Pitching key in deciding wide open 2017 Howard County baseball season

Marriotts Ridge, River Hill, Reservoir and Mt. Hebron among top contenders in open 2017 Howard County season

A little bit of luck, some favorable bounces and an ace is about all it takes to have a shot at winning the Howard County baseball championship. River Hill proved as much last year by going 12-4 in the league a year after finishing 6-11 thanks in large part to the right-handed arm of Pitcher of the Year Kieran Garner and his league-leading 91 strikeouts.

“Baseball is a funny game, man,” said Mt. Hebron coach Brian Culley. “It requires a ball to bounce your way every now and again. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than it is good. When you play so many tightly contested games and the county being as even as it’s been the last few years, you know you’re going to play a tough team or capable team everyday.

“Luck plays into it, but you’ve got to go out there and create your own luck, too.”

That, however, often comes with great pitching. Both the Hawks and Vikings have dominant aces in Garner, a senior who has committed to the University of Maryland, and Jack Shroeder, a senior Virginia Commonwealth commit who had a microscopic .98 ERA and allowed only 20 hits in 43 innings last year.

Maryland bound Gunnar Barnard, a Marriotts Ridge senior, also fits that mold. The first-team all-county utility player batted .339 with 20 RBI while winning five games with a 1.96 ERA on the mound in 2016. Reservoir senior Max Goron — a UMBC commit — worked his way into the category with a dominant spring of his own last year, finishing 3-0 with an ERA of .52 in 40 innings.

“Rarely do you have a year where you have four guys that are going to pitch in Division I. That’s pretty impressive,” Culley said. “Not to mention those other guys around the county who have quality arms, but those are the top four, for sure.”

Expectations surrounding the teams with those four aces are also high. The Hawks return seven starters and all but one starting pitcher from last year’s squad that won 16 games. Garner is expected to lead a pitching staff that also includes second-team all-county junior Josh Mann (47 IP, 1.48 ERA in 2016) while also contributing in the middle of a lineup that features seniors Luke and Jake Parker.

Luke, a first-team all-county catcher last year, batted .390 with 20 RBI, while Jake, a second-team all-county outfielder, scored a league-best 25 runs and batted .361 in 2016.

“I don’t think we were necessarily the favorites going in last year, but a lot of being successful and winning a county or regional or state title comes down to some luck and things need to kind of fall your way,” said Hawks coach Wes McCoy. “That was kind of the story of last season, and I think this season we’re going to compete with the better teams in the county.”

River Hill, however, will be without perhaps the county’s best hitter this season. Derek Gold, a first-team all-county first baseman who led the county with 30 hits and a .469 batting average while driving in 20 runs a year ago, tore his ACL in the winter and will miss his senior season.

“He’s a guy that’s irreplaceable. It’s a real shame he’s not going to be here for his senior year,” McCoy said. “You just can’t replace what he does with his skills, to be honest, and his real gift ... is this intangible leadership quality — the foundation rock of this team, a four-year starter and has this nice calming presence and brought this wealth of experience. To be honest, we’re unsure how we’re going to replace him. Hopefully some of our young guys can help fill those shoes.”

Schroeder is widely regarded among county coaches as the most complete player in the county. He drove in 21 runs, had 24 hits, six stolen bases and batted .387 last year in his third year in the three-hole, all while dominating on the mound.

“Jack has just been an absolutely pleasure to coach. He’s an unbelievable player and even better kid,” Culley said. “I could put him literally at any position on the field and he would be my best player at every position.”

He is just one of nine Vikings who return with significant starting experience, and five players were a part of the 2015 team that lost 1-0 in the 3A state championship game. Experience will be key for a team that has reached the 3A East regional title game in three straight years.

Marriotts Ridge was also in the 2A South regional championship game a year ago, where it battled back from a 5-0 deficit to force extra innings against Williamsport. Barnard, who started that game after being injured four days earlier, is the lone returning all-county player for the Mustangs, but they have eight seniors, depth on the pitching staff and a strong defense.

“We lost our best hitter (Chris Morath) and our best defender (Mark Augustino),” said Marriotts Ridge coach Paul Eckert. “I do not know if we have replacements that can produce at the level of those two or not. We will find out quickly. We will also have to deal with high expectations again this year.”

Reservoir has been one of the most consistent teams over the last decade and it should be no different this year under coach Adam Leader, now in his 15th season. The Gators, who are the most recent county team to win a state title in 2014, have an ace in Goron and return their best hitter in second-team all-county junior Cameron Hyder. The 2016 second-team all-county outfielder is the best returning batter in the league in terms of average (.408).

“Pitching is always important but we really lacked offense last year,” Leader said. “If we can score runs, I think we could have a successful year.”

Howard and Glenelg also both won 10 or more county games a year ago and have high expectations.

The Lions graduated Howard County Player of the Year Casey Crawford and six other seniors who led the team to back-to-back appearances in the 4A North regional title game. Seniors first baseman and catcher Sam Jacobson and outfielder Jayden Cowen — both second-team all-county selections last year — are expected to lead a team that features talented young players up from JV teams that have lost just one game in the last two years.

The Gladiators return one of the strongest pitching rotations in the county. Senior John McAuliffe didn’t allow an earned run in 16.1 innings pitched last year and senior Sean Kinloch is 10-2 in his career. Offensively, senior Hunter Forsyth, a second-team all-county shortstop last year, can hit for average and steal bases.

Oakland Mills returns one of the best power hitters in 2016 first-team all-county outfielder Chris Clyde, who led the county with 11 doubles and batted .391 as a junior.

Long Reach has a new coach in Brian Wyman, who takes over for Mike Repsher. Wyman, 27, graduated from Long Reach in 2007 after batting .365 in his career, earned all-county honors as a catcher his senior season and later played at Towson.

He said he likely wouldn’t have jumped at the opportunity to coach if it weren’t at his alma mater, but it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“We’re going to be good. We’ve got a very talented group of kids this year with great heads on their shoulders,” Wyman said. “They’re hard-working and pulling together, so I have very high expectations for this group.”

Atholton, Centennial, Hammond are also expected to take a step forward this season and have been noted as sleeper teams among the county coaches.

New pitching rule

There is a significant rule change for pitchers this year, as the state is following new guidelines set by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball. Under the previous rule, players could throw an unlimited number of pitches but could not appear in more than 10 innings over three straight days or 14 innings over seven days.

The focus is now on pitch count — not innings — in terms of resting pitchers throughout the season. Juniors and seniors will be limited to 105 pitches in a game, while freshmen and sophomores 95. A pitcher who reaches that limit in the middle of an at-bat, however, will be allowed to finish before leaving the game.

Pitchers who throw 31 to 45 pitches will now be required to rest at least one full day; 46 to 60 pitches will require two days; 61 to 75 will require three days; 76 or more will require four days.

The change means there will be a lot more strategy involved in terms of when to remove a pitcher from a game.

“There’s going to be some gamesmanship going on and if you’re going to take that risk that, if you’ve got your star pitcher out there and he’s winning 4-0, do you take that risk and say, ‘I want him to come back on three days rest, so I don’t want him to pitch to another batter and cross that threshold where he won’t be able to come back for another week,’” said Culley, who added that it will have the biggest impact in the playoffs.

AROUND THE HORN

A look at all 14 local teams heading into Opening Day.

*2016 first-team all-county; #2016 second-team all-county

Atholton

2016 record: 8-8 county, 11-10 overall

Coach: Jon Dupski, sixth season

Key players: Seniors Camden Gilreath (3B/2B) and Ryan Thomas (P/1B); junior Jack Lawrence (SS) and Justin Reese (P); sophomore Jack Johnson (P/1B).

Coach’s report: “Our biggest strength going into the season is our defense. I am predicting many close games once again, which is typical for Howard County. In general, we are a young team with much up-and-coming talent. We have five returning starters from last season that are looking to make a big impact in the county. Currently, our team is focused on continuing to learn the mental game of baseball while refining our physical skills. The team has a great work ethic that will allow them to develop as the season progresses. As their coach, I see the great potential that this team has. However, it will be up to them to prove it to the rest of the county.”

Centennial

2016 record: 5-9, 5-12

Coach: Denis Ahearn, 16th season

Key players: Seniors Nick Varner (C) and Greg Sterenberg (DH); juniors Glenn Stratton (P/SS), Alex Crocamo (P/CF/SS) and Jake Watson (OF).

Coach’s report: After having dropped most of our losses by one run last year, we expect that a year of growth and maturity will give us the extra push we need to come out on top in close games. I also think this team has a winning chemistry that has been absent from the program in recent years. The guys genuinely enjoy each other on and off the field and that could be a big factor in getting this group to perform in the clutch.”

Glenelg

2016 record: 10-4, 13-6

Coach: Steve Ballance, fourth season

Key players: Seniors Hunter Forsyth# (SS/RHP), Hank Koele (C), John McAuliffe (RHP/CF) and Sean Kinloch (RHP/1B); freshman Eddie Dello Russo (3B/RHP).

Coach’s report: “The expectation levels are high as usual this season. Coming off of a 14-6 season and just missing winning the county championship last season, this team has the potential to be one of the better teams in recent memory at Glenelg. With returners who can make a big impact and a with a strong quartet of three sophomores and a freshman, another deep run in May has been what the team is striving for. This year hopefully we get them over the hump.”

Hammond

2016 record: 8-8, 10-10

Coach: Casey Medairy, fifth season

Key players: Seniors Joseph Sarich (P/1B) and Ryan Ridgell (P/INF); freshman Brandon Eschman (P/INF).

Coach’s report: “Our pitching is deep and our defense is solid. This group has a lot of heart and works extremely hard. There are some big shoes to fill and we have players eager to fill it.”

Howard

2016 record: 11-4, 16-6

Coach: Nick Hoffner, seventh season

Key players: Seniors Sam Jacobson# (1B/C), Jayden Cowen# (OF) and Cameron Robinson (SS/P); junior Craig Wiley (IF/OF).

Coach’s report: “After finishing second in the county the past two springs and losing in the regional final last year, Howard is looking to take its next step forward. While we graduated seven seniors last year who played an important role in the past two years of success, this year’s team will be led by our eight seniors who have also contributed to our recent success.”

Long Reach

2016 record: 6-10, 8-11

Coach: Bryan Wyman, first season

Key players: Seniors Duncan Poler (SS), Corey Frock (RF), Nick Hoffman (P/3B), Sam Lobdell (1B/P) and Joe Mondy (CF); juniors Tyler Moore (IF/P), Sam Haley (C), Tavares Turner (2B/DH) and John Shupe (IF); sophomore Jeremy Huffman (3B/P).

Coach’s report: “Being a first-year coach in the county, I can’t compare this group to past seasons. That said, this team is special and will do well. Not only is the talent level high, but depth and team chemistry should make this team tough to beat. We have six or seven guys that can get on the mound confidently and get outs. We have a competent defense, and manufacturing runs will likely be key to this team’s success. It’s very exciting for a new coaching staff.”

Marriotts Ridge

2016 record: 11-5, 16-6

Coach: Paul Eckart, 12th season

Key players: Seniors Gunnar Barnard* (P/1B), Jake Dinoto (P/1B), Colin Kratochwill (SS) and Reed Galloway (P/OF); junior Dylan Anagnos (P/OF); sophomores Josh Oslufka (P/3B) and Joey Fellona (C).

Coach’s report: “This year’s team will go as far as our pitching and defense takes us. Our team has consistently been in the mix for the county title throughout the last few years and we hope to be there again this year and to follow up our success in last year’s playoffs. Our goals are always to win the county, win the region, and win a state title. The competition at each level will be fierce, but we hope to be up to the challenge.”

Mt. Hebron

2016 record: 10-5, 15-7

Coach: Brian Culley, 11th season

Key players: Seniors Jack Schroeder* (P/OF), Danny Brouse (IF/P) and Ryan Coakley (P); juniors Mark Lettieri (IF/C) and Lake Lloyd (IF/P).

