Baseball: Strike Out Autism Challenge is Bigger and Better in Third Year
When Jerry Frulio started the Strike Out Autism Baseball Challenge with four teams in 2013, he admittedly didn't think it would mushroom into such a big event by its third year.
"Last year I was very happy with 12 teams and some great match-ups, and I remember thinking next year will be bigger, but I just can't believe we got 36 schools,'' Frulio said. "It's insane. It's just so cool to see the support from the Shore Conference coaches."
Frulio, a former head baseball coach himself at St. Rose and at his alma mater, Central, has grown the event into a 36-team showcase that he looks to make a fixture on the Shore Conference baseball calendar. This year's games will be held across nine different sites on Saturday, with each site selling $12 T-shirts whose proceeds will go toward a donation to Autism Speaks and to help the special services departments of several local schools in Monmouth and Ocean counties.
Frulio, whose son, Dayton, 7, has autism, was able to grow the event with the help of former Shore Baseball Coaches Association president Art Gordon, who worked to spread the word among the coaches that Strike Out Autism was looking to expand.
"Artie really helped out with getting more coaches onboard, and I'm just happy we have nine schools that are willing to host,'' Frulio said. "It's tough because these are games that were already scheduled, so you have to ask some teams to cough up a home game, which can be difficult.
"But talking to guys like (Lacey coach) Corey Hamman, he could've been playing the Yankees as long as he was included in it. (Freehold Township coach) Todd Smith was another one who was great about it, and I was hoping to get their game here at Central because the Gambino brothers (on Freehold Township) are my cousins, and I never get to see them play. The Shore coaches couldn't have been more supportive, and they are always such a great group of guys."
About 108 dozen shirts have been ordered, with 54 dozen of them being given away to participating players and coaches. The shirts were sold to the organization at a discount from a T-shirt business, Shore Apparel, run by former Howell boys basketball coach Brian Quick and his wife, Lauren. Last year's event raised about $10,000 with 12 teams, so Frulio is hoping for $20,000 or more considering that the field of teams has tripled.
A donation from last year's proceeds was given to Autism Speaks, and the rest was used to help local districts. The money paid for more than $3,000 worth of iPads, two of which were donated to the autism program at Central Regional High School, two more to the Central Regional Middle School autism program where Frulio's wife teaches, two more that went to Wall's special services program, and two others that are to be delivered to Howell's special needs program.
"I feel empowered that I can go out and really thank the schools that agreed to host with something that can help their programs,'' Frulio said.
Dayton will be throwing out the first pitch before the games at Central to help kick off the event, which will have other children with autism throwing out first pitches at some of the other sites.
Here is a look at the 18 games at the nine locations by Matt Manley.
At Central Regional
Freehold Twp. (4-3) vs. Central (3-2), 11:30 a.m.
The host team of the site and of the entire event takes on a Freehold Township team that has been on fire at the plate over its last five games. Since shutting out Middletown South, 2-0, in its second game of the season, the Patriots have scored 37 runs in their last five and 30 in their last three. Catcher Joe Silvestrone hit five home runs in two games during the stretch, while junior John Carroll and Kyle Fenton have also delivered at the plate.
Central is coming off a tight 1-0 loss to Manchester, which followed a walk-off win in extra-innings against Pinelands on Monday. Senior Jake Dominguez has led the way on the mound and at the plate for Central, and 6-5 senior right-hander Anthony Arneth has a win on the mound in 3 2/3 innings this week, making him available to pitch on Saturday.
Southern (1-6) vs. Mater Dei Prep (4-2), 2 p.m.
The Seraphs suffered their first divisional loss of the season on Wednesday at St. Rose and will look to pick up a coveted non-divisional win - an always-sought-after commodity for teams in Class B Central. Seniors Patric Donohue and Vincenzo Mezzacappa, as well as junior Joe Ruth, have led the way on offense for the Seraphs.
Southern won its first game of the season earlier this week by edging an upstart Lacey team, 3-1. The Rams will also be looking for a non-division win as Class A South has been rough on them to this point. Ronnie Velardi has had no such trouble against Class A South or anyone else, hitting .350 with a triple to start the season.
Holmdel (1-5) vs. Howell (4-2), 10 a.m.
Holmdel had a couple of strong pitching performances before Manasquan finally got to them Wednesday in an 8-5 Warriors win. The Hornets staff will have their hands full against a Howell lineup that has not only put runs on the board, but has been as clutch as any team in the Shore Conference. Howell has two walk-off wins already this season and won tight, high-scoring games against Manalapan and Middletown South. Juniors Justin Steel and Connor Fey are off to hot starts at the plate to lead the Rebels into Saturday.
