Mike Marrale is a University of Virginia graduate who watched his alma mater’s men’s basketball team lose last weekend in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Marrale, any millions of others around the country, witnessed college hoops history when UMBC became the first No. 16 seed in tourney history to upset a top seed — his Cavaliers, in this case. Marrale translated his feelings to baseball, his sport, and said in either case it only takes one player to shine for a favored team to lose.
His Century squad felt the sting of defeat in last season’s regional playoffs, when Marriotts Ridge came to Eldersburg and clipped the Knights 3-2 in the Class 2A West Section 2 final.
Century, the Carroll County Athletic League champions, finished 17-4 — and short of its goal to capture the program’s regional championship. But the Knights return a wealth of talent from that team, with five Times first-team all-county selections and the Player of the Year.
“I definitely have a better team that what I did last year,” Marrale said. "It’s just how they want to handle it.”
Century boasts senior catcher and Old Dominion commit Michael Marrale, the coach’s son, who earned POY honors in 2017 after leading the county in home runs (10) and RBIs (31) while batting .440 and scoring 28 runs. And senior pitcher Jeremy Lapp, committed to West Virginia, who went 7-1 with a 3.09 ERA and 64 strikeouts.
And shortstop Nathanael Hibbs, another senior, who totaled six doubles, five homers, and 17 RBIs. And senior pitcher/infielder Ethan Kiple, who hit .471 with five home runs and 25 RBIs.
And Rob Martin, also a senior and an Air Force commit, who batted .444 with 17 runs and 23 RBIs.
Marrale said sophomore Dayton Corrick, a transfer form Riverdale Baptist, could see a good bit of playing time at second base. Kiple and Martin spent time on the mound as well, giving Century depth and skill across the diamond.
But, much like UMBC did to Virginia, Marriotts Ridge dashed the Knights’ postseason run a little earlier than they had planned.
“I don’t think it was a sour taste [though]… that’s baseball,” Mike Marrale said. “I told that team I thought that whoever won our game was going on to win a state championship.”
Middletown had other plans, however, and beat the Mustangs before rolling to a state crown.
“The 2A West is a very tough [region],” Marrale said.
Century figures to see the rest of Carroll’s best this spring when county play begins. Westminster returns a first-team all-county pitcher in Billy Scanlon, and South Carroll has the same in Josh Kaye. Manchester Valley features returning all-county outfielder Dalton Groupp.
“Expectations, that sort of thing — I don’t have any,” Marrale said. “You win the innings, you win the games. If they can do that, I think we can go pretty deep.”
Westminster fell short of its usual expectations when the Owls lost to Churchill in the 4A-3A state semifinals last spring. But the reigning county champs have plenty of players back from that squad, led by first-team all-county picks Chase Buckwalter (midfield), Brandon Kim (midfield), Alec Kozlowski (attackman), and Bubba Love (attack). Love was third in Carroll in scoring with 76 points (40 goals, 36 assists).
South Carroll and Liberty met in a 2A-1A state semifinal and the Cavs won to reach the championshiip game before falling. Man Valley returns all-county attackman Riley Larrimore, who racked up 69 points (49 goals, 20 assists). And Century brings back two first-teamers in defender Alex Kristian and goalkeeper Chris Yanchoris.
Liberty’s boys and girls teams come into the spring with impressive win streaks — the boys have won 23 consecutive regular-season matches; the girls have collected 51 in a row and 10 consecutive county titles.
The Lions lost girls co-Players of the Year, however, with Abby Brecker and Lili Izadi graduating. Steven Goetz, the reigning boys POY, is back for his senior year.
Kendall Hardesty and Allie Woodward, both seniors, are back on the girls side after receiving first-team all-county honors in 2017. Same goes for sophomores Noelle Htwar and Emily Brecker.
Manchester Valley’s Ellie Johnson, an all-county singles player last spring, is back as a senior, along with teammate Madi Collins (she played doubles with Allie York in 2017).
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Goetz has plenty of company as a returning all-county player from last spring — Century has doubles players and seniors Luke Fetterman and John Marcellino, Man Valley has junior Matthew Fairchild, and Westminster has seniors Max Seibel and Michael Twery.