NJ Pride/Zoom cruises to Super 16U Top 25 championship

By DN WRITING STAFF | August 17, 2023

By Rich Bevensee

For the New Jersey Pride/Zoom Baseball Academy 2025 ballclub, it wasn’t about going unbeaten in three of four showcase games to qualify for an invitation-only tournament. Nor was it about going undefeated in five more games to reach the championship. 

And despite what outsiders may believe, it was not about handing down a one-sided verdict against the top-seeded team in that finale.

The message, according to coach Nick Nocella, is about improving his balplayers’ skills on the way to grabbing that trophy.

So while it may have been a relief to everyone that the grind of the summer club baseball season was complete, those polished skills were more of the focal point after third-seeded NJ Pride/Zoom walloped top-seeded Atlantic Reign, 11-2, in the Super 16U Top 25 championship game on a blistering Wednesday afternoon at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“It was a lot of fun but we focus on processes, so it was less about coming here and winning a tournament and more about our guys are here to get better,” said Nocella, a two-time NJSIAA state champion with Gloucester Catholic (NP-B in 2017 and ‘18). “If we’re getting better every single pitch, then good things are going to happen. Winning the tournament is the end goal – sure, that was good – but we focus on the little things.”

NJ Pride/Zoom catcher and cleanup hitter Matt Marino was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after anchoring a defense which allowed just 10 runs in six games, and hammering the first home run of his career in the final. 

Other NJ Pride heroes included Chase Forrester, who allowed one run over five innings; Grant Fournier, who raced around the bases for an inside-the-park, three-run home run; and Chris Ahrens, Chase Roberts and Alex Argabright, who each drove in a run. 

Marino’s debut around the bases was a two-run moonshot over the left field fence which capped the scoring for NJ Pride/Zoom in the top of the seventh.

“There was a bet before the at bat that I couldn’t hit a home run,” said Marino, a rising junior at Father Judge in Philadelphia. “Yeah it surprised me. I didn’t think I had that kind of pop. But I knew it was gone when I hit it.”

Marino’s defense shone as well on the big stage. From behind the plate he threw out a runner at second, and he picked off two runners at third.

Fournier’s home run, which immediately preceded Marino’s, started out as a high drive to center which looked to be the third out of the inning. Instead, the ball landed beyond the reach of Reign’s Ethan Lee and rolled to the fence.

“I didn’t get out of the box fast because I thought it was just a lazy fly ball,” said Fournier, a sleek rising junior at Cherry Hill West who celebrated after the game with Ahrens by doing a cartwheel into a backflip. “When I saw it go over his head I thought I better get moving. I never thought I was gonna make it home till I got to third. I thought my coach (Nocella) was sending me just to challenge them because we had such a comfortable lead. I didn’t think I was going all the way around.”

Forrester, a 6-3 righty and rising junior at Conwell Egan Catholic in Fairless Hills, Pa., was terrific as NJ Pride/Zoom’s starter, allowing one run through five innings on four hits and two walks with four strikeouts. 

“My slider worked pretty well for strikes. Threw it a lot on the first pitch,” Forrester said. “Curveball got a couple strikeouts. Fastball was pretty good today, had good command of it.”

Forrester faced the minimum through the first three innings before allowing a hit in the fourth. Working with a 5-0 lead entering the fifth, he surrendered a run in his final inning on a Cory Ginsberg RBI single. 

“He gave us everything we needed,” Nocella said. “In that fifth inning his velo dropped about four or five miles an hour so we knew he may have been a little gassed, but luckily we gave him a cushion to work with.”

Josh Litsky, a rising junior at Cherokee, earned his second save of the week after tossing the final two innings and allowing one run on two hits and one walk.

Matt Marino of NJ Pride/Zoom was named MVP of the Super 16 Top 25 Showcase.

“Litsky closed the door for the second time in this tournament which is great,” Nocella said. “All our pitchers gave us great showings. I think everyone of our starters gave us three or four innings and in every single game let up less than two earned runs. That’s a recipe for success, right there.”

While Forrester and Litsky put a stranglehold on the Reign offense, NJ Pride/Zoom was methodical in scratching out runs. In building a 6-2 lead through six innings, five of its runs came via two RBI groundouts, a sacrifice fly, balk and one on a throwing error. 

“Whatever it takes, really, to score,” Nocella said. “Runner on third, less than two out, we’re looking to just get them in. If the infield’s back we’re hitting a ground ball. If the infield’s in we’re looking for a fly ball. Whatever it takes to win that day, we’re gonna do it. Small ball? Yeah, it counts.”

Argabright began NJ Pride/Zoom’s scoring with an RBI groundout in the first inning. Roberts added the same in the fourth for a 2-0 lead.

In the fifth, Josh Holloway scored from second when Rico Rosati’s fly ball was dropped. All runners held up thinking it would be an out, but Holloway raced from second to third on the drop, and to home when the throw back to the infield in was mishandled.

Continuing in the inning, Peyton O’Brien scored on a balk and Fournier added an RBI groundout for a 5-0 lead.

Atlantic Reign broke up the shutout bid in the bottom of the fifth when Ginsberg drove in Lee with a groundout. 

Teams traded runs in the sixth inning. NJ Pride/Zoom scored on an Ahrens sacrifice fly for a 6-1 lead. In the bottom of the frame, Nick Atme stroked an RBI single for Reign.

Fournier and Marino concluded the scoring for NJ Pride/Zoom with back-to-back home runs. 

It was a long road for both teams in reaching the Super 16U final. The top five teams from five different Diamond Nation tournaments qualified for the Super 16U Top 25; both NJ Pride/Zoom and Atlantic Reign qualified as one of the top five clubs from the Garden State Invitational July 10-14. 

NJ Pride/Zoom went 3-0-1 with a 21-7 scoring differential. Atlantic Reign also finished 3-0-1 in the Garden State event with a 33-14 differential. 

In the Super 25 event, NJ Pride/Zoom allowed just eight runs while going 4-0 in four pool games and reached the final after Morris County Cubs 16U Navy had to pull out of the tournament before the semifinals. 

Atlantic Reign went 3-0 in pool play and knocked off the Richmond County Baseball Club Ghost 16U Nationals, 3-2, in the other semi after Reign’s Haarsch Ramayanam Venkkat walked it off with an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning.

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