Mooney, O.C. claim SJG3 baseball crown
OCEAN CITY — Give Ocean City senior right-hander Sean Mooney one run, and you might as well just pack your bags and go home. Ball game is over.
Mooney — like he has been all season — was lights out on Friday against Highland in the South Jersey Group 3 championship game, blazing through the Tartans' lineup as the Red Raiders cruised to a 5-0 victory, and a title that has eluded this year's seniors for the past three seasons.
Mooney, using a live fastball and a knee-buckling curve, fanned 10 and allowed only three hits as the top-seeded Red Raiders wrapped up the title in about 90 minutes. It was a typical outing for the St. John's University recruit, who has yet to allow an earned run in more than 50 innings this season.
"It feels great to finally win it. I was focused all day. This was all I was thinking about all day. When I stepped onto the mound I felt great, and once we got that run in the bottom of the first, I knew we would win it," Mooney said. "(Last year) drove us a lot. We fell short, and this year we've been playing every game like it's our last."
Ocean City (19-5) got an early lead when Dom Fiorentino reached on an infield single with one out, stole second and scored when the throw sailed into center field and was bobbled in the outfield. That was all Mooney needed, but the Red Raiders tacked on four runs in the bottom of the fifth for good measure. They advance to face Nottingham in the Group 3 semifinals on Tuesday at Cumberland County College in Vineland.
"I just try to lead by example. We know if we can get runs early, Mooney will shut them down. Once we got that one run, I had a lot of confidence in myself and my teammates to do what we had to do to get the win," said Fiorentino, who went 2-for-2 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored. "We've been working for this since our freshman year. In the beginning of the year, we kind of pressed a little bit. We realized we were pressing, we lost a couple of games. But then we started having fun and playing great baseball. We had a lot of momentum going into states. This is unbelievable, that's all I can say."
"It's an unbelievable feeling. We've been working for this for four years. Last year we came up short, so it's an amazing feeling to come back and win it this year," said Josh Arnold, who was the starting pitcher in Ocean City's extra-innings win over rival Mainland Regional in the semifinals.
Highland's Christian Scafidi, a University of Pennsylvania recruit, pitched well before running into trouble in the fifth as the Red Raiders used some small ball to mount a rally. Catcher Jeremy West singled to right to start the inning and Danny Gray followed with a bunt single. Arnold also reached on a bunt single to load the bases, and Fiorentino ripped a two-run, opposite field double just inside the third base bag to push Ocean City's lead to 3-0. Joe Clifford added a two-run double later in the inning, and Mooney shut the Tartans down over the final two innings.
"Scafidi threw a hell of a game. He's a great pitcher and a great competitor," Arnold said. "We didn't think one run was going to win it, but it did. But those four runs in the fifth inning were huge. That just kind of put us over the top."
Arnold said it never gets old watching from his position in center field as Mooney mows hitters down.
"It's crazy, just watching his fastballs come in and his curveballs dropping off the table. Nobody has a better seat. Maybe Jeremy, but that's about it," Arnold said. "All the hard work we put in during the winter and fall, it's been a long time coming. We've been fighting for this for years, and it's great to finally win it."
Fiorentino said last season's early playoff exit against Winslow has been a motivator all year for the Red Raiders.
"We had a lot of motivation. We had the talent to go (to the final) last year, it just didn't work out that way," he said. "We knew we had to get it done this year."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays