Lafayette commit Moore working toward big finish at Lawrence

By Bob Behre | February 28, 2024

Righthander Kellen Moore was at the forefront of a baseball renaissance at Lawrence High School last spring and the Lafayette College commit is aching for some more baseball nirvana beginning in a couple weeks.

Moore and his Lawrence teammates return all but one starter and their entire pitching staff from a 2023 squad that rolled to a 21-7 record, a Colonial Valley Conference division title and a berth in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 championship game. All of that success came as a shock to many of their CVC rivals.

Lawrence was 5-15 in 2022 and, in fact, had experienced scant success in the sport of baseball over the years in ultra-competitive Mercer County, an area that boast such perennial powers as Steinert, Notre Dame, Hamilton West, Allentown and Robbinsville, not to mention prep powers Hun, Pennington and Lawrenceville.

Veteran Mercer County mentor Jim Maher assumed the reins at Lawrence in 2023 and his steady hand helped steer the Cardinals through that gauntlet and to a 10-1 start to a season that had heads turning and tongues wagging in that baseball-obsessed area of the Garden State.

“Coach Maher is one of the best coaches I’ve played for,” says Moore. “He lets you know what he expects from you and he put me in a good place with my game. He’s a certified winner.”

Maher’s career record (450-196) (.697), much of it amassed during a storied experience at Hamilton West, reflects that. Lawrence is Maher’s fourth coaching stop in a 26-year coaching career. He began that journey at Florence and, after Hamilton West, had a short stay at Nottingham. He also returned to Hamilton West briefly to assist his former player Mike Moceri, who had taken the reins.

With Moore’s help, Maher and Lawrence quickly gelled.

Kellen Moore had terrific seasons with the Diamond Jacks Super 16U and 17U teams.

“Kellen just kept getting better and better for us,” said Maher. “We had a lot of young players step up, too. It was pretty cool to see where they came from to where they ended up. It was one of my most fun years ever.”

Moore carried a big load, registering an 8-1 record on the mound with a 1.37 ERA over an impressive 56.1 innings, earning Pitcher of the Year in the Colonial Valley Conference. He also chipped in at the plate, batting .338 with 24 RBI and 23 runs scored. Moore played first base or DH when not on the mound, which was a big change, positionally, from prior to Maher’s arrival.

“When I came in I was being told, ‘You know, you have to catch the Moore kid.’ I knew how important he was going to be for us on the mound. I thought catching, too, was going to be too much for him.”

But don’t think Maher took a conservative approach behind the plate. He assigned that big responsibility to freshman Drew Dobkin, who impressively handled things more typically like an upperclassman. “That was big and it allowed Kellen to put his catching gear away,” said Maher. Dobkin would earn honorable mention All-CVC.

Moore had been the starting catcher at Lawrence as a freshman and sophomore but his success on the mound forced the change. “As I joined the Diamond Jacks, I started to transition more to pitching. I phased out catching for my arm health.”

Kellen Moore sports a nasty changeup and an ever-improving fastball among his arsenal.

Moore joined the Diamond Jacks program out of Diamond Nation entering his sophomore year at Lawrence and quickly made noticeable improvements with the DJacks Super 16U squad under coach Walt Cleary.

“Kellen always wanted the ball in big games and always had the energy to go win us a game,” said Cleary. “Once that fall season began something really clicked with him. His fastball went from 79-82 to 84-85 and topped out at 87-88.”

Moore combined with Monmouth-bound Cody Sherrer to defeat the East Coast Sox in Georgia that 16U summer. It was, surely, Moore’s finest effort of the summer.

“Kellen came in and threw four scoreless innings to help us get the win,” said Cleary, also the Diamond Jacks 14U-18U coordinator. “It’s been a pleasure watching his development with us. We’re so proud of him as an organization.”

The 6-4, 190-pound Moore’s command, improving fastball and devastating changeup were reflected in his 69 strikeouts and just 11 walks and the fact that he permitted just 32 hits in his prodigious junior campaign at Lawrence.

“He’s a little bigger and stronger now and has added a couple miles per hour to his fastball,” said Maher. “And his changeup is outstanding.” Maher says Moceri called Moore’s changeup ‘the best high school changeup he’s seen as a coach or player.’

