The Ocean City High School baseball team began the season in the warm Florida sun against tough teams.
Both the climate and the competition benefited the Red Raiders.
Ocean City (9-3) has won six straight after Tuesday's 10-0 win over Wildwood Catholic. The Red Raiders lead the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference.
"Our pitching has been our strong suit and as the season has gone on we've begun to put things together," Red Raiders coach Craig Mensinger said. "We're getting timely hits, and our defense is getting better and better."
The Red Raiders have quietly become one of the region's most consistent programs. Ocean City reached the state Group III final in 2010 and finished 18-10 last season, losing to Hammonton in the South Jersey Group III final. The Red Raiders haven't had a losing season since 2008.
Ocean City - as it has done the past four seasons – traveled this spring to Florida to practice and play games.
This year's trip to St. Petersburg came at the start of the season, which was especially beneficial. Spring weather can be cold and rainy in Ocean City, so the Red Raiders relished the chance to head south.
"Our field was (still) kind of bad from the hurricane," Ocean City senior Kieran Tracey said. "It was good to get outside and see some fly balls off the bat and not have to hit in the cage every day."
But in past years Ocean City dominated its Florida competition. The Red Raiders went 3-0 in 2010 and 2011 and 2-1 last season.
This year they returned from Florida 1-2. Ocean City beat Ottawa Hills of Ohio 1-0 in the season opener but then lost to Tates Creek of Kentucky 7-1 and Canisius of New York 5-0.
"We played three very good teams," Mensinger said. "When we came back here, nobody really intimidated us."
The Red Raiders boast a deep pitching staff. Starter Beau Hall is headed to Georgetown University. He threw a shutout in the Ottawa Hills win.
Kyle Andrews has emerged as another of the CAL's best starters.
He struck out 10 in a 4-1 win over Lower Cape May Regional on April 16th. Andrews (3-1) also got the win in Monday's 13-0 defeat of Mainland Regional.
"He has a decent moving fastball and his cutter is his bread-and-butter pitch," Mensinger said. "It has a sharp break at the end. He also throws a curve every once in awhile."
Freshman Sean Mooney has become the team's closer. He pitched out of bases-loaded jam and got the final seven outs in Ocean City's 6-5 win over Buena Regional last Thursday.
Mensinger admitted he had doubts about putting Mooney in the bases-loaded situation against one of the CAL's top teams. But the coach visited the mound and asked Mooney, who had been playing third base, if he had any problems coming into the game at that point.
"Nah, I'm all right," Mooney said.
The first Buena batter bounced back to the mound for the inning's final out.
Mooney also has made an impact with his bat. He knocked in the winning run in last Friday's 5-4 win over Atlantic City.
"Our chemistry is coming together," Tracey said. "If someone makes a bad play, they know someone has their back and will make a good play right behind it to keep the game moving."
The CAL National Conference leader as of May 5 will earn an automatic invitation to the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic. The tournament, which starts May 11, features 16 of South Jersey's top teams.
Ocean City and Buena Regional each have once conference loss, but the Red Raiders have the edge because of their win over Buena. Ocean City is 0-3 in its previous Diamond Classic appearances.
"The three times we've been in it, we never threw our No. 1 starter," Mensinger said. "If we could ever do some damage, it would b this year because we do have some pitching (depth)."
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