Marriotts Ridge junior Josh Olsufka captures baseball Player of the Year

Before getting to the extra-base hits, the strikeouts on the mound and the exquisite play at third base — all qualities that made Marriotts Ridge junior Josh Olsufka a fitting choice to be this year’s Howard County Times/Columbia Flier baseball Player of the Year — let’s establish a few things.

First off, Josh Olsufka wants you to call him Buck.

He adopted the name about a year ago when he found out his sister was going to have a kid. Olsufka, a self-proclaimed country boy, did not want to be known as “Uncle Josh,” so he told everyone — parents, friends, teammates and coaches — to refer to him as Buck. Mustangs coach Paul Eckert still uses Josh, but almost everyone else has listened.

Olsufka also loves to fish. He goes a few times per week and would go daily if time permitted, either on the pond behind his house in Sykesville or in surrounding areas. About a month ago, he created an Instagram account, @bucksrod, to document his catches.

“There’s nothing else like it, personally.”

Other non-baseball activities include going to the beach, specifically in Ocean City where his family has a house, and playing golf. And recently, he’s been riding his new moped to and from school.

“We forget sometimes that he’s a teenager,” Mustangs assistant coach Scott Reeling said. “He likes to go fishing and ride around on his little motor scooter and have fun and just be a teenage kid. Sometimes we lose focus of kids who are really good, like, ‘Oh, if you’re that good at a sport, then that must be all you want to do.’”

Olsufka has several hobbies, yes, but above all, he wants you to know that he plays a lot of baseball. His dad introduced him to the sport when he was 3 years old with tee ball, and by the age of 6, he started playing travel baseball with the Savage Boys and Girls Club. After little league, Olsufka joined the Arena Starz until high school, when he has since spent his springs representing Marriotts Ridge and his summers representing the county as a part of the Howard County Youth Program (HCYP) Raiders under Joseph D'Alonzo.

Since his youth baseball days, Olsufka thrived playing with and competing against those who were a few years older than him. He did not know what it was like to battle his peers.

That changed this spring, Olsufka now an upperclassman for the reigning county champion Mustangs. And it did not take long for him to show the league what a dominant player he could be.

His player of the year campaign included a 1.45 ERA and 53 strikeouts compared to 12 walks as the Mustangs’ ace. With reigning Pitcher of the Year Dylan Anagnos all but lost for the year because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), Olsufka posted an 8-1 record over a team-high 38.2 innings.

His hitting numbers were equally as impressive: .412 batting average, 17 RBIs and seven extra-base hits. He launched three home runs, tied for the league lead with two other players.

Olsufka was an all-around difference maker for Marriotts Ridge — powering the program to its second straight county title and third consecutive regional final appearance — and according to those around him, he’s only starting to flash what they view as limitless potential.

“It’s been a gradual process from freshman year to sophomore year to this past year of really learning how to pitch,” Reeling said. “And he’s still more a thrower than he is a pitcher. He’s more a free swinger than a hitter.

“When he learns all of that — which I think by next year he will — when he really comes into his own, he’s going to be dangerous. He has the opportunity, I believe, to be one of if not the top player in the state if he wants to be.”

Anagnos, a first-team All-County outfielder this year, first played with Olsufka on the Arena Starz 14U team and, at the time, viewed Olsufka as “head and shoulders” above the competition. To Anagnos, everything Olsufka did was effortless. The ball jumped off his bat. Batting practice home runs became the norm.

“He was just so talented, and you could tell that he was going to be something special if he put the work in,” Anagnos said.

Two years later, catcher Joey Fellona played with Olsufka for the first time during his sophomore season at Marriotts Ridge. Even as a freshman, Olsufka’s skill set wowed Fellona. “I just knew he was a beast and he was destined to be a great player.”

Initially, Eckert said he and his coaching staff were not sure if Olsufka belonged on varsity, sensing Olsufka was a “little reluctant” to play among so many upperclassmen. Olsufka partly agreed, citing varsity baseball as a significant transition from what he was accustomed to, but remained confident in his abilities to play at that level. He quickly convinced his coaches of that, too.

“We were debating that early in the year before the first game, and one of our coaches hit a pop up in one of the drills,” Eckert said. “And he said, ‘Oh, I missed that one,’ like it was going to land for a base hit, and all of the sudden, poof — Josh is there, and he catches it.”

“And that, gentleman, is why he can play varsity,” Eckert told his staff. “He’s very gifted.”

After a freshman campaign during which he hit .280 with 14 hits, 10 RBIs and six doubles, Olsufka saw a slight uptick in responsibility but a significant jump in production as a sophomore. He raised his batting average to .379 while driving in as many runs as he scored (17) and stealing eight bases. Olsufka also hit for more power — posting six doubles and a county-best three home runs — one of which cleared the black wall at Mt. Hebron off reigning Player of the Year Jack Schroeder. To the knowledge of Eckert and Reeling, Olsufka is the only one to hit a ball over that wall.

Olsufka served as a capable pitching option, too, but not a necessary one. Marriotts Ridge had Anagnos — the pitcher of the year — and three senior hurlers who threw at least 33 innings last season, so Olsufka eloquently manned the hot corner and may have made first-team All-County if not for River Hill third baseman Tucker Finkelston and his astounding 31 RBIs. Instead, Olsufka earned second-team honors.

“He makes plays at third base that you just don’t see other kids make,” Reeling said. “I’m talking about balls that are looped over his head or looped into left field that he catches over his shoulder. He just covers more ground. His instincts are phenomenal. Watching him play, he’ll sit there and he’ll do something like kick a ball off his heel, and it trickles away. And he’ll pick it up and everyone is yelling ‘hold it,’ and he burns it across the diamond and beats the kid by two steps. And you’re like, ‘See, that’s what [colleges] will see and go I want that kid on my team.’”

Eckert said Olsufka is as athletic of a third baseman as he has seen in “quite some time,” and added he has not had a player with Olsufka’s overall athleticism since All-Metro outfielder Kevin Seker, who led Marriotts Ridge to its lone state championship appearance in 2008.

“Just a natural athletic ability, and it’s a gift. I don’t know that you can teach that,” Eckert said. “To some degree, certainly, you can talk about stroke and hand placement and stride and that kind of thing, but a lot of it is just a gift, and [Olsufka] made the most of that gift.”

But for all the compliments Olsufka receives about his hitting and his fielding, it’s pitching that he’s fallen in love with, and he’s eager to increase his velocity and sharpen his breaking pitches moving forward.

Olsufka has always been a formidable right-hander, but his passion for the craft developed last summer as he ratcheted up his workload for the Raiders. He flourished in about 90 innings, each quality start or shutout giving him even more confidence. His relished the increased responsibility and action. At third base, he might receive a couple ground balls per game. At the plate, his at-bats are limited. But on the mound, he controlled every pitch.

His success at the club level ensured Olsufka he could dominate during the high school season despite pitching just 6.2 innings last year. In the Mustangs’ season-opening win over Glenelg, he allowed three hits and struck out eight Gladiators in four innings. He followed that up with a complete game less than two weeks later in a 7-1 victory against Reservoir.

Olsufka said he’s thrown as hard as 92 miles per hour but usually sits in the mid-80s, and it’s that fastball velocity, combined with the movement from his curveball and knuckle ball, that made him one of the county’s best this spring. Had he not won player of the year, Olsufka would have contended for pitcher of the year.

“That’s my favorite thing,” Olsufka said. “That’s all I really like in baseball is pitching. It’s more fun.”

Olsufka admits year-round baseball training is a constant grind that can even get “pretty boring” at times, but he’s dedicated to not only playing but pitching in college. A few Division I schools are interested, as are several smaller programs.

Before he makes that decision, though, he’ll attempt to balance the rigors of summer baseball with life as a rising high school senior. There will surely be more fishing, rides on his moped and trips to the beach.

He’ll do what he’s always done and be who he’s always been, all while preparing for a future in baseball with seemingly endless possibilities.

“He can basically go wherever he wants,” Fellona said. “If he puts his mind to it, he can do whatever he wants.”

Also named to the first team:

Pitcher of the Year

Gabe Delgado, Howard, junior.

Behind a fastball that jumped 10 miles an hour from last season and a curveball that left teammates amazed and opposing batters dumbfounded, Delgado emerged as the Lions’ ace this spring and a premier pitcher in the county.

The junior right-hander had a league-high 73 strikeouts over 47.1 innings, all while posting a 1.92 ERA, 36 hits and 22 walks.

Delgado, who committed to UMBC on June 14, cemented himself as one of the county’s top pitchers early in the season versus Marriotts Ridge, when he struck out 10 Mustangs over five innings of the Lions’ 6-4 win on April 6. In nine starts, he tossed three complete games and two shutouts. He also fanned 10 or more batters in three appearances, including an 11-strikeout performance in a 4-1 playoff win over Catonsville.

Two games later, in the 4A state championship versus Severna Park, Delgado kept Howard in the contest by allowing four runs (three earned), four hits and six strikeouts over six innings. He ended up earning a no decision, as the Lions overcame a three-run, seventh-inning deficit to claim the program’s first state championship.

“Gabe has a great work ethic and really worked hard this past year to get stronger,” coach Nick Hoffner said. “His command of his fastball, curveball and changeup made it difficult for hitters to have success against him at the plate this year.”

Pitchers

Alex Bolton, Mt. Hebron, senior.

Bolton nearly doubled his workload from last season, when he pitched 22 innings and had a 4.45 ERA.

With the graduation of Mt Hebron ace and Player of the Year Jack Schroeder, Bolton broke out to become of the Vikings’ best pitchers along with fellow senior Noah D'Alonzo. Bolton, meanwhile, allowed seven earned runs over 40 innings, giving him a 1.23 ERA to go along with 50 strikeouts and a 4-1 record.

Coach Brian Culley looked to Bolton to start some of the team’s biggest games, and Bolton delivered. Against Howard on April 17, Bolton allowed three hits over six innings, as Mt. Hebron beat the eventual county and 4A state champions, 5-3. He also took the mound in the 3A East, Section I final versus Reservoir and threw seven scoreless innings without a walk. The Vikings eventually lost the game in 13 innings.

“I’m proud of him. He has worked really hard at his craft over the last couple years and it panned out for him this year,” Culley said. “He became a guy that we could really depend upon, which from a coaching standpoint is all we can ask for. He’s the consummate team guy. First one there and last to leave everyday and he’s a pitcher only. He would do whatever it took each day to help the team.”

Trevor Romaine, Reservoir, junior.

Romaine was a part of a two-headed pitching monster — senior Eric Jennings was the other — that helped Reservoir finish 17-4 and make the 3A East region final.

Romaine displayed exquisite control this season, barely allowing more earned runs (nine) than walks (eight) over a county-high 50 innings. He finished 5-1 with a 1.44 ERA.

One of Romaine’s best pitching performances this spring came against Howard at the end of the regular season. With the Lions in position to win the county title outright, Romaine threw a complete game and struck out 10 hitters in the Gators’ 8-3 victory on May 4.

“Trevor had a breakout year on the mound,” coach Adam Leader said. “He worked very hard in the offseason to gain more strength and agility. It certainly paid off. He increased his velocity and his ability the throw multiple pitches for strikes, kept batters off balance. Trevor was also very confident on the mound. He always wanted the ball and pitched many of our tough games. Trevor is a great leader on our team and really great young man.”

Tyler Russo, Glenelg Country, junior.

Russo was one of the best two-way players in the county this season for Glenelg Country, which reached the MIAA B Conference championship before falling to Boys’ Latin.

He stymied opposing hitters in 49 innings, going 7-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 59 strikeouts compared to 14 walks. He allowed a measly seven earned runs in 11 appearances.

At the plate, Russo tormented pitchers from the middle of the Dragons’ lineup. He led the team in batting average (.431), hits (28), extra-base hits (five doubles and four triples), runs (24) and walks (17). He also reached base in more than half of his at-bats and stole 18 bases, getting caught four times.

Russo was named as MIAA B Conference All-Star honors and was selected to play in the Mid Atlantic Baseball Classic.

“He was dominant on the mound with unmatched stats — opposing hitters batted a lowly .159 against him,” coach Christopher Garber said. “He also led our team in hitting from the three hole in our lineup.”

Catcher

Mark Lettieri, Mt. Hebron, senior.

Brian Culley has been coaching for more than 20 years and has yet to see someone command a team like Lettieri.

“Our unequivocal leader on and off the field,” Culley said. “I can say he’s the best leader I’ve ever had the privilege to coach.”

Culley called Lettieri an “extension of the coaching staff on the field” who kept opponents from establishing a running game thanks to his quick throwing release. At the plate, he produced from the leadoff spot to the tune of a .371 average, a team-high 26 hits, 19 runs, 14 RBIs and 11 walks. Lettieri had some “humongous hits” this season, Culley said, like when he went 4-for-5 with four RBIs in the Vikings’ 12-6 win over Centennial on April 6.

“The ultimate competitor,” Culley said. “The Mt. Hebron baseball program is better off now than it was four years ago because he was a part of it.”

Infielders

Jeremy Huffman, Long Reach, junior.

A first-team All-County linebacker in football, Huffman proved he’s also one of the best hitters and fielders in the county with his performances this spring.

Long Reach coach Brian Wyman said Huffman has always been a “solid contact hitter with good power” who fine-tuned his plate discipline this season. That’s how he went from batting .299 with four walks as a sophomore to a hitting .449 and drawing 15 free passes this year. He also drove in a team-high 16 runs while scoring 15 times.

Defensively, Wyman admitted Huffman is not the fastest kid on the field. “But the kid can get to a ball with the best of them,” Wyman said, and Huffman validated his coach’s point by making one error in 36 chances at shortstop.

“The kid just grinds. His baseball IQ is as high as anyone I’ve coached, and not only does he allow that to elevate his game, but he passes it on to his teammates. He’s basically an extension of the coaching staff at times,” Wyman said. “He is smooth, quick and makes the game look easy. Looking forward to having him back next year to lead our varsity squad.”

Jack Lawrence, Atholton, senior.

A three-year varsity player, Lawrence led Atholton in almost every offensive category this season. He posted team highs in hits (20), RBIs (19), runs (18), doubles (nine) and triples (two). He also launched three home runs, tied for the most in the county.

Lawrence, who played shortstop, had his best games at the plate against Wilde Lake and Hammond in early April, as he hit a long ball, scored twice and drove in five runs in each contest. He will continue his baseball career at Division I Mount St. Mary's next year.

“Jack Lawrence was the vocal and emotional leader,” coach Jon Dupski said. “He was a standout performer with exceptional offensive power as well as a solid defensive shortstop. For the last three years, Jack has come to varsity practice each day with a desire to help his teammates and himself get better.”

Lake Lloyd, Mt. Hebron, senior.

Lloyd suffered an injury this spring that forced him to miss five games. Throughout the playoffs, coach Brian Culley said Lloyd “played essentially on one leg.”

Yet by season’s end, Lloyd was again one of Mt. Hebron’s top hitters and helped the Vikings advance to the 3A East, Section I final.

“A huge presence in the middle of our lineup and an extreme run producer,” Culley said. “He worked really hard to transform his game by getting stronger, and it paid off.”

After earning second-team All-County as a utility player last season, Lloyd turned himself into a first-team third baseman with solid defensive skills and quality offensive numbers. He led the team with 21 RBIs and nine doubles while batting .407.

“He’s a quiet kid who in my opinion was one of the best hitters in [Howard County],” Culley said. “A gutsy player who will be missed dearly next year.”

Ben Looper, Oakland Mills, junior.

A year after his brother, Ryan, made first-team All-County, Looper earned the honor behind a breakout season at the plate.

The junior first baseman tied for the county lead with three home runs and was the only Scorpions player to hit above .400. Along with his .450 batting average, he drove in 23 runs, scored 20 times and ripped nine doubles.

Looper also accomplished a feat rarely seen on any level of baseball. In Oakland Mills’ 17-5 win over Wilde Lake on April 5, he compiled seven RBIs.

“Ben really broke out this season,” coach Matthew Sillers said. “He works incredibly hard on and off the field, which contributed to his success this year. Ben is the type of player that doesn't show emotion on the field. He is calm at the plate and in the field. I was incredibly proud of the leadership he showed this year and his dedication to the game, his teammates and our program. We look forward to having him back as a senior next season.”

Hunter Reeling, Marriotts Ridge, senior.

Reeling combined with Player of the Year Josh Olsufka and first-team All-County outfielder Dylan Anagnos to do plenty of offensive damage from the middle of the Marriotts Ridge lineup.

In the leadoff spot, Reeling got a hit in four of every 10 at-bats while posting a .571 on-base percentage. He had 22 hits and 15 walks, and when he reached base, he was frequently on the move. Reeling finished the season with a county-best 22 stolen bases.

Reeling will play baseball at Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) Catonsville next year.

“This sounds so cliche, but I really can’t say enough nice things about Hunter Reeling,” coach Paul Eckert said. “As good a player as he is, he’s a better person, and he’s a really, really good baseball player. So that tells you a bit about him as a person. Our kids look up to him. They know that he works as hard as anybody on the team, if not harder, and that respect for him comes from the way he is as a person. He’s just a terrific person. I’d like to talk to him as a player, but you see all of the stats. He’s as nice a kid and as respected as a kid in our dugout as you’ve want to have.”

Outfielders

Dylan Anagnos, Marriotts Ridge, senior.

A preseason all-state pitcher, Anagnos was limited to 6.1 innings over five appearances because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) he suffered before his senior campaign.

But last year’s Howard County Pitcher of the Year did not let his injury affect him from obliterating opposing pitching all year long.

After hitting a putrid .133 in 30 at-bats last season, Anagnos raised his batting average by more than 400 points to lead the county with a .589 average. He smacked a league-best 33 hits, which included eight doubles, a triple and a home run, to go along with 26 RBIs, 15 runs scored and nine strikeouts. Those numbers helped him set six offensive school records.

But above all, coach Paul Eckert said he “learned a lot” from Anagnos about courage and perseverance.

“I really think he blossomed as a leader this year,” Eckert said. “I think the kids saw. I mean how can you not notice that he’s been playing essentially with one arm for most of the season. … Actions speak louder than words, and his actions are exemplary in every facet.”

Cameron Hyder, Reservoir, senior.

After earning second-team honors the past two seasons, he emerged as a player of the year candidate thanks to a .508 batting average with 19 walks compared to three strikeouts. He also finished near the top of the league in hits (30), runs (27), doubles (11) and stolen bases (19).

Meanwhile, 16th-year coach Adam Leader called Hyder “one of the best” outfielders he has even seen. It was the main reason that Hyder (11 innings pitched) did not see more time on the mound. Reservoir could not afford to be without him in center field.

But when Hyder did take the hill, he prospered. In the Gators’ marathon 1-0 playoff win over Mt. Hebron, he came in to pitch in the seventh inning and allowed one hit over the next 6.2 frames.

He’ll play baseball at Salisbury next year.

“His work ethic and leadership throughout the season and offseason was a major reason why we had a successful season,” Leader said. “As our leadoff hitter, Cam set the tone from the start of the game. He is a very mature player, and his ability to read pitchers — in the batters box or on the base paths — helped him hit over .500 with a lot of stolen bases.”

Ryan Kulick, Howard, junior.

Those who follow Maryland high school baseball likely know Kulick because of what he did in the 4A state title game against Severna Park on May 25. With the bases loaded, two outs and Howard down, 4-3, Kulick fouled off four pitches before drilling an 0-2 fastball into center field. Two runs scored to cap the come-from-behind victory and the Lions’ first state championship.

However, Kulick has been making valuable batting and pitching contributions on varsity the past two seasons. He was one of two sophomores to make first-team All-County last year after batting .385 with 14 runs scored and 13 RBIs.

This spring, Kulick improved on those numbers. He led the county with 27 RBIs while batting a team-best .439, scoring 18 runs and compiling six extra-base hits. Meanwhile, in 19.1 innings pitched, Kulick posted a 1.81 ERA and had twice as many strikeouts (22) as walks.

“Ryan has the ability to consistently barrel the baseball and drive the ball to all fields,” coach Nick Hoffner said. “He was our most consistent hitter all season.”

Utility

Brian Jakubek, Howard, junior.

Whether he was behind the plate, on the mound or in the batter’s box, Jakubek came through for a Howard team that won the program’s inaugural state championship this spring.

Coach Nick Hoffner credited Jakubek with “completely shutting down opposing teams’ running games,” evident by Jakubek throwing out six of the 11 runners attempting to steal on him. Offensively, he hit .303 and had 26 runs scored, a team-best 15 walks, 13 RBIs and seven doubles.

Finally, Jakubek served as the go-to relief pitcher who the Lions relied even more on in the postseason.

“On the mound, Brian was used in numerous high-leverage situations. giving up only one run on the season in 11.1 innings and going 5-0 with a save on the mound,” Hoffner said. “Brian pitched in four of the five playoff games and had three wins and a save.”

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