Morales, Lipoff battery proves the trick for NJ Pride/ZBA

By DN WRITING STAFF | July 13, 2023

Jimmy Grey of NJ Pride leads off first after his two-run single in the first inning.

By Rich Bevensee

The Diamond Jacks baseball program has spent several years building a hefty reputation of developing players who can hit the ball all over the park.

Count crafty righty Alex Morales and his personal catcher Braeden Lipoff as two of the very few who figured out how to slow them down. 

Morales, a rising junior at Maple Shade, admittedly needed a frame or two to fall into a groove. But he and Lipoff eventually crafted a game plan which enabled him to allow just one hit over five innings and lift NJ Pride/Zoom Baseball Academy 2025/2026 to a 6-1 victory over the Diamond Jacks Super 15U squad in the Garden State Games Powered by Victus on Tuesday afternoon at Diamond Nation in Flemington. 

“My mechanics were different every inning, so I had to settle in and focus on using my legs and not so much my arm,” said Morales, whose last appearance was in a tournament in Georgia last week. Morales allowed just the one hit – to Diamond Jacks catcher Mike Basile – walked five and struck out four.

“In the first inning I saw a lot of their swings, and they were keying on fastballs so I knew I could get ahead with offspeed,” said the 6-0, 217-pound Morales. “I wasn’t feeling my fastball the first two innings. Once I started using my legs more and got the arm angle right, I saw that they started sitting on the offspeed low and away, so my catcher was setting up everywhere if he saw a weakness in their swings.”

Lipoff, who caught for two years at Kingsway and is a rising junior transfer at Gloucester Catholic, has caught Morales on four different club teams. Lipoff said Morales simply needed time to find his rhythm and remember to use his strengths.

“I was helping him remember he could pitch to contact and that he didn’t have to strike out everybody,” Lipoff said. “I think there’s a comfortability between us. My job is making him feel comfortable, setting my target where he wants it, being vocal. And I know how his ball moves and what he’s throwing well.”

Peyton O’Brien did a solid job finishing up what Morales started. The rising junior from Pennsville pitched two scoreless innings and allowed one hit –  a double to Mike Novotny – a hit batsman and struck out two. 

NJ Pride coach Mike Zolk was pleased with how Morales and Lipoff quickly developed a game plan to help Morales find his comfort zone.

Michael Novotny of Diamond Jacks Super 15U slides into third after doubling in the seventh inning.

“Alex was trying to find a way to get in a groove. He was taking a little too much time between pitches,” Zolk said. “But he and Braeden behind the plate got it clicking. They really had it synched up in the second, third, fourth innings. But it was really about settling in. He had a good high school season, he’s been good all summer for us, and he’s got a very good slider. Once he settled in he cruised through the game, and his strike percentage picked up.”

While Morales and O’Brien were silencing Diamond Jacks bats, the NJ Pride spent most of the afternoon making noise at the plate, beginning with a four-run rally in the first inning.

Jake Keaser was hit by a pitch, Joey Erace singled and Luke Guire reached on a fielder’s choice (which resulted in a throwing error) to load the bases. Lipoff drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly and Jimmy Gray uncorked a two-run single. Grant Fournier capped the rally with an RBI double to center. 

Lipoff was in the middle of the offensive production again in the fourth inning when he doubled to left and scored on a Chris Ahrens sac fly for a 5-0 Pride lead.

O’Brien capped Pride scoring in the fourth when a throw to get Jake Keaser (single, walk, run scored) at second was errant, and O’Brien scurried home from third.

The Diamond Jacks spoiled NJ Pride’s shutout bid in the top of the fifth when Kellen Komline walked, moved to second on a Basile walk, took third on a John Rossman fielder’s choice grounder, and scored on a wild pitch. 

For the Diamond Jacks, Sean Loggie pitched 3⅔ innings and allowed six runs on five hits and three walks with two strikeouts. Keith Mann was excellent in relief, chalking up 2⅓ scoreless innings with four strikeouts.

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