Has the time finally arrived when Calvert Hall will loosen its hold on the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship?
Cardinals coach Lou Eckerl, for one, isn't buying it even though the two-time defending league champs lost 12 seniors, including seven starters to graduation. Nine of those 12 players are playing college baseball.
"I feel good about this team," Eckerl said. "I really do. I think the potential is there to go for another championship. Teams better come ready to play us."
League rivals seem to be doing just that, with Calvert Hall off to a 2-2 start in the MIAA.
Archbishop Spalding edged the Cardinals in their league opener, 5-4.
After Calvert Hall (7-2 overall) followed by defeating Mount St. Joseph, 3-0, and routing St. Paul's, 9-1, the Cardinals had one of their worst defeats in years.
Archbishop Curley thumped the Cardinals, 12-1, in Towson on April 2 as senior left-hander Zack Ridgely threw a two-hitter in a game shortened to six innings because of the league's 10-run slaughter rule.
"It doesn't happen very often," Eckerl said of losing by the 10-run rule. "It's a little embarrassing. It happened two years ago to McCarthy in Florida and Loyola before that (in 2009). We have to get our guys to understand we have to come out and play because of our tradition."
The competition won't get any easier. Calvert Hall travels to play Gilman, ranked No. 2 in the Baltimore Sun's high school baseball poll, on Wednesday.
Two days later, the Cardinals host the same team that they beat in the A Conference championship game last year.
"It's like a little mini series," Eckerl said. "I think its pretty cool. We don't do it very often so it will be interesting to see how it turns out."
Eckerl thinks he has enough quality starting pitching to win these back-to-back games. Senior righthanders David Gately and Manny Rodriguez and junior right-hander Nick Delp form a formidable mound trio.
"We have three good starters," Eckerl said. "Most people don't have three. We really have three guys that can win for us."
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Delp returns as the ace from a 7-2 season in which he had a 2.27 ERA.
"He doesn't throw real hard and rattle the radar gun," Calvert Hall assistant coach Brooks Kerr said. "He is throwing 80-to-82 (miles per hour). But he has a cut fastball that just gets people out and he is a tremendous competitor. Schools will see that."
Gately didn't throw a lot of innings last year because of a broken wrist, but was effective in relief.
The Calvert Hall coaching staff got a glimpse of his potential when he threw a one-hitter against Mount St. Joseph on March 27.
Rodriguez worked as the team's closer last year, striking out 31 batters in 31 innings while fashioning an 2.92 ERA.
He threw six shutout innings and struck out seven batters in a 7-0 victory over Gilman in the first final of the MIAA A Conference double-elimination tournament last year.
Rodriguez is an even better shortstop and one of two returning starters in Calvert Hall's lineup. Cincinnati, Rider and South Carolina Aiken have aggressively recruited him.
"He has very soft hands, great quickness and an above-average arm," Eckerl said. "He has everything going for him and he can make phenomenal plays."
Senior center fielder Troy Stokes, a University of Maryland recruit, is the Cardinals' most highly regarded player. He batted .340 last year, scored 33 runs and had 12 doubles and three home runs.
"He is probably the fastest guy on the team," Eckerl said. "He hits with power and has a strong arm. Stokes is drawing interest from pro scouts. It's likely he will get drafted."
The Cardinals need offense and leadership from Rodriguez and Stokes since the rest of the lineup includes new starters Greg Carter (C), Brandon Dorsey (3B), Gately (RF), Tyler Webster (2B), Jack Finn (C), Jacon Acra (1B) and Ben Strauch (LF).
"We have a lot of seniors starting," Stokes said. "But a lot of guys who aren't used to starting. Mentally, we are young. We have the same pieces. We just have to put it together. I definitely figure we would go through some growing pains. Late in the season, I definitely think we will have it together."