Ocean City’s Mooney masters Mainland, fans 14
LINWOOD — Prior to Tuesday's game featuring rivals Ocean City and Mainland Regional, the crowd was buzzing about the chance to see Red Raiders stud pitcher Sean Mooney. After three innings, the only buzzing the Mainland faithful heard came from random bumble bees near the home dugout.
Mooney used his blazing fastball, wipeout curve and an occasional changeup to strike out the first nine hitters he faced, and he also launched a 2-run home run in the first inning that clanged off the junior varsity field's backstop about 375 feet away. That was plenty for Ocean City, which tacked on five runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth off several Mainland relievers to cruise to a 9-0 victory.
Ironically, this was Mooney's first career start against the Red Raiders' arch rival.
"I don't think he's ever pitched against Mainland. That's just the way it worked out," said Ocean City coach Craig Mensinger. "I almost went out of our sequence that we had in the beginning of the year, but my assistant coach said, 'wait a minute, he's going to graduate without ever pitching against Mainland?' And I said, 'no, I can't do that. It's not fair to him.' He was pretty dominant, and we're coming to see that every game out there. But Mainland is such a great program, I didn't expect (nine straight strikeouts). I really didn't. But it was nice, I'll take it.
"And he had the big hit. I think that made him relax and made everybody else relax a little bit."
"It was nice to know they couldn't touch it today. I really felt on today, and the results showed it. Actually, in the bullpen I wasn't feeling that great. I was struggling to get the fastball over and the curveball was bouncing every time. But once I got into the game, I zoned in and everything was working," said Mooney, who allowed just three hits in six innings while striking out 14. "This atmosphere is nuts. There were fans down each foul line. It was crazy. It feels great to beat them."
Ocean City catcher Jeremy West said he's come to expect nothing less from one of the top players in the Cape-Atlantic League — and South Jersey. And the state.
"What else can I say? He's untouchable. It's crazy," West said. "I kind of expect it from him by now. He knows what his job is. It's exciting to catch somebody like that."
Mooney's blast in the top of the first came off Anthony Capasso after Dom Fiorentino reached on an infield error. Capasso settled down after that and didn't allow another run over the next four innings. But Ocean City (7-2) rallied once Capasso was out of the game. The Red Raiders struck for five runs in the top of the sixth, highlighted by Nick Artymowicz's home run to straightaway center field. Josh Arnold and Fiorentino had consecutive RBI singles later in the inning, and a run scored when Joey Clifford was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Noah Aungst capped the outburst with a run-scoring single to left.
"We didn't play very well against Millville (in an 8-2 loss Friday), but you have to give their pitcher credit. He did a real nice job keeping us off stride. We had an opportunity to get a couple of key hits and didn't," Mensinger said. "That's what I liked about today. Early, we didn't get the big hit, but finally we scored some runs and started getting the big hits. That's what I expect from this team. When we were in Florida (for preseason) we played some really talented teams and we were getting the timely hit, strong pitching and good defense. So I kind of expect that, but it is high school and our league is very competitive, so you just never know. That's what we're trying to strive for, consistency."
"We had big hits, timely hits, we were taking walks and just taking what they were giving us. We played with a lot of energy today," Mooney said.
The big story wasn't Ocean City's offense, however. It was Mooney's dominance against a team that has won back-to-back South Jersey championships. Mainland (7-3) had also won six of its last seven games and had a lot of success the past couple of years against Ocean City.
"They've beaten us the last four times, so it feels good to come back and smoke 'em," West said. "We were struggling a little bit, but I think we are going to bounce back real well after this game, and I think this will skyrocket us even higher."
"I think he's given up one hit up until today. He's just been so dominating, and it gets to the point where everyone has so much confidence where if we can just get one or two runs he can make that stand up," Mensinger said. "But I still get nervous. I've been doing this a long time and I still get nervous. I never got nervous when I played, but I get nervous when I coach. But it's a lot easier when he's on the mound, that's for sure."
Mooney, who was a little banged up at the end of last season, said he is 100 percent healthy — a scary proposition for the rest of South Jersey.
"I feel healthy. Last year my legs were bothering me a little bit, but I feel great this year," Mooney said. "Honestly, this is the best I've ever felt."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays