Reservoir's Lee Lawler never set out to be the Player of the Year. All he wanted to do this season was to help his team continue the success that it had in 2011.
But when you're following in the footsteps of a Player of the Year who led his team to its most successful season in school history — 2011 senior T.J. Pipik — the expectations are there regardless of whether the comparisons fit or not.
"We had that discussion, 'You're not T.J. and I don't want you to be T.J. You're Lee,' " coach Adam Leader said. "He's not the guy who's going to be hitting the ball over the fence, he's going to get on base and run the bases smart, and that's what he did."
And by being the best Lee Lawler that he could be on the baseball field, the senior did one thing that he planned to do — leading the Gators to another very successful season — and one thing he never planned to do, earning Howard County Player of the Year accolades.
Last year, Pipik was 9-0 with a .39 ERA and 71 strikeouts and five walks on the mound, while batting .472 with 18 extra base hits and 35 RBIs.
Lawler, meanwhile, was 5-0 with a .70 ERA, 41 strikeouts and seven walks.
And although he wasn't nearly as explosive at the plate as Pipik, Lawler found his own way to contribute on offense.
Batting in the No. 2 slot, Lawler maximized his opportunities, scoring 18 runs on 18 hits and collecting 15 stolen bases in 55 at bats (.327 avg).
His approach was "just to get on base as much as I could, draw walks, get hit by pitches, hit singles, whatever, just get on and run," he said.
But while he provided a spark at the top of the lineup, it was Lawler's improvement on the mound, along with the arrival of an excellent freshman arm, that made Reservoir the dominant team in Howard County this year.
Lawler and rookie Cody Morris combined to pitch almost 100 innings, winning 13 games, striking out 136 batters and allowing just 10 earned runs for a sub-1 ERA.
"Last year (Lawler) coming in and getting a full season behind T.J., he was smart enough to listen to him, watch him and learn from him," Leader said. "On the flip side, he ended up mentoring Cody just as much (this season) and hopefully that cycle will continue."
By pitching even better than he did last year (7-0, 72 K, 16 BB, .46 ERA), and doing whatever he could do on offense to help manufacture runs, Lawler was a key cog in the Gators' second straight county and District V championship. He also represented Howard County in the annual Brooks Robinson High School All Star game at Camden Yards.
Leader remembers Lawler coming to summer camps at the Fulton high school since he was seven years old, and hanging out around the baseball field chasing foul balls when his older brother played for the team back when the school first opened.
Although Lawler made a name for himself last year when he pitched two scoreless innings of relief in the first District V title game win, he turned even more heads this season.
In a win over previously undefeated Glenelg in mid-April, Lawler struck out 13 in a complete game two-hit shutout. His fastball was clocked as high as 89 miles per hour that day, and according to Leader, four college scouts on hand were all ready to ink the senior as soon as the game concluded. (Lawler signed with Towson in May).
"His curveball is a fast curveball," Leader said. "It bites hard, it's nasty. It's a good pitch."
Leader said that to succeed at the next level, Lawler will likely need to add an effective change-up to his repertoire of pitches, and put on a little more muscle.
But one thing that Lawler won't have to work to improve is his teamwork. That's always been a strong point, and it was a lesson that he learned from a good role model.
"Our whole team had an equal role. T.J. didn't do everything last year, if someone didn't make one play we wouldn't have won ... we did (it together as a team)," he said. "It was just a blast, it was a fun team ... everyone loves it, we just have a good time."
Also named to the all-county first team:
Logan Dubbe, Glenelg. A strong Player of the Year candidate, Dubbe did what many Major Leaguers cannot by undergoing Tommy John surgery and then returning even stronger than before.
"He's as well-rounded a player as anyone in the county, and he's coming off of the most serious arm surgery you can have," coach Dave Boteler said. "When he was on the mound we could beat anybody."
The Division 1 prospect was 6-2 this season with a .81 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 52 innings. He also batted .392 with ten extra base hits and 25 runs driven in. In a playoff win over Marriotts Ridge, Dubbe pitched a complete game one-hit shutout and hit a first-inning home run.
Ben Goldsmith, Centennial. After leading the Eagles basketball team to the state finals, Goldsmith went out to the pitcher's mound and showed some of the same qualities.
In 50 innings, Goldsmith allowed only eight earned runs (1.12 ERA) on 32 hits — including only three for extra bases, all doubles — and he struck out 45. His finest moments this season included a shutout of offensive juggernaut River Hill and a win over county champion Reservoir.
"He just does a great job of keeping hitters off balance, he misses a lot of bats and he knew how to let hitters get themselves out," coach Denis Ahearn said.
Goldsmith plans to pitch for St. Marys next year.
Cody Morris, Reservoir. Not even coach Adam Leader could have predicted what Morris, a freshman, was capable of. But he knew he had a prize on his hands.
"I've had Cody a lot in camps, but man, he just jumped up in size and that helped a lot," he said. "Still, it's a big jump to go from eighth grade travel ball to varsity, but he really worked hard and didn't look back. ... He's got the tools to go as far as he can go and I'm just excited to see what he can do."
On a rough opening day, the Gators lost behind Morris, 8-3, thanks in part to some defensive miscues and hibernating bats. But that was the last game he would lose, including wins in the playoffs and the District V championship game. Morris, who already throws a mid-to-high 80s fastball, finished the season 6-1 with 64 strikeouts in only 50 innings and a .99 ERA.
Morris was named Pitcher of the Year by the county coaches.
Joe Zayatz, Oakland Mills. Zayatz was the driving force behind Oakland Mills' finest season in years.
He and fellow junior Kyle Madden-Stricker teamed up to win 10 games and pitch almost 100 innings.
"I was told by several people before I even took the job that they were solid pitchers and as soon as I saw them throwing March 1 it was obvious," first-year coach Brian Rau said.
As a pitcher Zayatz was 6-4 with a 1.75 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 48 innings, including a five-inning perfect game. And with the bat in his hands he hit .373 with 20 runs, 17 RBI, two home runs, three triples and five doubles. In 77 plate appearances he struck out only twice and drew 12 walks.
Ben Miller, Hammond. In a league rife with talented players in the pads behind the plate, Miller still managed to stand out. This season he led Hammond with 25 hits (.368 avg), 21 RBIs and three home runs. In 151 total chances behind the dish, he made only four errors (.974 FP) and allowed two passed balls. He also cut down 10 of the 31 baserunners who tried to steal on him, including nine of the last 10 would-be base stealers.
"He moved from his natural position at first base to catcher this year and was tremendous. He got better as the season went on and his play at the plate obviously didn't suffer," coach Mike Lerner said.
In a 9-8 win over Glenelg, he was 3-4 with a home run and four RBIs, and he caught both base runners who attempted to steal in a playoff loss to eventual state champion JM Bennett.
Garrett Kurtz, Centennial. As far as power hitting corner infielders go, there wasn't anyone better in Howard County this season than Kurtz.
He batted .500 (31/62) with 10 doubles, three home runs and 19 RBIs.
"He was just a great, consistent hitter all year long," coach Denis Ahearn said. "He's an excellent first baseman, one of the best I've ever had at scooping the ball ... but I didn't know that he would hit as well as he did."
Kurtz, who was also one of the Eagles' most reliable hurlers, pitched a complete game six-hitter and hit a home run in a playoff win at Stephen Decatur. He plans to play college ball for Dickinson next year.
Luke Brister, Glenelg. Also an excellent football place kicker, Brister was the one pacing the offense on the baseball diamond. The junior batted .411 (30/73) with three doubles and two triples, stole 19 bases, and crossed home plate 26 times. Despite batting in the two-hole, he still managed to drive in 13 runs of his own.
"There were a couple of weeks where he was really carrying us offensively. He was always on base, a real emotional leader," coach Dave Boteler said. "I wasn't aware how good a ballplayer he was ... but I have a feeling he's going to give us even more next year."
Coming off of a shoulder operation, Brister was also impressive defensively, making only two errors in 77 chances at second base.
Evan Griffin, River Hill. Since starting on varsity as a freshman, Griffin has been one of the most consistent, well-rounded players in the county. In three career seasons, he has never batted under .400, and is well on his way to reaching the elite 100 career hit club.
"He's one of the best overall athletes in the county," coach Wes McCoy said of Griffin, who is also a star running back on the gridiron. "He makes adjustments not just game-to-game, but pitch-to-pitch ... he's going to be as experienced a player as there is in the state next year."
This season Griffin recorded 35 base hits (.473 avg), including many against some of the best pitchers in the state and eight for extra bases. He scored 25 runs, stole 20 bases and drove in 16 runs. Five times this season the slick-fielding shortstop had three or more hits in a game.
Raul Shah, Mt. Hebron. Shah ended his career fittingly this spring by playing at Camden Yards as one of only two Howard County representatives in the prestigious Brooks Robinson High School All-Star game. The shortstop also earned his second straight first team all county honors after leading Mt. Hebron at the plate with 25 hits (.373 avg), 18 RBIs and 11 extra base hits, including three triples and a home run.
"He's the reason guys like me coach, to get to work with players like him," coach Brian Culley said. "He's an awesome, positive leader. He's great with the younger kids ... he can do pretty much anything you ask him to do."
The rangy, smooth shortstop will continue his baseball career at Johns Hopkins next year.
Tyler Henderson, Glenelg Country. After an offseason of rigorous training, Henderson got off to a scorching start, going 9-for-10 with seven extra base hits and 10 RBIs during a stretch in March.
But when the calendar page flipped over to April, Henderson didn't really slow down. He finished the campaign batting an even .500 (32/64) with 13 extra base hits and a county-best 33 RBIs. He struck out only three times in 76 plate appearances.
"He was the guy we depended on to take us through all the way into the playoffs, and he came through whenever we needed him," coach Chris Garber said. "With his hard work off the field on his conditioning, his speed and power, he became a different player."
As the Dragons' ace on the mound, Henderson was 4-2 with 44 strikeouts, 15 walks and a 2.12 ERA. He will play for Limestone College in South Carolina next year.
Derek Sicca, Hammond. This season was Sicca's chance to prove that last spring — when he was one of Hammond's top hitters and pitchers as only a sophomore — was no fluke, and he left no doubt. Batting in the heart of the Golden Bears' order, he hit at a .348 clip with 10 doubles and 21 RBIs. On the mound he was 4-4 with a 3.14 ERA and 63 strikeouts, including a 10 strikeout effort in a 3-0 loss to Reservoir.
"You can teach him a new technique one time and watch him put it into play immediately in the next game," coach Mike Lerner said. "He's got great hands, a quick first step and he hits the ball well to all fields."
Sicca was also one of the county's most reliable fielders at the hot corner, committing just one error in 37 chances.
Brady Acker, Atholton. Last season, expectations were modest for this freshman centerfielder and leadoff hitter, who nonetheless delivered with 23 runs and 18 stolen bases. This year, first-year coach Jon Dupski looked for Acker to take the next step, and the sophomore came through once again.
"Brady is a program's ideal centerfielder and leadoff guy," Dupski said. "I look forward to seeing what he will do in the two years to come."
Acker raised his batting average almost 20 points, to .351 (26/74), scored 24 runs, drove seven extra base hits into the gaps and was successful in all 21 of his stolen base attempts, a league high-water mark. Using his speed to cover lots of ground in centerfield, he committed only three errors in 53 chances.
Richie Lancashire, River Hill. A great complementary player to Griffin batting atop the Hawks' line-up, Lancashire brought a similar skill-set to the table, with the added bonus of serving as one of the team's most reliable starting pitchers.
"Evan's a little better base stealer, and Richie has a little more pop in his bat," coach Wes McCoy said. "We had high expectations for him and he carried it into this season ... he's a tough competitor, he demands a lot of himself."
Lancashire enjoyed a breakout season, batting .451 (32/71) with ten multi-hit games including six doubles and five triples, a league-best 27 runs, and 19 RBIs. On the mound, his 4-2 record included a disastrous outing at Centennial in which he faced nine batters, allowing five hits, four walks and six runs without recording an out. He bounced back from that performance though to finish the season with a 3.00 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 32 innings.
Sean Sivo, Howard. The senior centerfielder was the kind of player that coaches dream about penciling in at the top of a line-up card. Sivo batted .467 (28/60) and scored 23 runs and 12 RBIs with a .507 on-base percentage and ten stolen bases.
Through the first six games, Sivo was 16/22 for a .727 average with 14 runs. After cooling off slightly, he adjusted his approach at the plate and continued to get on base.
"He batted leadoff all year, setting the table for us and doing a great job," coach Nick Hoffner said. "Even when he wasn't hitting he could bunt for a base hit ... how much better he got over the course of two years, that's a testament to his hard work."
Sivo, who was also known for having one of the strongest outfield arms in the county, will look to play collegiately at McDaniel next season.
Josh Martin, Atholton. A repeat all-county selection, Martin was the kind of player that coaches can build a team around. Coach Jon Dupski was able to deploy Martin as the anchor of the defense at shortstop (7 DPs, 45 A), a top of the line-up hitter (.568 OBP, 16 BB, 18 R, 11 RBI, 6 2B), and the ace of the pitching staff (4-4, 37 K, 11 BB, 1.93 ERA, 50 IP).
"We'll miss all of our seniors, Josh especially," Dupski said. "The intangibles you can't see, his leadership, everything about him ... He contributed every game and a coach could not ask for a player to work harder than Josh did. (He) is one of the rare players that would be effective anywhere on the baseball field."
Martin plans to play for Catholic University next year.