Former North Dakota State teammates Matt Mossey and Jake Laber opened the season at the bottom of the pitching rotation for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.

But it didn't take long to climb to the top.

Despite limited professional experience, Laber and Mossey have helped the RedHawks stay in contention for the Northern League lead with solid - and sometimes dominant - starting efforts during the first half of the year.

"They both have pitched well enough over the past three weeks that hopefully we can count on them," said F-M manager Doug Simunic, whose team is

23-16 heading into tonight's game in Kansas City. "We know what we're seeing now is that they are on a little bit of a roll and we hope they can stay on it."

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Mossey and Laber, who both spent time with the RedHawks last season, lead the league's top pitching staff. F-M leads the league with a 3.62 team ERA.

The duo has helped F-M stay in the hunt for a second consecutive championship despite an injury to ace starter Chad Rhoades and the loss of starter Darren Byrd to the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Mossey, a righty who was a pitcher and shortstop for NDSU and the University of Iowa, is 3-1 with a 2.52 ERA through Saturday. A left-handed Fargo North High School graduate, Laber is 3-2 with a 4.25 ERA.

"Look at Mossey and Laber," said RedHawks catcher Alan Rick. "Those two have carried our staff. ... Our pitching staff has been great."

Oddly enough, both Mossey and Laber struggled on the mound for much of their college careers.

Mossey was 1-3 with a 6.49 ERA in 14 appearances during his final year with the Hawkeyes. He never had an ERA below 6.36 in the two previous years at NDSU.

Laber was 6-6 with a 3.89 ERA during his junior season with the Bison. As a senior, he finished 3-5 with a 5.24 ERA.

But that's all ancient history.

Mossey, 24, opened the year with a complete-game, two-hit shutout against Lake County. He also took a perfect game into the eighth inning of a one-hit shutout against Gary on June 24.

Laber, 24, has thrown eight innings or more in four of his last five starts. He has two complete-games this season.

"I was more of a thrower in college," Mossey said. "I didn't really know what I was doing. I was working on refining my mechanics during my college career and didn't get a whole lot of time to work on it because I had to play shortstop.

"Once I dedicated myself to pitching I kind of found some accuracy. And I know what I'm doing up there now."

"It was a matter of realizing and trusting myself, trusting that I am able to pitch in this league," Laber added.

The youngsters aren't the only ones shining in the first half.

Veteran Casey Hoorelbeke -the younger brother of RedHawks' slugging first baseman Jesse Hoorelbeke, has been one of the top arms in the league out of the bullpen.

Casey, 30, leads the Northern League with a 1.32 ERA in 20 relief appearances.The consistency on the mound has helped F-M battle through the batting lineup's inconsistency and a recent rough stretch in the field that saw the team commit 12 errors in five games at Newman Outdoor Field.

"We know there may be a rough times for them," Simunic said of Mossey and Laber. We'll just go one game at a time and hopefully they can stay healthy, keep their pitch count at a certain count and ride it out a little bit."

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler's blogs can be found

at www.areavoices.com