Loyola baseball putting together breakthrough season

Loyola Blakefield baseball coach Jim Crowley said his Dons "barely" got into the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs the past three seasons.

Loyola entered as the lowest seed each year — the sixth.

That meant a playoff game on the road each time. And three straight first-round exits for the Dons.

Things could be different this year. Loyola is 14-8 overall and in third place in the nine-team league with a 6-4 record.

Crowley said the Dons have a legitimate chance to go into the postseason as a No. 3 or No. 4 seed and host a game because "this is the strongest team I've had in four years."

"The mindset the last couple of years was, 'I hope we get into the playoffs,' " said Crowley, whose team went 17-18 last year. "Now the mindset is, 'We expect be there and be a higher seed.'

"It looks like Gilman and Calvert Hall are the class of the league. All the other teams are sort of bunched up."

Loyola senior pitcher outfielder Bruce Zimmerman said the Dons — who boast six seniors in the starting lineup — have the talent, confidence and attitude to be more of a post-season factor this spring.

Zimmerman and the five other seniors, right fielder Brandon Vrvon, shortstop Conor Reynolds (Johns Hopkins University recruit), first baseman Eric McDonough, third baseman Michael Wright and second baseman James O'Malley are sick and tired of the early-playoffs exits.

"There is a stronger mentality to make something of this season," Zimmerman explained. "The seniors have shown more leadership on and off the field. This group has really taken upon themselves to be leaders. And I think there is a stronger bond between the players than last year."

If the Dons are to get where they want to be, the left-handed Zimmerman figures to be a key reason. Good luck finding a pitcher in the area with a better record over the past two seasons.

He's a sterling 12-1. After going 7-0 last year with a 3.20 ERA, he's 5-1 this season with 57 strikeouts in 42 innings and a 3.40 ERA.

Zimmerman will likely end up playing college baseball one of two Division III schools: American University or Albernia University in Pennsylvania.

He threw one of his best games of the season on April 19, striking out 11 in seven innings while yielding four hits and two earned runs.

"I think he had the best high school season I ever saw last year," Crowley said. "He changes speeds well, keeps the ball down and can get three pitches over. He has a good change-up, curveball and fastball. When you can throw three pitches for strikes, you will be very successful."

The pitcher working right behind Zimmerman, junior left-hander Mason Kapelanski, has been the team's most improved player. He's 4-1 with a .095 ERA.

Crowley said there were four or five starting pitchers ahead of Kapelanski entering the season.

"He is a nice surprise," said Crowley, who also has used sophomore Chris Girken, Wright and McDonough as starters. "He was a guy I hoped would improve throughout the season, give us some innings and someone we could count on next year. He is a guy who doesn't throw hard, but he throws strikes."

Connor (batting .469, 4 home runs, 27 RBI), sophomore catcher Joe Dinoto (.419), Zimmerman (.333, 12 RBIs) and O'Malley (.321, 14).

"We do have the ability to score some runs," Crowley said. "We have guys that can get on base and drive the ball. We have a lot of experience in the lineup."

Crowley doesn't have any concerns about the offense and pitching, but he doesn't about the fielding..

"In the games, we have won, we have played good defense," the coach said. "In the games we have lost, its two or three errors a game and a couple of unearned runs."

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