EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Gusty winds drove dust up on the grass and bright sunny skies shone down on national award-winning Raymond J. Cipperly Field on the Middlesex County Vocation and Technical School’s East Brunswick campus Sunday as the Greater Middlesex Conference Baseball Coaches Association conducted a fundraising/charity doubleheader.
The event was put together by highly-respected sports writers Greg Tufaro and Gregg Lerner and benefitted one-year-old Shane O’Donnell and 14-year-old Ben Lepisto. Baby O’Donnell is the son of former Middlesex High School baseball coach turned Athletic Director Mike O’Donnell and Lepisto a freshman student-athlete at Woodbridge High.
O’Donnell was diagnosed and is currently fighting stage IV high risk Neuroblastoma and Ben Lepisto had a cancerous brain tumor, medulloblastoma, removed just a short time ago.
As for the twinbill, the GMCBCA Underclassman Showcase kicked off the day at 11 a.m. as players from all over the county were drafted to teams named after Shane and Ben called Shane’s Sluggers and Ben’s Battlers by Tufaro and Lerner. The Underclassmen game featured players that were either sophomores or juniors (more on the Senior All-Star Game later).
About 15 colleges were represented with scouts from Rutgers, Kean, George Washington and others who took to the stands to watch the players perform, witnessing a thrilling 6-5 victory for the Battlers over the Sluggers in nine innings compared to the traditional seven played in high school.
It was fitting that’s Woodbridge’s junior Zach Joe knocked in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth with a sacrifice fly that scored Sayreville’s Kyle Richards. East Brunswick’s Tyler Burnham, Metuchen’s Matt Volpe, South Plainfield’s Jared Marks, J.P. Stevens’ Luke Jacobi, and Woodbridge’s Harry Rutkowski each had the other five RBI’s for the Battlers.
Rutkowski was named the GMC’s Cy Young Pitcher of the Year and is already committed to Rutgers for the class of 2017.
The Sluggers’ JT Vento had the highlight of the day with a then game-tying two-RBI inside-the-park homerun with a deep slicing shot to left center to knot it up at 5-5 in the seventh.
St. Joseph’s (Metuchen) Jon Sot got the Sluggers going with a run in the top of the first, but the Battlers stormed right back with three runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Besides Vento, South River’s Brandon Szerszen drove in a run in the top of the second for the Sluggers and Perth Amboy’s Darius Diaz smacked an RBI double in the fourth.
But while the Battlers won the game, the real winners were baby O’Donnell, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the showcase, and Lepisto, as donations made by fans in attendance as well as private independent fundraising by South Amboy High and St. Joe’s raised over $6,000.
“I think it’s amazing what they put together here,” Mike O’Donnell told mycentraljersey.com. “When you’re going through something like that, especially with the kids, you need support. It takes some of the trouble off your plate a little bit. It just makes it a little bit more manageable when you’re feeling the love from people, and people that can’t exactly imagine what you and the family are going through. They rise to the occasion and they make it important to support a good cause.”
Players from both teams warmed up in special shirts for the All-Star Games and the charity, wearing red for Ben’s Battlers and blue for Shane’s Sluggers.