Baseball: Gerstell thriving in third varsity season

Gerstell Academy's baseball team is on the rise after going from 4-9 in 2015 to 9-7 last year to a sterling 9-2 this spring.

There's even a serious discussion about wining a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference championship for the first time in the team’s three-year history.

Gerstell coaches say the Falcons — who are a perfect 8-0 in league play — are that talented, boasting a seasoned team with strong pitching and defense and an offense that can often be explosive at times.

A true test will come when that Falcons square off against St. John’s Catholic Prep (6-0) of Frederick twice in three days beginning April 27.

“We think we are one of the top two teams in the C Conference this year,” Gerstell assistant coach Zach Blessing said.  “We think it’s us and St. John's. We are really looking forward to playing them in two games in late April and a possible playoff match up.”

Gerstell head coach Cap Poklemba has focused sharply on this season and the future, knowing the Falcons will only lose graduate two starters from their lineup this spring.

“We have a young group of kids,” Poklemba explained. “Next year, we are going to be even better than we are this year. We will be in great shape. Our plan next year is to move up the B Conference. I think this year we would be right in the middle of the B Conference with all those teams.”

Blessing has been impressed with the development of Gerstell’s upperclassmen more than anything.

“When we started the program, we had a bunch of freshmen and sophomores," he said. "Now, they all are coming into their own as juniors and seniors.”

Pitching is a power position for Gerstell.

Poklemba believes he has not only one ace, but two No. 1 pitchers in sophomore right-hander Reece Early and junior right-hander Matthew Nowakowski.

Early, who has an effective three-pitch repertoire consisting of a fastball, curveball and change-up, is being aggressively recruited by Duke, Penn State and Maryland.

“He is the top pitcher in the state in the class of 2019,” Poklemba said of the Prep Baseball Report rankings. "He is the type of guy that can go into a game and totally shut a team down. He threw a no-hitter last year and he’s been close this year.”

Early is 2-2 and has recorded 20 strikeouts in 16 innings while fashioning a 1.68 ERA after fanning 47 batters in 29 innings last year.

Nowakowski’s statistics are also impressive. He’s 2-0 this season with a 0.36 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 19 innings.

Nowakowski, who throws a four-seam fastball, a split-finger fastball and change-up, has given up eight hits and walked only three.

The Falcons are also getting contributions from four other pitchers: juniors Brennan Sedney and Matthew Szedlock and seniors Russell Chapman and Taylor Hodges.

“Our strength by far is our pitching,” Poklemba said. “They throw a lot of strikes.”

Gerstell also has the defense to backup its well-armed pitching staff.

Poklemba calls outfielders Taylor Hodges and Max Friedman and Szedlock, a shortstop, his key defensive leaders.

“We are a very good team defensively,” Poklemba said.  “We don’t make a lot of mistakes or give up a lot of outs.”

Still, Poklemba would like to see more offense from a team that is batting .295 and getting solid seasons from clean-up hitter Early (.524, 4 home runs, 13 RBIs) and speedy freshman leadoff batter Chris Hagan (.368, 12 runs).

“We have been kind of up and down hitting the ball,” Poklemba said

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