Kelly, Moore steer No. 18 Lawrence past No. 3 Bridgewater, 5-2

By Bob Behre | May 2, 2024

Kellen Moore of Lawrence is about to square up a single to center in the third inning at Bridgewater.

The Lawrence baseball program has taken enormous strides the past two seasons, including reaching the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 final a year ago.

But that groundbreaking 21-7 season may have simply poured the foundation for what has become a terrific 2024 campaign under the concerted efforts of what is mostly the same cast of 2023 players.

That gritty group of Cardinals, ranked No. 18 in the Top 20, put a big feather in its cap on Wednesday afternoon when they knocked off equally hot and third-ranked Bridgewater-Raritan (14-2), 5-2, on a beautiful spring afternoon in Bridgewater.

“It’s definitely the highest ranked team Lawrence has ever beaten,” said second-year coach Jim Maher, the Mercer County legend who owns 466 victories in a career that began at Florence and made memorable stops at Hamilton West and Nottingham. He’s already 37-8 at Lawrence.

Lawrence was taking this one to heart, despite having important Colonial Valley Conference games ahead, as does Bridgewater-Raritan in the rugged Skyland Conference.

Still, neither team went with their frontline starting pitchers in the non-conference, intersectional affair. Bridgewater-Raritan used the back of its staff with perennial Group 4 power Hunterdon Central on the docket Friday. Lawrence held Monmouth-bound ace Kellen Moore for CVC rival Hopewell Valley on Thursday.

Maher, however, didn’t scrimp in the area of his bullpen, opting for his closer Kelly, given the perfect opportunity in the bottom of the fourth.

Lawrence sophomore Deacon Moore, Kellen’s younger brother, held the Panthers to a run on three hits over the first three innings, but ran into immediate trouble in the bottom of the fourth. Bridgewater’s Matt Fattore and Matt Cichocki opened the inning with back-to-back singles that put runners on the corners with no outs.

“We usually don’t use Robert before the fifth inning,” said Maher. “But I didn’t like the way those first two balls were hit in the fourth.”

Kelly knew there was a chance he could enter early, if needed.

“It’s unusual for me to come in during the middle innings,” said Kelly, “but coach told me in the second or third inning to be ready.”

J.R. Rosado steps into a single down the third base line in the second inning against Lawrence.

Kelly was, indeed, ready.

The Monmouth commit brought a live fastball and a devastating curveball into the game and tamed the Panthers lineup to the tune of four hitless and scoreless innings as he struck out seven, walked one and hit a batter.

J.R. Rosado, Bridgewater’s terrific junior catcher, who singled in his first at bat, lifted a fly ball to left field that went for a sac fly, scoring Fattore to shave the Lawrence lead to 5-2. But Kelly got fellow Diamond Jack Kellan Komline on a fly out and struck out Michael Taylor to end the threat.

Kelly, whose fastball was clocked at 88 miles per hour last summer, wasn’t quite there, but his curveball was deadly enough as he cruised through the final three innings. He struck out the side around a walk in the fifth, got the side in order in the sixth after a leadoff hit-by-pitch, and retired the Panthers in order in the seventh, two by strikeout.

“My curveball is the pitch I trust the most,” said Kelly. “This is a big confidence boost for us. It’s our first win over a ranked team.”

The bats of Kelly, Teak Toto, Kellen Moore and Connor Willever helped stake Lawrence (16-1) to a 5-1 lead through three-and-a-half innings. Kelly, the leadoff hitter, opened the game by singling inside third base, stole second and eventually scored on a fielder’s choice grounder by Toto.

Bridgewater used its usual formula to tie the game in the bottom of the first. It set its leadoff hitter Devin Golberg loose. The Panthers’ shortstop was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored after back-to-back fielder’s choice grounders by Matt Lehberger and Fattore.

Willever delivered a two-out, two-run single to left to score Toto and Kellen Moore, each of whom had singled with two outs, to put Lawrence in front, 3-1, in the third.

“Willever got a big hit there,” said Maher. “He was a bench guy but earned his way into the lineup. He’s got a lot of power, too. He’s been a great boost to the lineup.”

The bottom of the Lawrence order set the table for two more runs in the top of the fourth. Sophomore catcher Drew Dobkin hit a shot that glanced off the glove of diving Bridgewater third baseman Joe Spirra for a leadoff single. Riley Rivera, the No. 9 hitter, dropped down a nifty sac bunt to get the runner to second.

Lawrence’s Robert Kelly eyeballs a pitch, as does Bridgewater-Raritan catcher J.R. Rosado.

Kelly pounced on the runner in scoring position opportunity by driving a double into right-center field that chased Dobkin home. Kelly moved to third on a fielder’s choice and scored on the back end of a double steal.

Kelly added a 2-for-4, one-RBI, 2-run effort to his pitching performance and Kellen Moore went 2-for-4 and scored a run. That continued a hot streak for Moore, who was 11-for-17 at the plate last week with two HRs.

“I’ve been jumping on the first pitch,” said Moore. “A lot of times it’s the best pitch you’ll see.”

Moore, 4-0 on the season with a 1.56 ERA and 47 strikeouts and 10 walks in 27 innings, mostly admired Kelly’s effort on Wednesday.

“Robert was awesome,” said Moore. “He was getting ahead of hitters with his fastball and curveball, making his job easy.” Kelly, who is batting an even .400, has not allowed a run on just two hits in 13 innings out of the pen. He has 24 strikeouts and four walks.

“This was a really impressive win for us,” said Moore. “

Bridgewater-Raritan always seemed one hit away or one out short of making things go its way, which it truly has all season.

“Credit to them for scoring two runs after two were out (in the third),” said Bridgewater-Raritan coach Max Newill. “We were a little sloppy on the bases, then they brought in a tough pitcher who did a good job.”

NOTES: Newill, who has put together 235 wins over 16 seasons, has an unforgettable connection to Lawrence coach Jim Maher. Newill was an outstanding player at Delran and played on the Burlington County entry in the 1994 Carpenter Cup, a team coached by, you guessed it, Maher. Maher was the coach of Florence at the time.

… Lawrence’s No. 9 hitter, Rivera had a single, double and the sac bunt in three trips to the plate. .. Deacon Moore permitted two runs on five hits over three innings, struck out three, walked none and hit a batter.

… Fattore had a single, was hit by a pitch, scored a run and drove in a run. Rosado showcased his arm behind the plate, throwing out a runner attempting to steal second and picking off another runner at first base.

… The rear of the Bridgewater-Raritan staff was certainly serviceable as four pitchers permitted five runs on 10 hits, struck out five, walked three and hit three batters with pitches. Righthander Joe Letko was the most impressive. He allowed no runs on one hit over 2⅔ innings, striking out three and walking two.

Share With A Friend:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *