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Century infielder Matt Born moves in to field a grounder during the 2018 Class 2A state semifinal baseball game against Hereford at Harford Community College. User Upload Caption: Century vs Hereford baseball playoff at Harford Community College in Bel Air
Century infielder Matt Born moves in to field a grounder during the 2018 Class 2A state semifinal baseball game against Hereford at Harford Community College. User Upload Caption: Century vs Hereford baseball playoff at Harford Community College in Bel Air (Matt Button/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Baseball state championships are somewhat rare in Carroll County.

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association started its state tournament in 1975. Six different county schools have reached a final four in that span, with eight championships.

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Century joined the club last spring when the Knights won the Class 2A state title, a program first and Carroll’s first in seven years. A large group of key contributors graduated after the season, and their coach went out on top and stepped away.

Meanwhile, Manchester Valley strung together three playoff wins and reached the 3A West final, only to come up just short in claiming its first regional crown. And Gerstell experienced playoff success of its own in advancing to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association’s B Conference tournament semifinals.

Team-by-team Carroll County baseball preview capsules for 2019

Can Century win a third straight Carroll County Athletic League title and create another playoff run? Who will emerge as the county’s top pitcher? Which local private school — Gerstell or Carroll Christian, the reigning Maryland Association of Christian Schools Athletic Conference champ — will make it farther this spring?

Let’s take a look at three things to watch for the 2019 baseball season:

The Knights will have a fresh look this spring

Century won 20 games in 2018 (11-0 in CCAL play) and ended the season on a seven-game winning streak, capping the spring with a 4-1 victory over La Plata to take the 2A championship at Ripken Stadium. The Knights outscored their playoff foes 68-15 en route to earning the state title.

They were backed by a large group of veterans, and graduated eight key contributors from that team. Four of them earned Times first-team all-county honors — shortstop Nathanael Hibbs, the reigning Player of the Year, infielder/pitcher Ethan Kiple, pitcher Jeremy Lapp, and catcher Michael Marrale.

Mike Marrale left his post as Century’s coach after six seasons and a 68-60 record. He’s replaced by Chris Poe, who was the Knights’ junior varsity coach for four years (two as an varsity assistant).

Century returns a crop of players, however, and Poe is hoping they’ll fill the voids and become the program’s next line of standouts. Pitcher/infield Jared Lamb leads the way — the senior was a first-team all-county pick in 2018 and led the Knights with a .444 batting average. Lamb added nine doubles, four home runs, and 21 RBIs.

Matt Born, another senior, hit .359 last season and returns as a pitcher/infielder. Expect Lamb and Jake Diehl, also a senior, to help bolster the Knights’ pitching staff.

Century lost its share of arms from last year — Kiple, Lapp, and Tyler Roach pitched to a combined 17-0 record.

“I have big shoes to fill with Coach Marrale winning states last year,” Poe said via email, “but we have great players.”

A few returning pitchers could emerge as a county ace

Last year’s all-county first team lost five pitchers to graduation, and other top arms around the area graduated as well. From Century’s trio of Kiple, Lapp, and Roach, to Liberty’s Shawn McMahon and South Carroll’s Jonathan Money, to Winters Mill’s Dylan Waltemeyer, Carroll should have some mound openings this spring.

The Knights have a few holdovers. Liberty likely turns to junior Peyton Scheufele, who was second in the county among regulars last spring with a 1.81 ERA. Manchester Valley features junior Matt Myers, a first-team all-county pick as an outfielder in 2018, and seniors Dalton Groupp and Kyle Scott (3-1, 3.32 ERA).

Westminster has seniors Ryan Clatterbuck, Cory Moran, and Jake Sell, among others, to try and make up for the loss of pitchers such as Billy Scanlon, a first-team all-county pick in 2018.

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Gerstell’s Reece Early is poised to grab hold of the spotlight

The Falcons senior and Navy commit earned a spot on the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches’ preseason all-state team, and for good reason. As a pitcher, Early compiled six wins, two saves, and 62 strikeouts in 47 innings. At the plate, he swatted 10 doubles, four homers, and two triples while batting .435 with 24 RBIs.

Gerstell Academy's starting pitcher Reece Early throws a pitch during the first inning of their game in Finksburg Tuesday, March 29, 2016.
Gerstell Academy's starting pitcher Reece Early throws a pitch during the first inning of their game in Finksburg Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

Early’s fastball hit 90 mph last fall, according to data on perfectgame.org, and he played on the US Elite 2019 National 18-under team. He earned 2019 Rawlings Perfect Game Preseason All-America High Honorable Mention, and All-Atlantic Region second team preseason accolades.

He’ll be Gerstell’s go-to pitcher this spring as the Falcons compete in the MIAA B Conference. They’re 0-1 after dropping their opener March 14 against Boys’ Latin, and return to action March 25 at Friends School before four consecutive home games — Winters Mill is set to visit Finksburg on March 27.

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