Brick Memorial (3-7) vs. Colts Neck (7-0), 1 p.m.
The second game at Howell pits two teams whose fortunes have been on the opposite end of the spectrum. While Colts Neck is off to a 7-0 start to the season, Brick Memorial is 3-7 and 0-5 against Class A South competition. Despite their record, the Mustangs pack plenty of offensive punch (53 runs in 10 games) with the junior trio of Brian Markoski, Matt Cuppari and Tim Santiago, as well as steady senior second baseman Matt Cathey.
After winning Class A North and reaching the Monmouth County Tournament final last year, the Cougars have not missed a beat in 2015. During a 7-0 start, junior Mike Antico has been on fire at the top of the lineup, while senior left-hander Mario Ferraioli has emerged as a go-to pitcher alongside returning all-division left-hander Chris Murphy.
At Jackson Memorial
Jackson Liberty (3-3) vs. Jackson Memorial (3-4), 10 a.m.
The battle for Jackson leads off the festivities at Jackson Memorial. Although the Jaguars are as decorated a program as there is in the Shore Conference over the last decade, Jackson Liberty has not been pushed around in this rivalry by any stretch of the imagination. Senior right-hander Howard Taylor has been an all-around force for the Lions,while junior Brandon Pallante is coming off a breakout performance in a win over Pinelands (2-for-4 with a double, three RBI and a walk-off RBI single).
Jackson Memorial got off to a 1-4 start but appears to be righting the ship after consecutive wins against Brick and Brick Memorial in which the Jaguars scored a combined 24 runs. Chris Hawryluk made his first appearance on the mound to close the game against Brick Memorial Wednesday, so the Jaguars could be getting some help in the pitching department to go with the offense.
Manalapan (4-4) vs. Brick (5-2), 12:30 p.m.
Both the Braves and the Green Dragons have played a bunch of close games and the results of those games have been very different for each. Manalapan is 1-4 in Class A North competition and those four losses are by a combined six runs. Manalapan has four players - Stephen Carbonara, Jake Sadowitz, Matt Klepper and Mike Mollica - hitting above .400, so at a park that is conducive to offense, there could be some fireworks from Manalapan.
Brick, meanwhile, has won two tight games at home over Lacey and Toms River East and also shut out Point Boro on the road. Carmen Sclafani, Dan Berg, Matt Greenberg and Nick Moglia lead an offense that has scored in bunches this season and could certainly contribute to a high-scoring game against the Braves.
Matawan (3-3) vs. Shore (3-3), 10 a.m.
The Huskies got one of their biggest regular-season wins in years when they knocked off Wall, 2-0, behind junior ace Adam Elliott. Matawan's pitching has been solid behind Elliott, so the Huskies should be able to roll into Ocean and put on a good show. Shore has also had some success on the mound behind ace James Kelly, and Sam Parrino and Justin Halper have delivered some big hits at the plate as well.
Freehold (4-4) at Ocean (6-1), 1:30 p.m.
No team in the Shore Conference has a more impressive win than the 10-0 drubbing Freehold put on Christian Brothers Academy on Saturday and if not for some close losses along the way, the Colonials could be the toast of the Shore Conference. Steve Rullo, Dante Cuzzolino and Nick Zuppe are all off to fast starts for Freehold, which will take on one of the best pitching staffs in the Shore Conference on Saturday. Ocean has allowed only seven runs in seven games so far this season thanks to a pitching staff that goes four or five deep.
At St. Rose
Manasquan (2-2) vs. St. Rose (3-3), 10 a.m.
Although St. Rose will have to fight to win Class B Central this season, the Purple Roses are starting to look like a team that can do some damage in the Shore Conference, as displayed in a 4-3 win over Wall. In a key 11-2 win over Mater Dei Prep on Wednesday, Travis Cloney, Mike Gowen and Brendan Hueth combined to go 10-for-10 with all 11 runs scored, so the Roses enter with a deep lineup.
Manasquan entered the season with high expectations, and after an 0-2 start, things seem to be headed in the right direction. Notre Dame recruits and brothers Tommy and Jack Sheehan combined on a no-hitter in an eight-inning win over St. John Vianney and lead the pitching staff. Both are also key pieces to the lineup that also includes Monmouth University recruit Max Hawkins.
Donovan Catholic (4-2) vs. Middletown North (3-2), 1 p.m.
