NJ Rising Rebels secure 14U Red School’s Out title every which way

By DN WRITING STAFF | June 24, 2024

By Rich Bevensee

They scored with small ball, and they scored with the long ball.

They scored by being patient at the plate, and by being aggressive on the basepaths and taking advantage of opponents’ mistakes.

The New Jersey Rising Rebels 2028 scored in nearly every manner all weekend, then performed an encore in the championship game, just in case anyone missed the show and needed to see just how they scored 58 runs in five games.

Brian Morhardt homered while Luke Cusack and James Gaven singled and doubled to pace the Rebels to a 12-1, four-inning victory over the Taconic Rangers and the School’s Out 14U Red division championship on Sunday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“It’s been all about putting the ball in play and taking advantage of the opportunities in front of us, making sure we don’t go down on strikes and making sure we put pressure on the other team,” Rebels coach Justin Capozzi said.

“This spring it’s been very consistent. Everyone, top to bottom in the lineup, putting the ball in play, comfortable with anyone in any spot.”

That last comment especially applies to Morhardt, who slugged a solo homer in the final after being dropped from the cleanup spot to No. 9 in the batting order. Morhardt, who played multiple positions this weekend including pitcher, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Brian Morhardt of the NJ Rising Rebels was named 14U Red School’s Out MVP.

“We moved him down because he was seeing a lot of breaking balls and he was pretty off balance,” Capozzi said. “We moved him down and told him, ‘Hunt the fastball, keep it simple,’ and it went long.”

Morhardt was vocal in his disgust when he saw the lineup in the dugout before the game, but cleared his mind in time to have a positive approach at the plate. The homer was his first on a 90-foot diamond. 

“As soon as I saw it (the lineup), I was a little upset – that got me a little fired up,” said Morhardt, a rising freshman at Morristown High. “Then when I stepped in the box I just thought, ‘I want to hit this ball so hard.’ Last game I hit a ball that landed at the bottom of the fence. This time I swung hard and connected.”

Cusack had the Rebels’ other very hard-hit ball of the game, rocking a two-run double into the left field corner which helped the team reach the mercy-rule threshold in the top of the fourth. 

The Rebels also showed how they can string together rallies by scoring three runs in the top of the first with five straight singles. Two choppers up the middle preceded Gaven’s flare to right which drove in a run. After a grounder through the box, Julian Liu stroked a two-run single into left for a 3-0 Rebels lead.

After Morhardt homered in the second for a 4-1 lead, the Rebels tacked on seven runs over the next two innings by exhibiting patience and taking advantage of mistakes. In the third, Gaven scored on an infield error on a Liu grounder, Jordani Gonzalez singled up the middle to drive in a run, and Cam Gabriel walked with the bases loaded for a 7-1 lead.

The Rebels tacked on four more runs in the fourth to close the show. Pat McKeever singled and then raced around the bases to score on an outfield error. Liu scored on a passed ball, Morhardt had a fielder’s choice RBI and Cusack had a two-run double. 

Rebels pitching was solid in quieting the Rangers lineup. Ian Davis pitched 2⅓ innings and allowed one run on two hits and three walks with one strikeout. Fenton Morrissey pitched the last 1⅔ scoreless innings in relief and did not allow a hit or a walk and struck out one. Morrissey, who started at short, went 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.

Morrissey rejoined the Rebels after competing for the 13U Showcase Baseball Association Bolts at the 2024 National Team Championships last week in Cary, North Carolina.

“The experience was nice, the fields were beautiful just like the pros, and there was great competition,” Morrissey said. “I wouldn’t really say I had to change gears (between the national tournament and the School’s Out event). I just adapt.”

The Rebels blitzed to the title by defeating Complete Performance Baseball Academy, 17-3, the Bucks County Generals, 10-3, Wladyka Baseball Continental, 9-7, and, in the semis, Wladyka National, 10-2. 

The Rangers earned the top seed and a berth into the final by allowing a total of eight runs, the fewest runs in the pool. They defeated U.S. Elite Mid-Atlantic, 4-3, Morris County Cubs Navy, 6-5, and Complete Game of PA, 4-3. 

The Rangers’ only base hits came when lefty-hitting Neil Gelfand, Jr., had an opposite-field, RBI double in the first, and Domenico Fanelli singled in the second. 

Christian Maratos pitched a third of an inning for the Rangers, Jayden Bower pitched three innings, and Will Liu closed out the final two-thirds of an inning.

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