Early Postseason Exit Last Year Motivates Ocean City Baseball Team
The Ocean City baseball team felt pretty good about its chances to make it to the South Jersey Group 3 championship game last season. The Red Raiders had an outstanding regular season, one that featured a Diamond Classic invitation. And in the opening round of the state playoffs they had dismantled Camden Tech 10-0. If the top-seeded Red Raiders could get past No. 8 Winslow and possibly fifth-seeded Delsea, they would most likely face either Toms River South or rival Mainland in the title game. Ocean City also had its ace pitcher, Sean Mooney, on the hill in the second round of the tournament, and he likely would be available for a championship game appearance. Things were set up nicely.
But Winslow had other ideas.
The Eagles shocked the Red Raiders 5-1 in the quarterfinals, and just like that the Red Raiders’ season was over. No South Jersey championship, no rings, no jackets. Just a long offseason thinking about what could have been.
Well, that offseason is over, and the Red Raiders are determined to make what could have been happen this year.
“This team is very confident, more so than I even expected. They feel really good about themselves right now. We’ve played very well in scrimmages and we hit the ball very well in Florida. So right now, our confidence is very high, but we also know our league is going to be very tough this year. We all know we’re not going to go through the schedule unblemished, but we’re confident we’re going to have a good year,” said Ocean City coach Craig Mensinger. “We’re a senior-layden team. We only have a couple of juniors who will be in the starting lineup, and these guys have been playing together for a long time. Even the kids who will be part-time starters, (starters) have a lot of confidence in them and I think that’s because they’ve been playing together for so long. They know what they are capable of, and right now they are very hungry. Last year they expected to win the league and South Jersey but came up a little short, so I think that does motivate them a little bit.”
Ocean City is led by Sean Mooney, who is one of the top all-around baseball players in South Jersey and a guy who committed to St. John’s University even before his junior season began last year. As a pitcher, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder can dial it up into the low 90s and has one of the best curveballs in the area. He’s just as fearsome a hitter and is one of the biggest power threats at the plate in the Cape-Atlantic League. He’s listed as a 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game honorable mention All-American and All-Region First Team from the Northeast, according to perfectgame.org. In a game last year, Mooney struck out 15 batters against St. Augustine Prep, one of the top teams in the league.
“My arm feels great. It feels great to be recognized as one of the top teams in the area. My name’s been known for a few years now, so I don’t really feel that much pressure. I’ve pitched in front of big crowds before,” Mooney said.
That’s about all Mooney will say about himself, but teammates have no problem dropping superlatives when Mooney’s name is mentioned.
“Sean has always been a calm, cool, collected guy and his leadership has been outstanding. He’s our No. 3 hitter and the star pitcher, and we all know everything that has been written about him. He brings the spotlight to us and we try to shine in that spotlight. But he’s a team player through and through and we enjoying having him on our team because we know that he makes us better. From there, we build off the momentum,” said fellow senior Joey Clifford, who will take over for Mooney full-time at third base this year. “It’s awesome being able to play behind a pitcher like him. You see the ball going in and you’re thinking, ‘this kid’s not touching that.’ It’s exciting to watch somebody like that. He’s a great guy and he’s awesome to be around. He’s lights out, and it’s awesome to watch him pitch.”
But the Red Raiders are much more than just the Sean Mooney show. They have one of the best infields in the Cape-Atlantic League with Clifford at third base, football and basketball star Andrew Donoghue at shortstop, Brian Casey at second and Mooney at first when he’s not pitching. They also have Jeremy West, one of the top returning catchers in the league, and outfielders Josh Arnold and Dom Fiorentino both return to make Ocean City’s one of the deepest lineups in South Jersey. The Red Raiders come into the season ranked No. 3 in South Jersey, according to philly.com, behind only Cherokee and Gloucester Catholic.
Ocean City also is coming off a spring training trip to Florida where it went 4-1.
“We have a lot of senior leadership, so we’re excited about all kinds of good things happening this year,” Clifford said. “It’s been a blast the past four years playing alongside all my best friends. We’ve all been together and it’s awesome to see the progression over the last four years. We’re all ready to go. We’re chomping at the bit. We might not be firing on all cylinders right now, but we know we are ready to tear it up.”
“We have to go out and do it, you can’t just have it on paper. But we go about seven pitchers strong, and I’ve never experienced having so many arms. We have the big three with Mooney, Josh Arnold and Nick Artymowicz, but I have another three or four kids who pitched in Florida and I was surprised at how well they pitched,” Mensinger said. “So we feel our pitching depth is a strong point, and we should be stronger defensively. We made quite a few errors last year, so we’re trying to tighten that up this year. So far, we’ve been hitting the ball, so if we can put it all together every day we think we’re going to be in a lot of games. We know we’re going to be in a lot of tight games because this might be the best our league has ever been.”
Clifford said losing to Winslow in the sectional quarterfinals last season has been a huge motivator, and whenever the Red Raiders feel like they might be getting too confident, they have a reminder of how quickly a great season can turn sour.
“We think about that loss every time we get too high. All offseason we’ve been working hard to bounce back from that,” Clifford said. “We know we have a target on our back this year and we know the expectations that are on us, and we know the expectations we put on ourselves. But we know if we work hard we can get things done. We’re all pretty confident.”
Mooney said the Red Raiders are ready to prove they can live up to lofty expectations this season.
“We know we can do some damage. We’ve been playing together for four years now, and some of these guys I’ve been playing with since we were 9 years old,” Mooney said. “I can’t wait. I’m ready to go, and I know all the rest of the guys are ready to go, too.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays