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.