Dominant Jersey Storm rolls to April Fools 9U championship

By DN WRITING STAFF | April 8, 2024

By Sean Reilly

Max Lopez loves playing baseball, doing it alongside his Jersey Storm teammates, and the excitement that comes with competing at Diamond Nation. 

Lopez may only be 9 years old, but he claimed his second career MVP award at ‘The Nation’ after boosting his team to the championship of the 9U April Fool’s tournament with a 13-3 win over the Morris County Cubs on Sunday morning in Flemington. 

The Storm went 4-0 on the weekend, with a staggering 65-4 run differential. The Essex County-based team batted in 13 innings along the way, and scored in every one. The Storm won its first three games by scores of 15-0, 14-0 and 23-1.

Lopez was a catalyst out of the leadoff spot, but every player contributed in some fashion. 

Earlier on Sunday, Lopez pitched a complete game in the 23-1, three-inning semifinal win over the Lafayette Hill Diamond Dogs. 

In the championship game, he walked, tripled, was hit by a pitch and scored three runs.

“It felt great to help my team out and get the wins,” he said. “I was making contact and seeing the ball really well. My pitching went amazing, my catcher was amazing, the defense was amazing, everyone backed me up and it was great. And it’s also great to get the MVP again. I love playing here.”

Last year, Lopez was a tournament MVP after a similar showing from the leadoff spot in leading his former team, Grit 9U, to the Mid-Summer Classic championship. 

The Jersey Storm have been playing together since last fall, with the core group made up of players whose brothers compete for its older 14U team. 

“We’re 9, and just came back from Texas and finished seventh out of 36 teams and got ranked 25th in the country,” said Storm coach Julius Jova. “The boys are doing their thing.”

In the final, the Storm was placed in unfamiliar territory when it fell behind, 2-0, in the top of the first. 

The Cubs began the game with a single to center field by Phoenix Pitts. Duncan Erne hit a one-out double to center, and Nick Scudilla walked to load the bases. Max Kromjong drew an RBI walk and another run scored on an error.

Maximilian Lopez of Jersey Storm was named 9U April Fool’s MVP.

Lopez began the bottom of the first with a walk and then stole second. Pollo Rodriguez hit a single to move Lopez to third. Jack Gomez hit a ground ball that forced out Rodriguez at second, but allowed Lopez to score. 

The Storm took the lead by scoring twice in the second. Kyle Piperi and Noah Philip reached on consecutive errors with one out, and they scored on Fabian Echeverry’s triple to left field. 

The Cubs tied in the top of the third, after Erne (2-for-2) legged out a one-out single to shortstop and Scudilla hit an RBI triple to right field. 

But after that, it was all Storm. 

A four-run third inning began with the triple by Lopez and double from Rodriguez for a 4-3 lead. Gomez was safe on an error that scored Rodriguez. Allesandro Alberto took advantage of the infield playing in with Gomez on third by blooping an RBI single beyond the shortstop. A single by Avyan Vega, followed by an advance on a throw, put runners on second and third, and Keisen Tejada hit a run-scoring ground out to shortstop for a 7-3 advantage.

The Storm ended the game via the mercy rule by adding six more runs in the fourth inning. 

Rodriguez, who ended 3-for-3, singled in the first run. Gomez followed with a two-run triple to left field and scored on a single by Alberto. Michael Caruso and Vega singled to load the bases, Tejada drew a bases loaded walk and the game ended on a single to center from Piperi. 

“Everyone did something well,” Jova said. “They are a group of kids that want to play good baseball and be pushed to get better.” 

“I love playing with these guys,” Lopez said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

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