“That’s really good for him because, at the next level, he’s going to need that to get lefties out.”

That next level will begin next September at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., where Moore committed after also considering offers from Monmouth and Sacred Heart, amid flirtations with a handful of other schools.

“I went to a camp at Lehigh when coach (A.J.) Miller was still an assistant there,” says Moore. “And I knew coach (Ryan) Luke when he was at Franklin & Marshall.” Miller was subsequently hired as Lafayette’s head coach and Luke joined the Leopards staff, as well, as an assistant. “Then I went to a camp at Lafayette and did really well.” Miller and Luke are Lafayette grads.

Lafayette’s courtship of Moore was a quick one and he gave his verbal in October of 2022.

“It was really important for me to find a school with the right balance of academics and athletics,” says Moore. “The school fits my academic needs. That really stood out. And the coaching staff made me feel welcome.” Moore, at this point, is leaning toward a business major.

Kellen Moore went 8-1 with a 1.37 ERA, 69 strikeouts and just 11 walks as a junior at Lawrence High.

Kellen took his official visit to Lafayette this past September. “That was really cool,” he said. “It was with a bunch of recruits and we met some of the players on the team. We got a feel for what life is like for a Division 1 athlete.” The group then took in a practice and scrimmage. “What stood out to me was how organized the practice was and how focused the players were on every task.”

Talk of Moore’s command cannot be underplayed, as it has been a critical ingredient in his ability to go deep into games. In fact, he pitched four complete games last spring for Lawrence and nearly a fifth. “He would have had that fifth complete game,” said Maher, “but I pulled him because I wanted to have him available for an inning or two later that week.”

Going deep into games has been a point of pride for the big righty.

“I did a lot of work last offseason and I was able to use all three pitches effectively (last spring),” he said. “I was most proud of my longevity in games. It was good for me and the staff.” The precipitous climb in his velocity didn’t hurt either.

Equally important, Moore has shown resiliency and a willingness to adjust in the face of adversity.

Cust recalls Moore running into some trouble with a lethal opponent in his second start of last summer with the Super 17U squad. That team was sitting dead red and feasting on Moore’s four-seamer. But Moore went back to school, if you will, with Cust and Diamond Nation’s Pitching Coordinator Steve Schrenk. The coaches had Moore try out a two-seam fastball in a subsequent bullpen.

“Kellen started throwing the two-seamer and we determined it was moving 17 inches,” said Cust. “That opened things up a lot for him. Now he was really pitching and not just throwing. He’s a smart kid and he wants to learn. When he paired that two-seamer with his changeup, which is nasty, he was lights out the rest of the summer.”

Pitchers and catchers report to every high school field, or gymnasium, in New Jersey on March 11, so preparations are ramping up. Moore, in fact, just completed his basketball season last week when the Cardinals dropped a sectional quarterfinal to CVC rival Hopewell Valley.

That made for a busy winter for Moore, who still incorporated a baseball regimen to his schedule. That included weight lifting and bullpens that began in December. Basketball took care of his wind and agility.

“I just wanted to make sure I was ready to go on the opening day of practice and scrimmages,” said Moore. “I prepared myself pretty well. I talked to coach Maher a lot. He came to a lot of our basketball games.”

NOTES: Lawrence was rewarded mightily for its outstanding performance in 2023 as Moore was joined on First Team All-CVC by his younger brother, then-freshman Deacon Moore (.457, 4-1 on the mound) and then-sophomore outfielder Teak Toto (.425, 27 RBI). The Second Team selections were infielder Riley Rivera, pitcher Connor Crowley and fellow Diamond Jack Robert Kelly, now a senior shortstop and a nasty closer. Kelly is committed to Monmouth University. Lawrence was also selected Team of the Year in the conference.

… Fellow Diamond Jack Jayden Shin, who is committed to Cornell, ran into Moore on the basketball court twice this winter, first in CVC regular season play, and then in last week’s first round NJSIAA sectional basketball game. Shin’s Hopewell Valley team prevailed, 57-44. “We were going against each other a few times in that game,” said Moore.

… More from coach Cust: “There’s a lot to like about Kellen. He has a high ceiling. All of his pitches are really good. He’s going to have a monster season this spring.”

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