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Great coaching, pitching, outstanding athletes leading to new golden age in Cape-Atlantic League baseball

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Post-World War II and into the 1960s often is considered the golden age of Major League Baseball, when guys like Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Bob Gibson, Mickey Mantle and Ernie Banks — to name just a few — captured the hearts of American fans. The Cape-Atlantic League might be in the midst of its own golden age of high school baseball. The league seems stacked with talented teams this year, and a new realignment and scheduling format means that the larger-school division, the American Conference, is going to leave some teams black-and-blue (figuratively, of course) by season’s end. Absegami’s Matt Ardente, who has committed to Seton Hall University, headlines an outstanding crop of pitching talent. And he is not nearly the only power arm in the league. Ocean City has guys such as Zach Altieri and Sean Mooney, Mainland has veteran hurlers Nick Droboniku and Kyle Gerace, who helped lead the Mustangs to a state championship last year, Egg Harbor Township has several quality pitchers. And don’t forget about St. Augustine Prep, who had a pair of pitchers drafted last year but seems to reload on a yearly basis. Sean Mooney already is one of the best all-around players in the Cape-Atlantic League and he is just a junior at Ocean City High School. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Sean Mooney already is one of the best all-around players in the Cape-Atlantic League and he is just a junior at Ocean City High School. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) And the National Conference won’t be any slouch either, not with Denny Brady of Buena Regional, who might be the best player in South Jersey. “Millville was very young last year and they are going to be good, Vineland will be good. It’s just a 3-day-a-week brutal schedule in the Cape-Atlantic League. That’s something that a lot of people don’t realize. The Cape American is some of the best baseball in South Jersey. That’s not disrespecting teams like Buena, but day in and day out you’re going to be facing quality pitching,” said Absegami coach Brian Wastell. “It is absolutely pitching dominant. When you have good pitching and good coaching, you’re going to have a good league. There’s a lot of talent that is all coming to a head this year. You look at St. Augustine and they are still loaded. They still have two legitimate number ones. That’s not an easy schedule. Ocean City is up with us now, not that we needed that. They can run three number ones at you.” With Hammonton out of the league, Ocean City has moved up to the American Conference. And this year, each team will play 18 conference games, meaning the CAL American teams will be beating each other up for the next two months week in and week out. “I think just in the American Conference, tons of these teams have power arms and I would expect to see some low-scoring, defensive battles. I’ve just been trying to reiterate to my team to make sure every team is earning all 21 outs and that we are putting pressure on these pitchers, and when we get the opportunity we have to make the routine play,” said Mainland coach Billy Kern. “The scoring opportunities against the Ardentes, the Altieris, the Mooneys, and some of these pitchers out there, the runs are going to be hard to come by. If you can win two or three games in a week in the Cape-Atlantic League, that’s going to be a really good week.” Mainland Regional took home the South Jersey and overall Group 3 titles a year ago, and returns 13 letter winners from that team. The Mustangs began this season with back-to-back wins over Millville and Oakcrest. Mainland Regional took home the South Jersey and overall Group 3 titles a year ago, and returns 13 letter winners from that team. The Mustangs began this season with back-to-back wins over Millville and Oakcrest. “Mainland has Droboniku and Gerace, Ocean City has Altieri and Mooney, the Prep has three, ‘Gami with Ardente. And Millville has a young kid who is a sophomore who is going to be good. It’s going to be tough to get by a lot of those teams. This year, the league itself, it’s just going to be an awesome year because now we have to play every team two times with the realignment of the league. Now 18 games are dedicated to in-conference,” said Egg Harbor Township pitching coach Sean Coyle. “It’s a shame that Buena is over in the other conference because they probably have the gem of all of them in Denny Brady. We saw him as a freshman and he was pretty good back then. If you see Buena on the schedule and you find out Brady is pitching, go check him out because he is legit.” Wastell, like Kern, has a team loaded with upperclassmen who saw success in the playoffs last year. The Braves nearly reached the South Jersey Group 4 title game but were knocked out by Rancocas Valley. Even with last year’s success and a lot of experience, Wastell said he knows his team can’t take anything for granted. “We’re always cautiously optimistic. I know we have a target on us, but we are under the work ethic that we have to chase something. We haven’t really talked about it, as far as expectations, except that we want to be better than last year,” Wastall said. “Our mentality is always just to stay within ourselves. We are very happy with our senior leadership. The four years of work ethic that these guys have put in, that’s where I’m excited. I’m excited to see what four years of work can do.” Mainland senior infielder Matt McLaughlin said he and his teammates are eagerly awaiting the challenge of facing good teams every time they step onto the field. “It’s awesome. It brings out the good player in you. You perform the best when you play the best. The Cape-Atlantic League is strong this year so we have to play our best. It’s going to be extremely tough, but anything can happen throughout a game. We just have to go in confident, and I think we will,” McLaughlin said. “We’re a confident team and a good team. We have to come out to play each and every game. We can’t have off innings or off games. We can’t afford that. We all know we have to start off stronger than we did last year.” Several coaches credit the renaissance of sorts to not only the high level of travel baseball that many of these athletes are playing, but also the wealth of knowledge they have access to from high school coaches, summer league coaches, camps, even the internet. “What you see with a lot of these kids is they are athletes. They are big, strong, athletic kids. A lot of these kids will pitch for teams like the Sand Sharks and that ups the ante,” Wastell said. “The renaissance is just a crop of good kids who all came in at the same time, and the prevalence of the quality travel ball at the older levels, we haven’t seen that since the days of American Legion.” “There is so much more information out there now that kids can get their hands on. Kids are following the training, they are more hooked in with their AAU teams, and there is a lot of good coaching in the area to pull information from,” Coyle said. “The baseball in South Jersey, just in this area, the Cape-Atlantic League is enjoying a real resurgence just based on all the great coaching you have throughout the area. Everybody really gets along with each other and they are all for making baseball better in this area and having good competition.” So, who will be the best when the dust clears at the end of May? We’ll begin to find out on April 1. Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]

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