When Joe Zayatz arrived at Oakland Mills in 2009, the Scorpions baseball team was a proud but struggling organization.
After a 1-18 season in which Oakland Mills was outscored 238-44, there was much work to be done to bring the team back to respectability.
Luckily, the class of 2013 was up to the task.
"Coming in with four other freshmen — (Kyle) Madden-Stricker, (Evan) Russell, (Wesley) Brunson, (Weston) Hart and me — we knew what we had to do and we knew we had a shot to turn the whole program around by our senior year," Zayatz said. "Pushing everyone in practice, even as little freshmen, most people didn't listen to us but they see where we're at now."
It didn't happen overnight, and it certainly wasn't easy, but Zayatz and his teammates have accomplished what they set out to do four years ago: turning a program that had become somewhat of a lost cause into a perennial winner.
"Joe is just a natural leader. When he needed to say something, he will say something," second-year coach Brian Rau said. "He's just a hard working kid and he wants to compete in everything he does."
This spring the Scorpions won 14 of their first 15 games, finished second place in the county standings behind champion Atholton, and outscored the opposition 124-48. It was by all accounts the best season in Oakland Mills baseball history.
"It's definitely a blessing. Hard work pays off, all summer and all winter every year," said Zayatz, who also played basketball for Oakland Mills.
As a pitcher, shortstop and batter, Zayatz — the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times baseball Player of the Year — was at the center of Oakland Mills' success.
He failed to reach base in only one game this season, a 5-3 loss to Reservoir, and struck out exactly twice in 84 plate appearances.
"The better pitchers we saw this year, the better he did against them," Rau said. "He shined against the better competition."
The left-handed batter finished his senior campaign batting a robust .433 (29-for-67), to go along with 25 runs scored, 11 runs driven in, 11 doubles, three triples and three home runs. He sprayed the ball to all fields, drew 17 walks to contribute to his outstanding .548 on-base percentage and stole 14 bases, only getting caught once.
But Zayatz will be remembered equally for his ability on the mound. This year he was 6-2 with a miniscule 1.03 ERA, striking out 71 batters while walking only 11.
His final game in an Oakland Mills uniform, a wild 7-4 loss to visiting Marriotts Ridge in the 2A South regional semifinals, was memorable for several reasons.
Zayatz pitched that game, allowing only two runs through six innings, before things unraveled with a Connor Delaney grand slam in the seventh.
Zayatz was 3-for-4 in that game with two home runs and a double off of the fence in center field. His only out was a deep fly ball to the warning track in left field.
"I was just trying to go out strong, because you never know when your last game is going to be, so you play hard every single minute," he said. "In the seventh inning after there were two outs, you kind of got the feeling like 'oh, this is it'. But you just keep playing."
In three years as a regular starter, Zayatz has a career batting line of .379 (72-for-190), with 59 runs, 37 RBIs, 18 doubles, six triples, five home runs, 36 walks and 28 stolen bases.
"You know, this is always a kids dream to play on this field, and to be able to do it at such a young age is just a thrill," he said after the game.
Next year, Zayatz will be a Bulldog, playing for Division I University of North Carolina at Asheville, where he expects to be used primarily as a pitcher initially. He plans to study computer science or engineering.
But he will always remember his time as a Scorpion.
"I definitely just loved playing with them. I only got to know him for a couple of years but I definitely built a good relationship with coach (Brian) Rau ... all the guys," he said. "It was just something special, we were one big family."
Also named to the all-county first team:
Kyle Madden-Stricker, Oakland Mills. The tall lefty had one of the most effective pick-off maneuvers in the league, but he didn't get to use it very frequently as he was also adept at keeping runners from reaching first base. Madden-Stricker's signature performance came in his final start as a Scorpion: a 3-0 shut out at Calvert in which he struck out 14 and walked only one. He finished the year 4-2 with a 1.94 ERA, 55 strikeouts and 18 walks. Over the past two seasons, he accumulated 112 strikeouts. As a hitter, Madden-Stricker batted .318 and drove in a team-best 20 runs.
Cody Morris, Reservoir. Selected by coaches as the Howard County Pitcher of the Year for the second time as only a sophomore, Morris already has college scouts imagining what could be a few years down the road. As it stands, the tall righty's well-located mid-80s fastball and deceptive change-up have already proved devestatingly effective at the scholastic level. This year, Morris was 6-2 with a 1.35 ERA, 86 strikeouts and only 10 walks. In two seasons he has won 12 games and struck out 150 batters with an ERA just a shade over one. He also contributed to the offense this spring, driving in 10 runs while batting .309.
Michael Slayton, Atholton. The ace of the county-champion Raiders' staff, Slayton was the player that coach Jon Dupski turned to when he needed to win a big game, and Slayton delivered. The junior was 6-2 with a 1.18 ERA. He struck out 29 and walked 16, letting the talented Raiders' defense serve as a strength. Slayton was also not a liability with the bat in his hands, hitting .296 with six RBIs for the season.
