Look for Calvert Hall baseball coach Lou Eckerl to help shape another outstanding edition of the Cardinals this spring. Much of last year's team, which Eckerl led to a sixth Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title in eight years, is back for another season.
Eckerl knows his team is talented, and he isn't afraid to say so. Eight players in the starting lineup are slated to play the sport in college.
"We can be a better team than last year," said Eckerl, whose team went 30-6 last season. "I don't mean to be cocky, but our pitching and lineup are pretty good. The hardest part is keeping our guys focused. We want to keep them working hard and getting better throughout the year, rather than resting on their laurels."
One of Calvert Hall's biggest challenges is showing up with its A-game for every contest. If an opponent knocks off the Cardinals, a celebration ensues.
"If a team beats us, we make their season," Eckerl said. "It's like they won the World Series. We are not sneaking up on anybody or surprising anybody. We really have to come out every day to play."
Eckerl certainly enjoys writing out a lineup card flush with talent. The Cardinals return the nucleus of an offense that batted .340 last year.
"There are no holes there," Eckerl said. "It's one of the strongest lineups we have had. We have a lot of power and speed."
Calvert Hall senior left-hander Andrew Witczak, a Campbell University recruit, understands that even if he has a subpar outing, he still has legitimate chance to win.
"I think this year compared to the other years, we have talented players like Alex (Murphy), Robbie (Jones) and all the other guys that are going to Division I schools," Witczak said. "Guys are going places and doing great things."
Senior catcher Murphy (Wake Forest University) is one of them.
The 6-foot, 210-pounder led the Cardinals in home runs (6), RBIs (39) and doubles last season while batting .460. He's off to a hot start this spring, batting .714 with three triples and 13 RBIs.
"He is a heady ball player, and he hits with power," Eckerl said, noting Murphy bats third in the lineup. "He is a great defensive catcher with a strong arm. Not many people are going to run on us."
Senior right fielder and cleanup hitter Ron Farley (Delaware State University) also swings a powerful bat. He batted .427 with five home runs, 11 doubles and 25 RBIs in 2012.
"Everything revolved around Murphy and Farley last year," Eckerl said. "He (Farley) hits for power and average. He has great range and a great arm."
The lineup also boasts junior center fielder Troy Stokes (University of Maryland), senior left fielder Jones (Flagler College in Florida), senior first baseman Garrett Paul (Longwood University), senior shortstop Richard Rodriguez and senior third baseman Colin Gimblet.
Rodriguez has offers from Delaware State and George Mason University while Gimblet is deciding among four schools.
Eckerl can't complain about a lack of pitching. He has what he considers two aces in Witczak and Ben Deaver, a senior right-hander.
The two combined for a 7-1 mark last year. Sophomore right-hander Nick Delp earned the job as the team's No. 3 starter with a strong preseason.
Witczak has thrown the best game of the young season, giving up one hit and striking out seven batters across six inning in a 9-0 victory over John Carroll in Towson on Jan. 19.
Calvert Hall is 5-1 overall, including 3-0 in league play.
"Right now, they are the class of the league," John Carroll coach Steve Teter said. "Everybody else is just trying to catch up to them."