Figueroa finds his mojo, Cage Academy picks up 15U Invitational win

By DN WRITING STAFF | July 22, 2023

Alipio Figueroa in the pen prior to his terrific outing in the 15U Invitational.

By Joe Hofmann

Cage Academy Elite Baseball didn’t always hit in the clutch Friday afternoon.

But the 15U team out of Cliffwood, N.J. ran in the clutch.

Cage scored three of its first four runs on wild pitches and erupted for some late offense late in the game to pull away in a 6-2 victory over ASBA Warminster Red in a Beat the Heat game at Diamond Nation.

“Once a guy reaches third, extra pressure is on the pitcher and catcher and it’s an opportunity for us,” said coach T.J. O’Donnell, the longtime coach at Raritan High School in Monmouth County. “I like to coach the baserunning part of the game. We don’t have any speedsters.”

Cage does have quick thinkers, though, and that helped them get an early lead. When the ball eluded the ASBA catcher, the Cage baserunners didn’t hesitate.

“We took advantage of the wild pitches,” winning pitcher Alipio Figueroa said.

ASBA made a fielding miscue in the second inning and that opened things up for Cage. With one out in the second, Tommy Kwiatkowski hit a popup between shortstop and center field. ASBA’s shortstop couldn’t hold onto it and Kwiatkowski reached first before he eventually came around on a wild pitch.

One out later, Tyler Reddy walked, Matt Melender reached on an infield hit and James Morello had an RBI single to score Reddy before Melender scored on a wild pitch for a 3-0 lead.

In the Cage fifth, Reddy and Melender walked, Morello laid down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners up and Reddy came around on another wild pitch, making it 4-0.

The team scored two more in the sixth when Scott Germain’s RBI single scored Jake Ricchiuti and Reddy’s sac fly brought in Figueroa.

The runs were plenty for Figueroa, who struggled with the strike zone early on before setting in. Figueroa combined with reliever Travis Everham (two innings) to shut down the ASBA attack

“Alipio is a strike thrower,” O’Donnell said. “He throws three pitches for strikes. In the first inning though, he struggled.”

ASBA took advantage by scoring a run. With one out, Figueroa allowed an Evan Lemay hit and an infield hit to Connor Blowers. Jack Bond plated Lemay with an infield grounder before Figueroa walked Kerrigan.

But Figueroa fanned Lucas Vahey to end the threat.

The inning was over but the troubles were mounting inside Figueroa’s head.

“He came up after that inning and told me, ‘I’m not hitting my spots,’” O’Donnell said. “But he battled through it. Then he started cruising.”

Aiden Keiser of ASBA Warminster gets his work in the pen on Friday.

“The first inning, I had trouble getting into the zone,” Figueroa said. “After that, it was just different. I got my mojo and got back into the strike zone in the second inning. I’m usually a strike thrower and when I walked the batters early, it was frustrating but I was able to get out of it.”

Figueroa’s troubles continued into the second, when he allowed a leadoff double to losing pitcher Aiden Keiser but Melender threw out Kaiser attempting to steal third. From that point on, Figueroa pitched three more strong innings.

All told, he allowed one run on four hits, fanning seven – including the side in the fifth. He walked only two.

“He doesn’t overpower people and he hits his spots,” O’Donnell said. “Kids like playing behind a pitcher like that.”

Figueroa usually throws between 60-80 pitches per start. He was in the upper 70s in his pitch count after five, so O’Donnell brought in Everham.

“Olipio threw about 25 pitches in the first, or he would have stayed in longer,” O’Donnell said.

Everham – “another strike thrower,” according to O’Donnell – came on in relief and allowed two hits over two innings.

Everham worked out of a jam in the sixth, when he hit Brendan Kaiser with his first pitch in relief before Brayden Long reached on an infield hit. But Everham picked off Long and got out of the jam unscathed with some help from his defense.

Cage ended the game with a beautiful 9-4-3-2 putout at the plate to end it.

Everham gave up a one-out walk to Jack Bond before fanning Kerrigan. Vahey then unloaded a long shot up the right center field gap. Morello picked up the ball, threw it to second baseman Reddy, who threw it to Jake Ricchiuti at the plate for the out to end the game.

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