By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY — If the Ocean City High baseball team doesn’t see another left-handed pitcher the rest of the season, the Red Raiders likely won’t be mad about that.

A pair of southpaws — senior Will Hoover and freshman Finn Haines — combined to shut down the Red Raiders in the semifinals of the inaugural Cape-Atlantic League Tournament, as third-seeded Mainland hung on to beat No. 2 Ocean City, 2-1. Mainland advances to face No. 1 St. Augustine Prep, an 8-6 winner over No. 4 Buena Regional, in Thursday’s championship game in Richland.

Hits and runs promised to be at a premium heading into a matchup of two of the league’s best teams and two seasoned arms in Hoover and Ocean City senior Tom Finnegan, a St. John’s University commit. Ocean City got on the board early, taking a 1-0 lead in the second before Mainland tied the game in the top of the fifth and scored the eventual game-winner in the sixth. Both runs were aided by Ocean City errors.

Hoover worked out of a jam in the bottom of the sixth, leaving the tying run stranded at first by striking out the side before giving way to Haines in the seventh.

“I said to our athletic director this morning that I think we’re going to need three runs to win. I wasn’t sure if we were going to get them, but we came and competed. Even in the fourth or fifth, when we hadn’t scored yet, we had great at-bats. We put balls in play, we weren’t giving away at-bats or striking out. It was just a matter of coming up with that big hit and then getting somebody to second base,” said Mainland coach Billy Kern. “Will Hoover has been that way for two seasons now. He pounds the strike zone, doesn’t really walk anybody, and our guys fielded the ball behind him. That sixth inning was about as gut-check as you’re going to get for a senior. We talked about going to Finn in the sixth, but Will has been here and he earned the opportunity to go try to keep us in the game, and he was fantastic.

“Our game plan going in was to try to get Hoover through five and Finn the last two,” Kern added. “I think it’s a testament to some of the talent coming through this league that both teams go to a freshman in a one-run game. Evan (Taylor, who came on in relief of Finnegan) is going to be fantastic, and Finn has been that way since we called him up from the JV team a few weeks ago. He’s going to throw a lot of big innings for us down the stretch.”

Mainland third baseman Sam Wood tries to complete a double play during the Mustangs’ 2-1 win over Ocean City in the CAL Tournament. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“We got dominant today, especially with the curveball and change-up. It was a lot of their up-in-the-top (of the lineup) guys like Finnegan and Duke (McCarron), we were able to keep them off-balance,” explained Mainland senior catcher Cole Campbell. “We were going curveball, curveball, change-up, then hitting them with the high fastball. (Hoover) is just so unpredictable. He’s hard to hit, and he’s funky. The thing about him is he commands three pitches, and he’s crafty. You don’t know if you’re going to get a fastball that runs away from your, or a change-up that looks like a fastball in on the hands and then dives. You don’t know what’s coming, and when he commands three pitches he’s hard to hit.”

Hoover scattered eight hits through six innings, didn’t walk a batter and fanned 11. Finnegan was just as good, going six innings, allowing just four hits and one earned run while striking out five. Haines and Evan Taylor each allowed just one hit in their respective innings of relief work.

“I was fortunate enough to have a lot of starts this year, so I’ve been able to work on my fastball, my change-up and get those down. I felt really confident coming out here today. I was just trying to keep it off the plate or keep it low against some of these guys, work the curveball in there to make it tougher for them to pound the ball. They hit a few to the fence, which was a little scary and a nail-biter for me,” Hoover said. “Early on my pitch count was running high, so I was trying to stay away from the GameChanger (app) to see the number of pitches, and just do my thing and just try to get out of innings. Finn has been good for us and there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to close it out for us.”

Ocean City shortstop Dante Edwardi makes a play on a slow roller against Mainland. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

Ocean City (16-7) jumped out in front because of some aggressive base-running. Riley Gunnels doubled with one out in the second and advanced to third on a passed ball before scoring on a ground ball. The throw home beat him, but Campbell wasn’t able to hang on as Gunnels slid into home, putting the Red Raiders up 1-0. Mainland (17-5) answered in the fifth as Cohen Cook singled to center, stole second and scored on an infield error.

Mainland took the lead for good in the top of the sixth as Campbell stroked a one-out single to center, stole second and came around to score on a bloop single to left by Nick Wagner. Mainland then put runners at the corners and threatened to blow the game open, but Finnegan induced a groundout to keep Ocean City within striking distance.

“We talked about that early, that (Finnegan’s) slider was going to come across the plate and sit in the zone, and if it is you have to hit it. So, we were waiting for the fastball, but if the slider hung we were trying to be aggressive and swing at it. He’s a guy who throws the ball pretty hard, but if you put swings on the ball, good things are going to happen,” Campbell said. “It’s always a tight game between us. Last year, we had Mark (Elliott) hitting a grand slam, but then we dropped a tight one in the playoffs. It’s always back-and-forth, competitive games with them.”

Campbell, who had two of Mainland’s five hits, said the Mustangs are eager for the challenge St. Augustine Prep brings to the table on Thursday. The Hermits are the No. 1 team in South Jersey and No. 2 overall in the state, according to nj.com’s Top 20 poll.

“This is huge because you see the rankings and we’re under where we should be, we think,” he said. “We’re there to prove that we should be up there with these teams.”

What’s next: Cape-Atlantic League Tournament Championship, Mainland at St. Augustine Prep, Thursday, time TBD. Ocean City hosts Williamstown on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays