FREEHOLD – Victories on the diamond for the Freehold High School softball team have been tough to come by over the last 10 years. Until this spring, the most victories the Colonials had posted in a season since 2010 was five.
But that all changed in 2022 as Coach Mike D’Antonio and his players turned the program in the right direction by posting a winning record of 13-10.
The coach said an 8-3 win over Matawan Regional High School on Opening Day “set the tone” for the squad.
“Our players got us here,” D’Antonio said. “We have really good, talented kids. It was very satisfying to see the growth of these girls. It was a lot of fun this year.”
A talented group of underclassmen played a key role in the team’s turnaround. Sophomore Giana Abinanti led the young Colonials in the pitching circle and at the plate. She pitched to a 2.03 ERA and collected 175 strikeouts. Through two seasons, Abinanti has struck out 235 hitters.
3 Perfect Innings in the circle for sophomore ace Giana Abinanti. Her & Colon battling in a scoreless pitchers dual. CC: @BORO_Softball @central_jersey @FBHSathletics #NJSoftball 🥎 pic.twitter.com/j2hzhZh4PZ
— Steven Bassin (@SBassin_Sports) May 24, 2022
Hitting third in the order, Abinanti came through with a .317 batting average, 19 RBIs and two home runs.
Sophomore cleanup hitter Maddison Waitt was another standout for the Colonials this spring. Waitt hit .492 with 21 RBIs, 29 hits and 16 runs scored. She excelled in the outfield and at catcher.
Freshmen Angelina Ciesnicki and Olivia Edmonds made an impact in their first year at the high school level.
Edmonds delivered a .400 batting average and was third on the team in hits, with 26.
Ciesnicki, who hit in the leadoff spot, contributed a .306 batting average and led the team in walks, with 18. She stole 18 bases and scored 16 runs to help lead Freehold to its winning season.
Freshman Juliet Fogel and sophomore Julianna Manrique also played well in starting roles for the Colonials, leading D’Antonio to say, “We have great young players.”
While Freehold relied on several underclassmen, seniors Emma Gugliotta and Vanessa Rizzo were catalysts who helped pave the way toward success, the coach said.
“Those two helped carry us this season,” D’Antonio said about Gugliotta and Rizzo. “They were real leaders. I am really happy they got to this point.”
Gugliotta posted a .584 batting average with 45 hits, 16 RBIs, 18 runs scored and 13 stolen bases. Rizzo contributed 22 hits and 15 RBIs during the campaign.
D’Antonio said his team took a big step forward in 2022 by winning games in tournament play.
In 2021, the Colonials lost their opening round games in the Monmouth County, Shore Conference and state sectional tournaments.
This season the Colonials reached the quarterfinals of the Central Jersey Group III state sectional tournament and the Shore Conference Tournament by winning their opening round game in each event.
The Monmouth County Tournament was divided into two divisions, the Red Division and the Blue Division. Freehold was the No. 5 seed in the Blue Division and reached the championship game against Howell.
“In the offseason, we talked about winning a tournament game and this season we won a state sectional tournament game, a Shore Conference Tournament game and two Monmouth County Tournament games,” D’Antonio said.
In their final game of 2022, the Colonials faced Howell in the Monmouth County Tournament Blue Division championship game on May 24 in Howell. Unfortunately for Freehold, a championship was not in the cards as the Rebels won, 8-1.
While it was not the ending the Colonials wanted, D’Antonio let his players know how special this season was and how much their success means for the future of the program.
“We have (a lot) of players coming back, which bodes well for us. Now it’s time to put the work in,” he said.