Coach’s report: “We are excited for the new season. We’ve reached the regional final or better three straight years. We have lots of experience coming back and expect to be good again. We are looking to become the first team in school history to win a state championship.”

Oakland Mills

2016 record: 2-15, 3-16

Coach: Matt Sillers, fourth season (fifth overall)

Key players: Seniors Chris Clyde* (OF/P), AJ Kanakry (2B), Cameron Nikiel (1B/DH) and Manny Molina (SS); junior Erick Barros (C); sophomores Ryan Looper (OF/P) and Ben Looper (1B/P).

Coach’s report: “We will have strength in our senior leadership, along with young talent. Each year, our guys have continued to grow and improve as players and individuals. We hope to have continued growth in the 2017 season.”

Reservoir

2016 record: 10-4, 12-6

Coach: Adam Leader, 15th season

Key players: Seniors Max Goron# (RHP/1B), Kyle Fehr (OF) and Arush Hupta (3B); junior Cameron Hyder# (OF).

Coach’s report: “The 2016 season was a bit of a rebuilding year but a successful one. This year we return all our starters from last year except one. I expect the experience will help our team this year. We are hoping to increase our offense, which was lacking last year, and continue to have strong pitching and defense.”

River Hill

2016 record: 12-4, 16-5

Coach: Wes McCoy, ninth season

Returning starters: 7

Key players: Seniors Kieran Garner* (P), Luke Parker* (C), Jake Parker# (CF) and Ian Sterling (SS); juniors Tucker Finkelston (3B) and Josh Mann# (P/OF).

Coach’s report: “Our team this year is very experienced with several players having multiple years of starting at the varsity level under their belts. We expect to compete with the top teams and work hard.”

Wilde Lake

2016 record: 0-16, 0-19

Coach: Kareem Penn, seventh season

Key players: Juniors Kevin Schroder (3B/1B/P), Daniel Yellin (OF/IF/P), Aiden McGonigal (OF/P) and Michael Arsenault (SS/2B/P); sophomores Matt Johnson (SS/3B/P), Nate Hicks (2B/SS/P) and Will Zimmerman (OF/IF/C/P).

Coach’s report: “This year’s Wildecats team will be young but experienced. With only two returning seniors, I look to rely on a group of juniors and sophomores to carry us. With the addition of corner infielder Kevin Schroder and a solid outfield group (Yellin, McGonigal and Zimmerman), we should be very strong defensively. I hope our young pitchers will hold their weight on the mound. They key to our success this season is to be very competitive and consistent. Again, our defense will be our anchor. If we all do our jobs then we should have a much better season then last year.”

Chapelgate

2016 record: 8-5 MIAA C, 10-8

Coach: Jeremy Story, fourth season

Key players: Seniors Josh Butler (3B), Austen Johnson (SS/P), Luke Heming (P/CF/1B) and Chris Niccolini (1B/P); juniors Dillon Story# (C) and Ryan Jordan (P/2B).

Coach’s report: “This team is special to me because the graduating seniors are my first graduating class that I have coached since they were freshman. I have enjoyed watching Luke Heming, Chris Niccolini, Davon Parker and Josh Butler develop into excellent ball players as well as outstanding young men.”

Glenelg Country

2016 record: 9-5 MIAA B, 14-10

Coach: Chris Garber, eighth season

Key players: Seniors Brendan Grady (OF/P) and Jack Adamson (SS); junior Alex Beglan (IF/OF); sophomores Marcus Khademi (IF) and Tyler Russo (P).

Coach’s report: “The 2017 Glenelg Country School Dragons baseball team is coming off its sixth consecutive appearance in the MIAA B Conference playoffs. GCS is looking to continue its success as it is returning eight players who played in at least 15 games last season. Brendan Grady, Jack Adamson and Marcus Khademi are the leading returning hitters and will anchor the middle of the order, and Alex Beglan returns with 23 runs scored and 16 stolen bases and will be looked upon to get the offense started. Michael Fagan will solidify the defense behind the plate. The Dragons look to Brendan Grady and Tyler Russo, who handled the majority of the innings, to lead the pitching staff again this year. I am looking forward to significant contributions from the senior, junior and sophomore classes.”

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