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Preseason baseball poll

1. Calvert Hall

Coach: Lou Eckerl

Last season: 24-8, ranked No. 1

Postseason: Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champions

Outlook: The Cardinals never rebuild — they reload. That's what the defending MIAA A conference champions will do this season, filling the spots of six graduated starters with talented varsity players who didn't see much playing time a year ago. The team features three preseason All-State players in centerfielder Troy Stokes, second baseman Manny Rodriguez and pitcher/third baseman Nick Delp.

2. Gilman

Coach: Larry Sheets

Last season: 24-12, ranked No. 3

Postseason: MIAA A Conference finals

Outlook: Preseason All-State selections Danny Blair and Gavin Sheets form the nucleus of a power-packed team, which should make a strong run at the A Conference title if its pitching holds up. Blair, the team's starting centerfielder, also will take the mound this season following the loss of all-conference pitcher Joe Smeton, who will have Tommy John surgery. A handful of freshmen also could make large contributions.

3. Mount St. Joseph

Coach: Jody Harris

Last season: 20-11, ranked No. 14

Postseason: MIAA A Conference tournament

Outlook: The Gaels only graduated four seniors, and return the core of a team that won 12 of 13 to close out the regular season a year ago. Notre Dame-recruit Peter Solomon leads an especially strong pitching staff for Harris, who takes over for longtime coach Dave Norton.

4. Reservoir

Coach: Adam Leader

Last season: 14-7, ranked No. 12

Postseason: Class 3A East finalist

Outlook: Every single starter returns for a team that had huge success last season while starting seven sophomores. They are led by 6-foot-5 right-hander Cody Morris, who throws in the low-to-mid 90s and is already verbally committed to South Carolina. Third baseman Jack Barry (.417 batting average in 2013) was also named preseason All-State.

5. Catonsville

Coach: Rich Hambor

Last season: 17-5, ranked No. 7

Postseason: Class 4A state finalist

Outlook: The Comets advanced to the Class 4A state final for the first time last season, and could have the weapons to make another run. Senior Josh Klein was 8-3 with a 1.39 ERA on the mound, and also batted .365, while outfielder Ryan Whittington batted .435 with a .674 slugging percentage. The team will need to replace its defense up the middle, as well as at first base, if it is to win its first state title since winning the Class A final in 1976.

6. Arundel

Coach: Jason Lively

Last season: 17-6, ranked No. 5

Postseason: Class 4A East semifinalist

Outlook: The Wildcats' lost five of their top six hitters and their top four pitchers from a year ago, and will depend on what experience they have left. Catcher and designated hitter Josh Gall is the team's top returning hitter (.355), and centerfielder Syeed Mahdi is a pre-season all-state pick. The offense has the potential to be better than last season, but the pitching staff will be young.

7. Archbishop Curley

Coach: Brooks Norris

Last season: 18-13, ranked No. 9

Postseason: MIAA A Conference tournament

Outlook: The Friars could be even stronger than a year ago with the return of one of the area’s top batteries in left-hander Zack Ridgely and catcher Christian Hamel. Jordan Menfee, a strong-armed transfer from North Harford, and senior Andrew Davis will add depth on the mound.

8. Chesapeake

Coach: Ken King

Last season: 12-10, unranked

Postseason: Class 4A East quarterfinals

Outlook: The Cougars could have the best pitching depth in Anne Arundel County, with four returning senior starters. The best of the lot is Drew Spinnenweber, a preseason All-State selection, while teammates John Drexel and Chris Ruszin are both committed to Towson.

9. North Harford

Coach: Tim Larrimore

Last season: 14-9, unranked

Postseason: Class 3A North semifinals

Outlook: The Hawks appear to be set for a big season in Harford County. Brian Shaffer, the team's 6-foot-4 power arm, is a preseason All-State pick who has signed with Maryland. Another senior, third baseman and pitcher Nic Hammer, batted .390 with power last year to earn All-Metro second-team honors. The Hawks lost to Class 3A state champion Bel Air three times by a total of four runs.

10. South River

Coach: Gary Gubbings

Last season: 20-5, ranked No. 2

Postseason: Class 4A state champions

Outlook: This will be a year of transition for the defending Class 4A state champions, who for the first time in more than three decades will have a new head coach. Gubbings, a former assistant, inherits a squad that must replace seven starters, but has two of Anne Arundel County's top seniors in pitcher Craig Sheridan (6-2, 0.88 ERA) and shortstop Kyle Canavan.

11. Archbishop Spalding

Coach: Joe Palumbo

Last season: 13-16, unranked

Postseason: MIAA A conference tournament

Outlook: A deep pitching staff and improved lineup will help the Cavaliers make some noise this season in the MIAA A Conference. The team graduated just three players, and returns two of the league's top left-handed pitchers in junior Jordan Carr (5-3, 1.75 ERA) and senior Darrien Ragins (2.89 ERA), who has signed with Delaware State. Top offensive threats include power-hitting first baseman Paul Diven and right fielder Jon Lane.

12. Eastern Tech

Coach: Spike McElfish

Last season: 15-5, unranked

Postseason: Class 3A North finalist

Outlook: After winning Baltimore County's Division I last season, the Mavericks should again challenge with a team that's solid at the plate and in the field. They have two preseason All-State picks in senior catcher Cody Gwinn, who will attend Frostburg State, and senior outfielder Andy Szamski, who will attend Concordia. One thing the team seems to lack, however, is a dominant pitcher.

13. Atholton

Coach: Jon Dupski

Last season: 15-6, ranked No. 13

Postseason: Class 3A East quarterfinals

Outlook: Returning All-Metro first-team centerfielder Brady Acker (.478, 22 stolen bases) and senior pitching standout Michael Slayton (6-2, 1.18 ERA) lead a squad that should have strong pitching and defense. Run production is the only question mark.

14. Westminster

Coach: Mark Winebrunner

Last season: 15-4, unranked

Postseason: Class 4A North finalist

Outlook: After advancing to the regional finals each of the past two years, the Owls have dropped to the 3A level. The pitching staff is deep, led by sophomore Brandon Martin and home school transfer Joe Robinson. Leadoff hitter Chase Sankovich and cleanup hitter Austin Edwards will lead a lineup that could include as few as four seniors.

15. Glenelg Country

Coach: Chris Garber

Last season: 19-2, ranked No. 15

Postseason: MIAA B Conference champions

Outlook: With the return of 14 players, including seven key contributors, the Dragons are the odds-on favorite to repeat. Back are All-Conference picks William Seiferth, who batted .433 with five homers and 39 RBIs as a junior, and Dylan Farnella, who went 8-1 with a 1.93 ERA as a sophomore.

Other teams considered: Bel Air (19-5), Dulaney (12-9), Hereford (12-5), Loyola (21-13), North County (16-5), Severna Park (10-10), St. Mary's (25-3), St. Paul's (9-14)

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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