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Pitching depth carries Mainland Regional baseball team to sectional championship game

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Mainland Regional baseball coach Billy Kern said he told Nick Droboniku, the scheduled starting pitcher in Friday’s South Jersey Group 3 championship game against Moorestown, to give him everything he’s got for as many innings as he can go. When your season comes down to one game, and you had to burn your ace in the semifinals just to get to the title game, it’s all-hands-on-deck time. Kern said Droboniku, Jack Loefflad and Kyle Gerace are all available and all three might be used as the 11th-seeded Mustangs go for a sectional title. “I like our chances. We played well today and we’ve won six of our last seven games,” Kern said. It’s been an improbable run for the Mustangs (12-12), who just today reached the .500 mark with a regular-season win over Hammonton on Senior Day. Winning a sectional title might seem even more improbable considering the opponent. Top-ranked Moorestown is 20-6 and has ripped through the tournament, trouncing Camden Wilson 28-0 in the opening round, beating Ocean City 9-0 in the second round and upending fifth-seeded Highland 4-2 in the semifinals. Junior righty Jack Loefflad was perfect through 5 2/3 innings during the Mustangs' 3-1 win over Burlington Township in the second round of the state playoffs. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Junior righty Jack Loefflad was perfect through 5 2/3 innings during the Mustangs’ 3-1 win over Burlington Township in the second round of the state playoffs. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) Mainland’s path has been much more difficult. In the opening round, the Mustangs needed 13 innings to get past Delsea Regional 4-2 in a game that featured Mainland senior Matt Tepedino vs. Crusaders senior flame-thrower Bryan Dobzanski in a matchup of two of South Jersey’s best pitchers. In the second round, Mainland slipped past Burlington Township 3-1 as Loefflad pitched a gem. And in the semifinals, Tepedino pitched a complete game as Mainland upset No. 2 Hammonton 4-1. “They know the opportunity they have in front of them. They know they are the underdog, so it’s not a matter of being overwhelmed by the situation or anything like that,” Kern said. “It’s just a matter of going out and playing the same, consistent baseball that we have been playing for the last three weeks.” Kern knows what his players will be going through on Friday afternoon. In 2003, he was the shortstop for a Mainland team that made it this far before losing to Toms River South, which was led by current Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier. “It’s not something that we’ve talked about much. A couple of guys have asked me who we were playing and things like that,” Kern said. “I just told them to enjoy every pitch, enjoy the moment and take it all in and at the end of the day remember it’s just a baseball game. Don’t make the game out to be anything more than us going out and playing the seven good innings we need to play.” Kern said that he believes his team is much better than a normal No. 11 seed, simply because of the schedule the Mustangs have played. The Cape-Atlantic League was brutal this year with teams such as Absegami, Vineland, Millville, St. Augustine Prep, Oakcrest, Ocean City and Holy Spirit, to name a few. The league was littered with state playoff qualifiers. Senior Matt Tepedino helped Mainland reach the sectional title game by registering a win over Hammonton in the semifinals. Senior Matt Tepedino helped Mainland reach the sectional title game by registering a win over Hammonton in the semifinals. “I know what kind of schedule we played and I know that even though we were 6-9 at the cutoff time, which put us at the 11 seed, we played some very good teams,” Kern said. “I knew we were tested, and it was just a matter of (our guys) believing in themselves.” What gives Mainland a chance to knock off the top seed is its pitching depth. The Mustangs have three different pitchers who have picked up victories in their three playoff wins. Droboniku got the win in relief of Tepedino in the opening round and Loefflad and Tepedino followed that up with strong outings. And Gerace has come in from shortstop to nail down a pair of saves. “I think that’s a testament to the offseason work they put in. One of our volunteer assistants, my brother (Brian), does a fantastic job in the offseason,” Kern said. “They came in ready to go on April 1. We’ve hovered around a 1.80, 1.90 ERA all year. It was just a matter of our bats catching up.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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