Afer a 3-0 start, Middletown North has dropped its last two games, and after two A North games in the next two days, the Lions will be looking to get back on a roll by the time Saturday arrives. Freshman Tyler Ras has been a key addition to the Middletown North lineup that also includes a solid three-four combination of Kyle Capo and Walter Schopf in the middle. Donovan Catholic has infused its team with a dose of youth to go with a handful of seniors and the results have been good so far, as the Griffins have been competitive in every game.
Lakewood (1-4) vs. Raritan (4-2), 10 a.m.
While most people look to Class A North or A South as the Shore's deepest division, Class B South has an argument in that department thanks to a team like Lakewood, who has been very tough on its opponents - including a 7-6 win over Manchester - since an 11-0 loss to Pinelands in the second game of the year. Raritan has also opened some eyes this season with wins over Manasquan and Shore, and a strong junior core to go with senior pitcher Mike Kelleher has been at the center of the surprising start.
Manchester (3-2) vs. Rumson-Fair Haven (1-3), 12:30 p.m.
While Manchester is coming off a big 1-0 win over Central, Rumson enters Thursday needing a win after three straight losses. Max Goione has swung the bat well out of the gate for the Bulldogs and Morgan Maguire figures to get going with the bat soon after a monster year at the plate as a junior. The Hawks have a young team that has been up and down so far, but junior Jon Meaney and sophomore Steve Rodriguez have had good moments for the offense.
At St. John Vianney
Barnegat (4-1) vs. St. John Vianney (4-1), 11 a.m.
Before it went on to win 20 games and reach three different tournament championships, Barnegat put itself on the Shore Conference map by beating St. John Vianney at this event last year. Now an established contender, the Bengals will travel to play the defending NJSIAA Non-Public A champions with a lot of its players back from last season. Senior catcher Nik Fraim belted a walk-off homer against Donovan Catholic earlier in the week and sophomore shortstop and Rutgers recruit Aaron McLaughlin is off to a solid start as well.
The Lancers have almost an entirely new lineup, but the results have been favorable through four games this season. Ace Dan Schirmacher has been dominant early on and John Michael Broderick looks like a solid No. 2 starter. The lineup, meanwhile, has been surprisingly good despite returning only one starter from last year's playoff run, with junior Zach Richards emerging as a breakout player in a breakout lineup.
Monmouth (4-1) vs. Red Bank (1-5), 2 p.m.
Monmouth hosts St. John Vianney on Thursday and will follow the Lancers on Saturday as the Falcons try to continue their fast start. With a deep lineup and a solid group of pitchers, the Falcons look like they will be a factor througout the season and will have to deal with a Red Bank team Saturday that has pitched well in most of its games.
At Toms River South
Middletown South (2-5) vs. Lacey (3-4), Noon
The first game at Ken Frank Stadium features a Middletown South team that expected to get off to a better start than 2-5, while Lacey has surprised some people outside their dugout with the way they have played. The Lions have a superb group of sophomores that has carried the load, led by Anthony Elefante at the top of the rotation and at the heart of the lineup. The Eagles have lost five games by a combined seven runs, so Middletown South is looking to overcome some early bad luck.
Red Bank Catholic (5-0) vs. Toms River South (5-1), 7 p.m.
The main event of the Strike Out Autism slate of games will be at Ken Frank Stadium under the lights, as so many big Shore Conference games are. Red Bank Catholic and Toms River South don't have the Division-I-stacked rosters of recent years, but both have deep lineups and enough solid pitching that both should expect to have very good seasons.
Red Bank Catholic enters Thursday unbeaten and could be headed south with a perfect record on the line against a Toms River South club that has been very good outside of a rough game against a loaded Toms River North squad. Jake Ryan has swung a hot bat for the Indians and already has three home runs this year.
Old Bridge (4-5) vs. Wall (3-3), 11 a.m.
Wall hosts the lone team from outside the Shore Conference in this event and it's a good one. Old Bridge is one of the top teams in the Greater Middlesex Conference and boasts junior left-hander and North Carolina recruit Zach Attianese, who is also a top hitter for the Rams. Wall has had mixed results to this point, but still boasts College of Charelston recruit and senior catcher Dan Wondrack, as well as fellow senior standouts Nick Martinez and Ryan Orender.
Long Branch (1-6) vs. Point Boro (2-5), 1 p.m.
Point Boro's junior-loaded team takes on Long Branch in the second game at Wall as two teams try to get headed in the right direction. Panthers' ace Frank Graziano left the opener with an elbow injury, so the team has been scrambling for pitching since and remaining competitive in the process. Long Branch has a win over Red Bank behind a shutout by Travis Carroll and will be looking to pick up a non-division win against the Panthers.