Ben Miller, Hammond. An alternate in the Brooks Robinson High School All Star game, Miller is one of the most highly respected players in the area. Dangerous with the bat (.365 AVG, 12 RBIs, 10 extra base hits, 1.056 OPS), and rock solid behind the plate, Miller also worked well with the Golden Bears' diverse pitching staff, helping senior Derek Sicca and freshman David Hutchison win a combined seven games.
Austin Feuerman, Atholton. The clean-up hitter for the league's most potent batting line-up, Feuerman's job was simple: drive in runs. He finished the season batting .375 (24-for-64) — a .125 point improvement over his junior season — with nine extra base hits and 19 RBIs. Slick with the glove as well, he committed only three errors in 153 total chances for a .980 fielding percentage. In a 5-1 win over Oakland Mills in mid-April, Feurman doubled and drove in three runs. The senior has committed to play for Division III Ursinus next year.
Will Seiferth, Glenelg Country. It was a breakout season for the gritty third baseman, who propelled the Dragons to their first MIAA B Conference championship. Seiferth had more home runs (five) and RBIs (28) than any other player in Howard County. He was also a terror on the basepaths, with a .522 on-base percentage, 27 runs scored and seven stolen bases. On May 1, in a win over Lutheran, Seiferth had a game for the ages, going 4-for-4 with four home runs, eight RBIs and a walk.
Derek Sicca, Hammond. One of the hardest-nosed players in the league for three seasons now, Sicca has earned a reputation as one who never buckles under the pressure. He led the Golden Bears in batting average (.437, 31-for-71), RBIs (22) and home runs (three), and tied for the team-lead in runs scored (16). He struck out only three times all season and was also a bulldog on the mound, going 4-4 with a 3.73 ERA and 67 strikeouts, and completing four games on a county-high 56 innings pitched. Sicca's finest pitching performance this season was a complete game three-hit shutout of Wilde Lake, when he struck out nine and walked two.
Jake Bender, Marriotts Ridge. The sparkplug atop the Mustangs' high-powered line-up, Bender was a run-scoring machine, collecting 26 hits, 15 walks and six stolen bases to help manufacture 29 of Marriotts Ridge's league-best 179 runs. An athletic shortstop with good range, he also showed plus power, stroking three doubles, three triples, a home run and driving in 18 runs.
Joe Bentz, Atholton. The Stevenson University-bound senior had 11 multi-hit games, including five 3-hit games, to finish the season batting .427 out of the two-hole with an impressive 32 hits. He was a game-changer for the county champions, driving in 13 runs, stealing 17 bases and crossing the plate 18 times.
David Wolf, Howard. Wolf showed impressive power for a shortstop, driving in 13 runs with two doubles, four triples and a home run on 27-for-71 (.380 AVG) hitting. He scored 19 runs, drew nine walks and stole 14 bases without being caught.
Brady Acker, Atholton. A preseason all-state selection, Acker has a speed-power combination unlike any other player in the league. The junior has now stolen 61 bases in three seasons of high school baseball and has never been caught. This year he improved his batting average more than .100 points to a scorching .478, and led the league in hits (33) and runs scored (32). Acker stuffed the stat sheet with 12 RBIs, 10 extra base hits (three home runs) and 13 walks. He made only one error in 55 chances in center field this season.
Miguel Flores, Glenelg Country. Flores was as important to Glenelg Country's B Conference championship as any player on the team. The rangy center fielder led off for the Dragons, batting a Howard County-best .491, scoring 31 runs, driving in 16 more and stealing 11 bases. His flashes of power included 11 doubles, four triples and two home runs. He also drew nine walks and was hit by four pitches for an on-base percentage of .577 and a ridiculous OPS of 1.507. Flores will look to walk-on at the University of Maryland next year.
Garrett Kelly, Hammond. The league-leader in stolen bases with 26, there was more to Kelly's game than just speed. He batted .386 on 27 hits, and scored 16 runs as the Golden Bears' table setter. He also doubled five times and drove in nine runs, and was a selective hitter, drawing a team-high 14 walks.
Tommy Mee, Wilde Lake. A veteran leader on a young team, Mee kept the Wildecats afloat, batting a team-best .414 (24-for-58) with 10 RBIs, 10 runs, 10 stolen bases, 12 walks with only four strikeouts and four extra base hits. The versatile player could also fill in at catcher or on the mound, where he struck out 37 batters. He will attend Johns Hopkins next year.
Logan Dubbe, Glenelg. Although this season never quite came together for Glenelg, Dubbe was a steady presence in an injury riddled line-up. He drove in 11 runs and homered twice despite battling through a hitting slump for half of the season. But his biggest contribution to the team was on the mound, where he won three games with a 1.35 ERA, 44 strikeouts and 12 walks.team was on the mound, where he won three games with a 1.35 ERA, 44 strikeouts and 12 walks.