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All-county baseball: Hard work, team attitude make Pipik the Player of the Year

If you asked Reservoir senior T.J. Pipik about this season, he might only tell you about the loss to Atholton in the Class 3A East regional semifinals after winning 21 games in a row. The last game of a high school career tends to stick in one's craw like that.

"There isn't a day that doesn't go by that you don't think about it, and what you could have done and what you should have done," said Pipik, the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times Player of the Year. "We did everything we could, but we just didn't come out and play that day."

It would be a shame, however, to boil down such a successful season — the greatest in Reservoir's decade-long history — to just the one loss that ended it.

Because to do so would not only downplay the accomplishments of a team, including the school's first county and District V baseball titles, but also those of an individual who spent countless hours in the batting cage, on the diamond and in the weight room to ensure success.

All season long, Pipik attempted to deflect any attention that he got onto his team as a whole. But now that the season is over, it is impossible to argue his impact on the Gators' success.

Pipik started the year hot and never cooled off. He finished with a .472 batting average, 34 hits, 35 RBIs (20 more than any teammate, despite batting leadoff), 29 runs, eight walks, eight doubles, two triples and a county-best eight home runs. Those numbers added up to a ridiculous 1.456 on-base plus slugging percentage. Babe Ruth's career high-water mark was 1.379. Barry Bonds' was 1.422.

In the entire season, he struck out only six times in 80 plate appearances. He also stole 10 bases, being caught only once.

"He finished the way he played all year," coach Adam Leader said. "He's got 90 percent of our school records now in both pitching and hitting."

Pipik's season was so outstanding that as soon as it was over, his No. 6 jersey was immediately retired.

Had Pipik only led off for the Gators and played shortstop, he still would have been an All-Metro caliber player. But what truly makes him one of the most special players to come through the county in years is what he also did as a pitcher.

Using his mid-to-high 80 mph fastball, a knuckle curve and a change-up, Pipik logged 54 innings and allowed a scant three earned runs (0.38 ERA). He finished 9-0 with four complete game shutouts, including a perfect game and a no-hitter, striking out 71 and walking only five.

The individual game highlights were almost too numerous to list. Every other game, it seemed, Pipik was batting 4-for-4, belting a grand slam or hitting a walk off home run.

One highlight that stood out was Pipik's bases clearing triple to deep center field in the District V title game, eliciting spirited cries of "Let's go!" from his coaches and teammates.

Pipik's batting average was also tempered by the six times he reached base on errors. A more generous scorekeeper may have ruled some of those plays hits, but Reservoir's scorekeeper — Ray Pipik — made sure his son earned every accolade that he got. And there were plenty.

Pipik was named to the Washington Post All-Met team, joining Atholton's Kory Britton as one of only two players from Howard County to receive the honor this year. He was also selected as the Baltimore Sun All-Metro baseball Player of the Year, and joined Britton to represent Howard County in the prestigious Brooks Robinson All-Star game at Camden Yards.

"It's like you're living out a fantasy, but I put a lot of hard work into it," said Pipik.

And that work ethic will be Pipik's legacy at Reservoir for years and years to come.

"Hard work. That's what I told all of the juniors: if you want something you've got to work hard for it. It's not going to come to you," he said.

And while his lasting memory of high school might be the playoff game that got away, Pipik has a chance to make plenty more baseball memories next year at CCBC—Catonsville.

"I'm going to college with my two best friends (teammates Kevin and Kyle Alexander) so we're going to have a good time," Pipik said.

Leader is thrilled that Pipik will still be close at hand to continue to serve as a role model.

"He's not going far. It's cool that he's going to be able to help out with camps and stuff," he said. "He showed a lot of guys in the program what work ethic is and even if you're good you've still got to work harder."Named to the all-county first team are:

Pitchers

Kyle Alexander, Reservoir senior. As good as Pipik was this year, he couldn't pitch every game, so having a second ace was integral to the Gators' fortunes. Alexander, a lefty, filled that role with a flourish.

He was 5-1 with a save and a 1.08 ERA. In 39 innings, he struck out 62 batters while only walking 14 and holding opposing batters to an average less than .200. Alexander pitched in nine games and allowed only six earned runs.

"Kyle was a major part of the success we had this year. Having another No. 1 quality pitcher in the rotation gave us the chance to win whenever he took the mound," coach Adam Leader said. "He really matured this year and was a great asset."

When he wasn't pitching, Alexander served as the Gators' designated hitter and batted. 395 with 14 RBIs.

Next year he will play for CCBC-Catonsville with twin brother Kevin, and his best friend, Pipik.

Paul Beers, Atholton. An all-county catcher last year as a junior, Beers dabbled in pitching with resounding success. This year, he still served as the team's backstop, but also fully transitioned into an established pitcher, the position he was recruited to play at Towson University next year.

"Paul is a pitcher. He changes his speeds. From catching and calling games he recognizes what he's supposed to do. Paul really has a knack for that," coach Kevin Kelly said. "If you took a look at our schedule he threw most of our big games."

