Gilman baseball counts on strong second half

It's surprising to hear Gilman baseball coach Larry Sheets describe his team as "mediocre at best," but the statistics bear him out. So far.

The traditionally strong Greyhounds are 6-8 and 2-4 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference. They've also lost senior left-hander Joe Smeton, the team's No. 2 starter, to elbow surgery.

"He would have been one of the best pitchers in the league," Sheets said. "He beat (two-time defending league champ) Calvert Hall twice last year."

So it might take a while for Gilman — which lost in the league final last year and won the championship in 2010 — to play the type of baseball it takes to be an elite team.

Sheets, however, thinks the team will get there. The former Oriole is banking on seven returning starters from last year's 25-12 team to turn things around.

The returning starters include his son Gavin, a first baseman/outfielder/ace pitcher, junior center fielder Danny Blair, junior left fielder Jason King, senior catcher Matt Slodzinski, junior outfielder/designated hitter Alex Mardiney, senior third baseman Patrick Gallagher and sophomore third baseman/first baseman John Fitzgerald.

"We haven't put it together yet, but its going to happen," Sheets said. "It's all about getting kids to step up. We just haven't reached our potential yet. It will get better as the year goes on. When it does, things will be much smoother."

Gilman is in good shape at the top of its pitching rotation with left-handers Sheets and Blair, the team's No. 2 starter.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Sheets is 4-2 with 58 strikeouts in 28 innings, giving up 18 hits and having a 3.81 ERA.

His best performance came in a 7-1 victory over Loyola Blakefield on March 24. He yielded one hit and earned run in five innings while striking out 11.

"He is trying to establish himself to see if he has the potential to pitch at Wake Forest," Larry Sheets said. "When Gavin pitches, we have a great chance of winning."

Blair's best effort was in a 3-2 loss to St. Paul's on April 2. He gave up four hits and no earned runs.

"He will play center field in college (at South Carolina), but he is a quality high school pitcher," Sheets said. "He has gotten much better as a pitcher. He has worked really hard on his changeup and curveball to go with his mid-80s fastball."

Gilman's pitching staff also features senior Will Sherman, junior Ben Moore, sophomore Alex Shafer and freshman Drew Ehrlich.

"We need a boatload of innings from our pitchers down the stretch with all these rainouts we have had," Sheets said.

Offensively, the Greyhounds are batting .310. "For a high school team, that's not good," Sheets said.

Gilman is receiving stong production from Sheets, King, Fitzgerald and Blair.

Sheets is batting .346 and leads the team in home runs (2), RBIs (19) and doubles (4). Blair also has two home runs, ranks second in average (.425) and first in walks (13) and runs (17). King and Fitzgerald are batting over .400.

Coach Sheets saw a positive sign in a 12-11 loss to Calvert Hall on April 9. The Greyhounds trailed by eight runs before losing by a run.

"We have lost a ton (actually five) of one-run games," Sheets said. "But I saw something that I haven't seen. That's the ability to come back."

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