BASKING RIDGE, NJ - After reaching the sectional Group 4 title game in 2015, the Ridge varsity baseball team is back with a talented nucleus of players who helped steer the Red Devils to an 18-9-1 record a year ago.

A 3-1 loss to eventual Group 4 state champion Millburn in the Section 2 title game brought Ridge's 2015 season to an end, but provided a lot of promise that this spring could be something special.

Right-handed senior pitchers Mike Rica (6-1) and Matt Bates (5-1, 2.53 ERA) combined to go 11-2 on the mound as juniors, and they'll be joined by promising senior righty Joe Morrissey to comprise the core of the Red Devils' pitching staff. Bates shut out North Hunterdon in the state tournament last year and pitched well in the loss to a potent Millburn team. Bates walked just nine batters in 38 2/3 innings last year. Rica struck out 46 in 50 1/3 innings.

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Ridge should be strong up the middle with catcher Ryan Pavlik, shortstop John Fasciano (who made one error in 16 games at shortstop last year) and second baseman Sean Spina, who showed much promise in getting varsity time as a ninth-grader last year. Slugging first baseman Mike Rosmarin batted .486 last season.

"We feel like we are in a position to compete at the highest level," Ridge coach Tom Blackwell said. "With good pitching and defense combined with timely hitting we can compete with anyone on our schedule.

Ridge opens its Skyland Conference regular season schedule Friday at 3:45 p.m. at Montgomery. Ridge's first home game is Tuesday, April 5 against Hunterdon Central.