Beers was the best pitcher on a Raiders' staff that boasted four aces. He led the team with 39 innings pitched with 45 strikeouts, a 0.54 ERA and limited batters to a .121 average. He was 6-0 with two complete game shutouts and allowed only three earned runs and two doubles. He was named Pitcher of the Year by the county baseball coaches.

As a batter, Beers hit .333 with 14 RBIs, six extra base hits and five stolen bases.

Josh Martin, Atholton. On a team laden with senior talent, Martin gives Raiders' fans something to be very excited about next year.

"He was the most pleasant surprise of our team," coach Kevin Kelly said. "He'll certainly be the No. 1 pitcher next year."

A utility knife type player, Martin was 6-0 with a 2.00 ERA, 20 strikeouts and eight walks in 35 innings. He also filled in at shortstop and outfield and batted No. 2 in the potent Raiders lineup (.426, 19 runs, 22 RBIs, six doubles, 12 walks, six stolen bases).

Catcher

Tim Benjamin, Glenelg. Benjamin showed promise as the team's starting catcher last year, and this year he came through with his finest season at Glenelg.

"He was the MVP of our team, what he did for us catching was invaluable," coach Dave Boteler said. "Without him back there I don't think we have the season that we had … I didn't have to call pitches because Tim Benjamin called the pitches."

Benjamin did everything a high school coach could have wanted out of his catcher. He managed a pitching staff that pitched to a 3.69 ERA with 125 strikeouts and 13 wins. He caught nine of the 26 base runners that attempted to steal a base, and did not make an error in 119 chances with only two passed balls. Batting in the clean-up spot, he hit .380 (27-for-71) with a team-best 24 RBIs, 15 runs, four doubles, two triples, three home runs, 11 walks and four stolen bases.

First base

David Menker, Marriotts Ridge. Menker came into the season as one of the most experienced hitters on a young Mustangs squad trying to bounce back after losing a strong senior class. Batting in the cleanup spot, Menker batted .448 (26-for-58) with 11 runs, 12 RBIs and three doubles, leading his team to an 11-win campaign.

"He came up as a freshman and he was one of our go-to guys," coach Paul Eckert said. "It was a marked improvement over last year, and he gave us flexibility being able to play catcher and first base."

Middle infield

Kory Britton, Atholton. As the reigning Player of the Year, Britton had lofty expectations to live up to this season. You could argue that he surpassed them. The senior batted .458 (10 points higher than last year), drove in 21 runs (plus-3) and belted six home runs (plus-5) while drawing 14 walks (plus-8) from the leadoff spot. His runs (25), hits (33), doubles (six) and stolen bases (seven) were all down slightly from last year, but were still best or second-best on the team. As shortstop, he also cut down on his errors, committing only four in 70 chances. And as a pitcher, Britton was 3-1 with a career-best 1.45 ERA, 25 strikeouts and eight walks in 29 innings.

"Each year he got more and more solid on defense, that's what impressed me most about him" coach Kevin Kelly said. "He's one of the better players that we've ever had … Kory Britton can hit the ball."

Britton is weighing his options with several junior college baseball programs, with his sights set on eventual being drafted by a Major League organization.

Evan Griffin, River Hill. Griffin is a rare talent, a sophomore who has already played two productive seasons at the varsity level.

As the Hawks' starting shortstop and part-time leadoff hitter, he batted .446 (33-for-74) with 14 RBIs, two triples and a team best 27 runs, 10 doubles and 12 stolen bases.

"He's just an outstanding athlete. Very fast, very quick and very strong for his size," coach Wes McCoy said. "His power numbers were way up (over last year), and that's just weight lifting and growing … he's only a sophomore, but we treat him as an upperclassman."

He also won three games as a pitcher.

Doug Miller, Glenelg Country. If you had to pinpoint one player that was instrumental to the Dragons' best season ever, you would be hard pressed to look past Miller.

The senior batted .500 (33-for-66) with 10 doubles, five home runs, 25 RBIs, 28 runs and 16 walks, all team-high marks. He reached base more than 60 percent of the time and performed to the tune of a dazzling 1.481 on-base plus slugging percentage.

"His stats speak for themselves both at the bat and on the mound," coach Chris Garber said. "He was our go-to pitcher out of the bullpen coming through for the team in many pressure situations."

When he wasn't playing second base to rest his arm, the former catcher won two games and saved two more as a pitcher, striking out 22 in 25 innings with an ERA lower than three.

Next year he will play first base for Heidelberg College, in Tiffin, Ohio, one of the top Division III programs in the nation.

Raul Shah, Mt. Hebron. In Shah's second year as a varsity starter, he took the next step toward becoming a team leader both on and off the field.

"He has worked tremendously hard at his game, and he's a true leader out there on the field," coach Brian Culley said. "I'm so happy to have him back … the sky is the limit, the kid can just play."

As a shortstop with good range and a strong arm, Shah made only five errors (none of them throwing) in 88 chances. Batting in the heart of the Vikings' lineup, he hit .355 with 17 runs, five doubles and a pair of triples. He also drove in a team-best 22 runs, walked 14 times and stole five bases without being caught.

Third base

Danny Caddigan, River Hill. Over the last several weeks of the season, there was no one swinging a hotter bat than Caddigan who came into the year as one of the most established hitters in the county.

"Anytime we needed a big hit he was there for us," coach Wes McCoy said. "We stuck him in the three-hole and left him there and he just got the job done."

He finished hitting .493 (36-for-73) with eight doubles, three triples and three home runs, giving him a team-best 14 extra base hits for a remarkable 1.344 OPS. He also crossed the plate 23 times and drove in an incredible 38 runs, making him one of the elite clutch hitters in the league. Caddigan was also deceptively fast for a third baseman, stealing seven bases.

Caddigan, who was selected second team All-Met by The Washington Post, has been recruited to play corner infield for Mary Washington next year.

Outfield

Ben Ferraro, Marriotts Ridge. In his first season on varsity, Ferraro showed impeccable discipline at the plate as well as above average range in the outfield.

"Ben was outstanding defensively for us … and really solidified our outfield once he was moved from (right field) to (center field)," coach Paul Eckert said. "He reached base safely in every game. He was very consistent and was a catalyst for us in the No. 2 spot."

Ferraro led the Mustangs with a .458 batting average, scoring a team-high 21 runs with seven extra-base hits (five doubles), 15 RBIs and seven stolen bases. He reached base safely in every single game this season, but his most impressive stat may have been the 20 walks that he drew, giving him a sparkling 1.329 OPS.

Andrew Giuliani, Mt. Hebron. Giuliani made the all-county second team last year as a pitcher, and that may be his legacy with the Vikings, but he will also go down as one of the best all-around players in recent memory at the school.

"He is an absolute warrior, one of the best kids I've had," coach Brian Culley said. His on-base percentage is through the roof. He puts the ball in play and hits consistently … the kid's just got a good eye."

As a leadoff man, Giuliani batted .424 with six doubles and 21 runs and 19 RBIs. He also stole seven bases in eight attempts. He also drew 17 walks with one of the most discerning eyes in the county.

On the mound, the lefthander had another solid season, eating up 48 innings with 52 strikeouts and a 3.48 ERA. When he wasn't pitching, he played outfield, and had only two errors in 42 chances.

Next year, Giuliani plans to attend West Virginia University where he could play club baseball.

Jon Thews, Atholton. Thews may have been among the least heralded of the Raiders' gilded senior class, but he was also among the most valuable, winning the Unsung Hero award for the team.

"He's quiet, but he just goes out and does the job," coach Kevin Kelly said. "He had a lot of doubles, a lot of key hits for us."

Thews hit .403 with 17 runs, 22 RBIs, seven doubles and three triples with six stolen bases. He played error free defense in right field, and initiated a spectacular double play in a playoff win over previously undefeated Reservoir, making a sliding catch and then firing a strike to second base from his knees.

As the team's closer and occasional starter, Thews was 2-2 with a pair of saves, striking out 35 and walking only six in 25 innings with a 1.40 ERA.

He plans to study electrical engineering at the University of Maryland next year.

Jake True, Glenelg. A year after missing the entire season with a knee injury, True showed no ill effects in his senior year.

Using his blazing speed in all aspects of the game, True belted seven doubles and three triples, scored 27 runs and stole 13 bases.

"I don't think he had a hit in the postseason that wasn't a double or a triple," coach Dave Boteler said. "He's a freak on the baseball field. His bat is lightning, he runs like the wind when he's tracking down balls in the outfield … he's the best player I've ever coached."

Playing centerfield, True committed only one error in 34 chances. He is headed to the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, where he hopes to join the baseball team as a walk-on.

Utility

Tommy Mee, Wilde Lake. Few could have predicted the impact that Mee, a sophomore, would have as a first-year varsity player. Called up as a part-time catcher, outfielder and relief pitcher, Mee also made a surprising contribution with his bat.

For the season, he hit a team-high .444 with 11 RBIs, nine runs and seven extra-base hits. He also walked more times (seven) then he struck out (six) and stole a team-high 13 bases.

"He was able as a sophomore to come onto varsity and have an immediate impact both at the plate and behind the plate," coach Kareem Penn said. "He's a tremendous hitter, and he delivered against the best teams."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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  • How the teams were chosen

    The Columbia Flier and Howard County Times' all-county teams are chosen by the sports staff in consultation with the coaches. The boys and girls track teams ran in last week's issue. The boys and girls tennis and lacrosse teams are in this edition, while baseball and softball will appear next week.

  • How the teams were chosen

    The Columbia Flier and Howard County Times all-county teams are chosen by the sports staff in consultation with the coaches. The all-county sections for boys and girls track, boys and girls tennis and boys and girls lacrosse have run in the previous two issues and are available online at explorehoward.com.

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