In summer's past when baseball players from Moon Area High School would begin their American Legion schedule, they would be getting their first taste of Class AAAA competition.
This summer is a different story.
The Moon Tigers moved up to Class AAAA for the 2013 scholastic season so now this season when the Moon American Legion team faces off against Allegheny South Division A rivals such as Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Upper St. Clair, they won't be introducing themselves to their opponents, but rather getting reacquainted.
Moon more than held its own during the WPIAL season, finishing 14-6 overall and going 7-3 in Class AAAA Section 4 to reach the WPIAL playoffs.
The Moon American Legion team is more than holding its own early on as well. It is 4-2 with wins against Upper St. Clair, Peters Township, Mt. Lebanon and Elizabeth Forward.
"They are coming into the Legion season with some confidence, especially with [the high school team] bumping up to Quad-A this year," Moon American Legion manager Ryan Rinaldi said. "I guess it was totally different to them.
"We are always playing Quad-A teams in our Legion schedule. Now they know them, they have seen the caliber of play of the bigger schools. We just need to step it up an extra notch and play with heart."
Rinaldi is in his fourth season with the team. He is a 2002 Moon Area graduate who played Legion ball for Moon before going on to play at California University of Pennsylvania. Rinaldi coaches the Moon Area junior varsity team so he is very familiar with his roster.
This year the roster comprises only players who were at Moon Area this past high school season. Rinaldi did not call any players back from college as league rules allow, given that the age maximum is 19.
"I have coached every one of them, either in Legion or in junior varsity," Rinaldi said. "It helps. I know how they complement each other, they know what works well and who can fill a position if one kid is not there. This core group of kids has mostly been the same, I know their strengths and weaknesses."
Two of Moon's top players so far this season have been Nick Casasanta and Coul Koegel, two recent graduates. Both have been leading the team offensively and Casasanta is also a pitcher.
Casasanta plays in left field when he does not pitch and Koegel can play just about every infield position. Through six games he has already started at second and third base and catcher.
"Defensively we are very solid," Rinaldi said.
The American Legion season got off to a slow start as the players made the transition to wooden bats.
Rinaldi gave the team a week off after the high school season wrapped up in the playoffs. The team was one-hit in its first game.
"We had three broken bats in the first three games," Rinaldi said. "I tried to tell them to take it easier. You have to learn how to properly hit a ball with a wooden bat and they are buying into it. When they do hit it solid, you hear them saying 'Man, I love hitting with a wooden bat.'"
After a few rounds of batting practice and a couple team practices, the bats came alive.
Moon scored 18 against Peters Township and seven against Upper St. Clair.
"After a practice or two the bats have come alive," Rinaldi said. "They are feeding off each other, I think it is contagious. When we are hitting, it seems like everyone is hitting."
Casasanta, Koegel and second baseman Zac Cogar have been integral to the team because of the leadership they bring.
All three were seniors this past school year at Moon Area. They are the oldest players on the team.
"I am glad I have three older guys whom the younger ones look up to," Rinaldi said. "I think we have kind of lacked leadership in the past."
Moon has one of the deepest pitching rotations in the division.
Along with Casasanta, Rinaldi can also call on Alex Pabst, Trevor Rasbach, Ryan Shields, Ron Yardas and Matt Capo. Casasanta and Rasbach are left-handers.