South Plainfield HS softball vs. Metuchen at North Brunswick Community Park, Autism Awareness Challenge

NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- “More than just a game”.

That’s what was on the back of the special shirts the South Plainfield High School varsity softball team wore during its game against Metuchen in the inaugural softball Autism Awareness Challenge at North Brunswick’s Community Park Saturday morning.

Sign Up for E-News

“I think it’s awesome any time you can represent a good cause. We’ll be a part of it any time. You’re right, it’s more than just a game. I think everyone did a great job setting this up and the kids played a big role,” South Plainfield head coach Don Panzarella said.

The Autism Awareness Challenge in North Brunswick has been around for 12 years for baseball, but this was the first year there was a softball showcase.

“I’m glad we were the first game,” Panzarella said. “The game was secondary today. I’m proud of it and I’d like to be a part of it every year.”

April is known as Autism Awareness month. Just this past Thursday, the CDC released a new study that says preschool kids in the state of New Jersey have the highest rate of diagnosed autism in the country. One in 35 young children were diagnosed with autism by the age of the four, the rate has tripled in a generation, and the percentage has grown by 43 percent from 2010-2014 the CDC said.

“Us as coaches, we’re here more than just to coach a sport. We’re here to teach lessons and different things in life because you know, they’re going to have to deal with it all,” Panzarella said. “The kids will grow from this. As a teacher too, you run into different situations and different kids. It meant a lot to play today here and I’m glad they asked us. The boys have been doing it for years and they finally added the girls on the map with it. Everyone gets involved.”

South Plainfield (8-1) defeated Metuchen (4-2) thanks to two strong innings offensively, the first and seventh, and stout pitching by Jillian Holoboski.

Holoboski, a senior who is heading to Franklin & Marshall, yielded just an unearned run and a three hits with eight strikeouts. She also doubled at the plate.

“I love it. I love coming out to do stuff like this,” she said about playing in the challenge. “I’m grateful that I can come out and play the game that I love for a cause like this. It’s so admirable.”

In the top of the first inning, Tori Ferguson led off the game with a double to left centerfield. Cameron Marks and Jillian Holoboski both followed walks and after a strikeout by Danielle DeCarlo, Julie Davis smacked a 2-RBI double.

Delaney Born added another 2-RBI single later in the frame to score Davis and Lauren Borsos, who walked.

In the seventh, Davis, Taylor Santamaria, Jennifer Flasser, Katelyn Luster, and Born all touched home plate as well.

Ferguson finished the day with three singles, Davis went 2-for-4, Santamaria went 2-for-2 as a substitution, and Born went 2-for-4 and drove in three runs. As a team, the Tigers tallied 13 hits.

Julia DiBenedetto had two hits in three tries with a run scored for the Bulldogs.

With the win, South Plainfield has won back-to-back games after falling for the first time this season to Iselin Kennedy earlier in the week.

The Tigers next play at Woodbridge on Monday at 4:00 p.m.

“Coming in, I knew it would be a good game. Jill pitched well and ur defense was good, other than the one mistake (an error which later helped the runner score),” Panzarella said.

“Hitting, we have to make adjustments if we want to continue to win. We have to be able to score some runs. We’re learning. We have a lot of young kids in the lineup. The upperclassmen are going to have to step up even more.”