we’ll be in every game. We have to get those timely hits in order to win the games, also. But, of course, you have hit a little luck along the way. I’m looking forward to it. Jill’s pitching well. I think we can make a run. I’m excited.”
South Plainfield and Raritan face each other in Hazlet on Monday.
Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisWasky.