Last spring, the motivation for the Reservoir baseball team was clear.
Having lost in the regional championship in 2012 and 2013, the Gators were getting sick of watching their seniors endure devastation in the final game of their high school career.
But after breaking through last May 24 with a 2-0 win over North Harford in the 3A state championship game, Reservoir will have a new driving force this season.
"It was good to play a little angry and learn what it felt like to lose, but this year it's different," said Gators senior Cody Morris, who pitched a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts in the state finals. "We won and we know how it feels, but remembering from our past experiences how it felt for the seniors, I don't want to go out that way ... we all know what it takes and everyone cares, everyone's been involved in the program. It's a good spirit. We definitely think we can get back and win again."
Morris, who has already committed to pitch for the University of South Carolina next year, is one of 13 seniors on the Reservoir roster, including first-team third baseman Jack Barry and first baseman John Mierzwa, who will fill out the pitching rotation around Morris, along with first-team second baseman Joey Janush.
In recent years, the Gators have ascended to become the class of Howard County, winning 94 games — 11 more than any other team — over the past five seasons.
"It's kind of hard to stay on top two years in a row but we just have to remember what we did last year and use the same game plan," said Morris, the three-time Howard County Pitcher of the Year, who is expected to be selected by a Major League Baseball organization during the First-Year Player Draft in early June. "We're training like we were midseason. We feel like we know what it takes this year, and I think that's going to help us get back."
Getting past the Howard County competition will be a difficult task as always.
Atholton — Reservoir's chief rival the past several seasons — finished the regular season 17-0 last spring, but fell to Morris and the Gators in the playoffs. The Raiders graduated Player of the Year Brady Acker — who is now playing for George Mason — along with five other seniors starters, but return third baseman Nick Raulin, who could be the team's best pitcher and hitter.
Perennial contender Marriotts Ridge was also hit hard by graduation, sending a quartet of all-county players on to college. Mustangs coach Paul Eckert knows that an experienced pitching staff is the key to a successful season.
"The sport revolves around pitching, particularly at the high school level where a top pitcher can strike out 15 or so batters a game," Eckert said. "That means for 5 of the 7 innings only two people need to be on the field, the pitcher and the catcher. There are several teams with pitchers of that quality."
Mt. Hebron, led by all-county ace Mark Smith, is one of those teams, according to most coaches, and River Hill, which boasts a rotation featuring senior Rohan Tilva and hard-throwing sophomore Kieran Garner, will also be particularly difficult to score runs against.
"It's going to be tough. (Garner) is up to 89 or 90 (miles per hour), so if we see him that's going to be tough," said Morris, who throws in the mid-90s himself. "Obviously Mark Smith from Hebron, he shut us down (last year). He's a solid guy. Everybody is getting better. It's going to be tough every game. You can't take anything lightly."
Glenelg and Howard each had winning records last year and should be competitive against the other top teams, and Hammond returns an enticing core of talented young players.
Among the private schools, Chapelgate (MIAA C) and Glenelg Country (MIAA B) have been on a steady rise, culminating with conference titles in 2013. Both teams look like they have the firepower to return to the conference finals this spring.
The public school season gets underway on Friday, March 20 with a full card of games: Hammond at Howard, Marriotts Ridge at Long Reach, Mt. Hebron at Atholton, Oakland Mills at Centennial, River Hill at Glenelg and Wilde Lake at Reservoir. On Saturday, March 21, many teams will turn around and play again, with Hammond at Wilde Lake, Howard at Northeast, Northern at Atholton, Mt. Hebron at River Hill and Oakland Mills at Meade.
Follow @ACHoCoSports on Twitter for diamond-side updates all season.
AROUND THE HORN
A look at all 14 local teams heading into opening day.
2014 record: 17-0 county, 19-2 overall, county champion
Coach: Jon Dupski, fourth season
Last state tournament appearance: 2010; Last state championship: 2002 (1st)
Key players: Seniors Nick Raulin^ (3B/P), Jordan Patterson (SS) and Sammy Feuerman (C); junior Blake James (P/1B).
Key losses: Michael Slayton* (P), Brady Acker* (CF), Phil Frazierˆ (OF) and Dan McCann (2B).
Scouting report: The Raiders may not be as loaded as they were coming into last spring, but they still have weapons.
Raulin, who batted .412 with 20 RBIs and 17 runs last year, will be locked into the heart of the order and toe the slab as the team's ace (4-0, 1.50 ERA). He will play for Roanoke University next year.
James had a handful of rough outings last year that caused his ERA to balloon to over 5, but is capable of lowering that number to below 3 with a few adjustments.
Patterson, who has committed to play for Hood College, is a solid all-around player who will round out the pitching rotation.
Freshman Kevin Silverstein should be able to help the Raiders right away in the outfield or middle infield.
Key number: 58. Runs scored (36) or driven in (22) by Player of the Year Brady Acker last season.
2014 record: 5-10, 7-11
Coach: Denis Ahearn, 14th season
Last state tournament appearance: 2008; Last state championship: 2004 (2nd)
Key players: Juniors Connor Atkins (P), Jake Vanko (P), David Phelps (OF), Ben Carr (1B) and Seamus Harrigan (C); sophomore Nick Varner (C).
Key losses: Dan Sterenberg* (SS), , Tyler Morris* (OF), Derek Nadeau (2B).
Scouting report: The Eagles graduated their top four hitters, but bring back some solid arms for the pitching rotation, including Vanko, who had a 2.33 ERA in 12 innings last year.
Varner has the most polished bat in the lineup, after hitting .279 last year with 17 RBIs, but Harrigan, who transferred over from Chapelgate Christian Academy, also has good experience, having batted .362 with 17 RBIs last season.
Phelps can run the bases well (12 R, 7 SB), and Carr has some pop in his bat (2 HR, 10 RBI). Both could blossom into very productive run producers if they can boost their batting average up over .250.
Freshmen Glenn Stratton, Matt Ritchie and Jake Carr will all look to make an impact in their rookie campaign.
Key number: 25. Runs scored by Atholton and Centennial combined in their game last April 9. The Eagles lost to the eventual undefeated county champion Raiders, 13-12.
2014 record: 8-9, 11-10
Coach: Steve Ballance, second season
Last state tournament appearance: 1999; Last state championship: 1999 (5th)
Key players: Seniors Anthony Bowman (SS/P), Davis Jones (3B), Garrett Southern (C), Nick Goneconto (CF) and Chris Ransom (2B).
Key losses: Tyler Hoeflich^ (P/1B), Alex Melcher (OF), Lou Gillespie (P/3B), Jake Franke (P/OF), Chris Dornan (RF/C).
Scouting report: With three seniors who have been key players since their sophomore year — Bowman, Southern and Jones — the Gladiators are hungry to break through this spring.
Bowman batted .309 with 14 stolen bases, 11 RBIs and 18 runs scored last year, and will again be counted on to lead Glenelg's offense. Southern has one of the best catcher's arms in the league, and Jones (9 RBI, 9 R) and Goneconto (14 RBI, 14 R) are both balanced hitters.
Senior Garrett Thrush (1.05 ERA), junior Cole Yungmann (4.94) and sophomore Sean Kinloch (2.47) combined to pitch 43 innings for the Gladiators last year, and are all back this spring to fill the pitching staff.
Key number: 1. Run scored by Glenelg during a four-game slide between April 25 and May 2 last spring. The drought immediately followed a 17-run performance against Long Reach.
2014 record: 6-10, 8-12
Coach: Casey Medairy, third season
Last state tournament appearance: 2010; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Senior Andy Weaver (3B); juniors David Hutchison (LHP/1B) and DaVonn Griffin^ (OF/SS); sophomore Ryan Ridgell (OF/RHP).
Key losses: Adam Whaley (LHP/1B), Matt Hagerty (C/3B), DeWayne Richard (OF/LHP).
Scouting report: Weaver, who blasted a league-best six home runs last season to go along with his .344 AVG, 35 RBIs and 19 runs, will be looking for a repeat performance this spring. Griffin (.408 AVG) can also swing a hot bat.
The pitching combination of Hutchison, who has committed to play for the University at Albany, SUNY, and Ridgell should keep the Golden Bears around in a lot of games.
Juniors Sam Wiedorfer and Calvin Smith, and freshman Myles Johnson all look like solid newcomers.
Key number: 5. Losing streak that Hammond started the season on last year. The Golden Bears were outscored 22-0 in their first three games, and 40-9 in those first five, but played better than .500 the rest of the way.
2014 record: 10-7, 11-8
Coach: Nick Hoffner, fifth season
Last state tournament appearance: 1998; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Senior James Cain* (P/1B); juniors JR Faulkner (P), Eric Greenbaum (C) and Casey Crawford (1B/P).
Key losses: Brett Schaeffer (C), Mark Reagan^ (OF/P).
Scouting report: Cain earned all-county honors last season after batting .422 with 14 RBIs and 15 runs, and striking out 48 batters in 34 innings, and the Lions will look for him to lead the way once again.
He will get some help from Faulkner (4-1, 4.68 ERA) in the pitching rotation, and Greenbaum (.260 AVG, 18 BBs) in the batting order.
Crawford, who also plays quarterback for the Lions football team, is the top newcomer.
Key number: 1. Run differential for the Lions last year. Howard scored 112 runs, and allowed 111, in 19 games.
2014 record: 4-11, 8-13
Coach: Mike Repsher, sixth season
Last state tournament appearance: NA; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Seniors Chris Wessels (OF/P), Nick Moy (IF/P) and Giovanny Seanz-Diez (C); juniors Mark Wicklein (IF/P) and Josh Kulina (SS).
Key losses: JD Huffman (P), Kyle Fleischer (IF), Jake Siegleman (IF/P), Joe Grabowski^ (2B).
Scouting report: The Lightning have been steadily improving over the past several seasons, and will look to make a push toward .500 this spring.
Wessels, who has committed to play for Mount St. Mary's next year, batted .413 with eight extra base hits last season. Seanz-Diez, who came to Columbia from the Dominican Republic as a sophomore, will look to end his high school career strong after batting .276 last year. Kulina (.328 AVG, 8 SB, 14 R) will fit nicely at the top of the order.
Moy and Wicklein will lead the pitching rotation, though neither logged significant innings last year. Sophomores Duncan Poler and Sam Lobdell are looking to make an impression as rookies.
Key number: 29. Runs scored in a pair of playoff wins over City and Poly last May. The Lightning won the two games by a combined score of 29-2.
2014 record: 11-6, 13-7
Coach: Paul Eckert, 10th season
Last state tournament appearance: 2008; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Seniors Alex Caffes (3B), Brandon Barrett (1B/OF), Brian Forman (P/1B) and Conner Brown (P/1B); junior Chris Morath (OF); sophomore Gunnar Barnard (P/1B).
Key losses: Michael Dorsch^ (P), Jake Bender* (SS), Wes Carson^ (C/1B), Kevin Ross^ (OF), Grant Summers (P).
Scouting report: The Mustangs have grown accustomed to success, having won at least 11 games per season each of the past five years, and they've done so after losing strong players to graduation every year. Still, replacing the production of Dorsch, Bender, Carson, Ross and Summers will be especially tough. Those five accounted for eight wins and 65 RBIs last season.
Barnard can pitch (4-2, 2.41 ERA) and hit, and Caffes will be looking for a bounce back year at the plate. Forman and Brown will slot in behind Barnard in the rotation, while Morath and Barrett look to help produce runs.
Sophomore Reed Galloway and freshman Joey Fellona could also find their way into the line-up as rookies.
Key number: 31. Runs allowed by the Mustangs in the first six games of the season last year. They allowed only 29 in the final 14.
2014 record: 10-7, 14-8, 3A East regional finalist
Coach: Brian Culley, ninth season
Last state tournament appearance: 1980; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Seniors Mark Smith* (P/1B), Matt Ansaldi (P/IF), Jake Snyder* (OF), Joey Trapuzzano (OF/IF), Zack Stewart (P) and Alfonso Rivas (SS); sophomore Jack Schroeder (OF/IF/P).
Key losses: Paul Lutchenkov* (C), Mike Lettieri (P).
Scouting report: The Vikings have the pitching, hitting and defense to contend for a county title. Smith (6-3, 2.29 ERA, 67 Ks) will take the mound for the biggest games, but Stewart and Schroeder (3.39 ERA) will also be counted on to get through lots of innings. The offense, which scored almost seven runs per game last year, could be even better this spring, despite the graduation of career .443 hitter Paul Lutchenkov.
Snyder (.431 AVG, 15 RBI, 16 R), Schroeder (.385 AVG, 6 2B, 20 RBI, 20 R), Trapuzzano (.306 AVG, 14 R), and Ansaldi (.271 AVG, 14 RBI) will all bat in the heart of the order.
Rivas, a transfer from New Mexico, could be an exciting player to watch.
Key number: 43. Combined walks drawn by the discerning eyes of Ansaldi (13), Schroeder (13), Trappuzzano (9) and Snyder (8) last season.
2014 record: 0-17, 0-20
Coach: Matt Sillers, second season (third overall)
Last state tournament appearance: 1987; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Senior Ian Holderman (P); juniors Andrew Atkins (C) and Justin Gordon (OF); sophomores Chris Clyde (P) and Manuel Molina (SS); freshmen Trendon Craig (P) and Eric Barros (3B/OF).
Key losses: Ben Hale^ (C), Tim Miles (1B/P), Bryce Mack (IF/P), Jack Cheney (P/IF).
Scouting report: The Scorpions had a forgettable season last year, getting outscored by more than 180 runs, but they'll get a fresh start this spring with a team that features two sophomores and two freshmen in key positions.
Barros and Craig are big and athletic and will be used all over the diamond.
Though the team is light on experience, Sillers says that his young team is hard-working and dedicated to build the program for future success this spring and beyond.
Key number: 11.6. Runs per game allowed by the Scorpions last year.
2014 record: 16-1, 22-2, 3A East regional and state champion
Coach: Adam Leader, 13th season
Last state tournament appearance: 2014; Last state championship: 2014.
Key players: Seniors Cody Morris* (P/1B), Jack Barry* (3B/P), Jon Mierzwa (P/1B), Joey Janush* (2B) and Drew Stone (OF); junior Eric Neiderhauser (1B/P); freshman Cameron Hyder (OF).
Key losses: Danny O'Hagan* (C), Paul Quattrone (OF), Joe Kearney^ (SS).
Scouting report: Morris, Barry and Co. didn't wait around until their senior year to go get their state title, but now that they've tasted one, they don't want to leave high school without a second. The Gators certainly have the manpower to repeat. Morris (8-1, .80 ERA, 89 Ks), Barry (8-0, 1.84 ERA, 33 Ks) and Mierzwa (2-1, 3.29 ERA) form a scary rotation, and Tony Grabow (3-0, .50 ERA) can also take care of business on the mound.
The Gators offense is also formidable, with Barry (.442 AVG, 22 RBI), Stone (.385), Janush (.383), Morris (.375) and Mierzwa (.326) returning to the heart of the lineup from the state championship team. Neiderhauser, a transfer from Florida, and Hyder could also contribute.
Like any team, Reservoir can be beat, but it will not be easy.
Key number: 209. Runs scored by the Gators last season, an offensive breakthrough after they scored almost 100 less each of the previous two years.
2014 record: 9-8, 11-10
Coach: Wes McCoy, seventh season
Last state tournament appearance: 2009; Last state championship: 2009 (1st).
Key players: Seniors Rohan Tilva^ (P), Jordan Northrup (SS), Kyle Breitenother (1B) and Ryan Benedek (2B); sophomore Kieran Garner (P).
Key losses: Billy Small (1B), Sam Kolodrubetz (OF), Falan Garner^ (3B), Drew Pritchard (C).
Scouting report: If pitching is what it takes to battle for a county title, than the Hawks will be in the thick of things with Tilva (4-4, 1.83 ERA, 46 Ks) and Garner on the bump.
Garner, who is being recruited by the University of Maryland among others, already throws in the low 90s, and Tilva — a Johns Hopkins commit — could be one of the top pitchers in the league.
Freshmen Josh Mann, Luke Champion and Tucker Finkleston will try to fill any gaps in the lineup, and if the Hawks can get something going on offense, they could push Reservoir in the county title race.
Key number: 4. Games the Hawks lost by two runs or less last season, including a 5-3 playoff loss to Glenelg.
2014 record: 3-13, 3-16
Coach: Kareem Penn, fifth season
Last state tournament appearance: 2005; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Seniors Cuinn Mullins* (CF), Sergio Cruz-Izzariy (MI), Wyatt Oler (LF) and Matt Aubin (C); junior Jarred Mouton (MI).
Key losses: Tommy Aubin (P/2B), Matt Miller (P/2B), Evan Adamson (P).
Scouting report: The Wildecats once again boast solid bats, but will be trying to patch together a pitching rotation that will keep them in games. A pair of senior lefties, Michael Palasits and Brandon Williams, will be shouldering the load on the mound at the season's outset.
Mullins, an all-county outfielder, batted .479 and offers speed on the base paths to go along with a strong throwing arm. Oler drove in 11 runs on six extra base hits. Izzariy and Mouton both have experience putting the ball in play against varsity pitching, but the Wildecats — who endured a 13-game losing streak last spring — will be looking for big strides from everyone to stay competitive.
Jeffrey Jones, a rising junior who batted a league-best .554 last year, transferred to Calvert Hall in the offseason.
Key number: 182. Runs allowed by Wilde Lake in 109 innings last year, for an ERA of 8.16.
2014 record: 10-0, 13-3, MIAA C Conference champion and tournament finalist
Coach: Jeremy Story, second season
Key players: Seniors Wayne Baldwin (SS) and Michael Patton (P/1B); juniors Jonathan D'Alessio (2B) and Steven Marvin (OF); sophomores Joshua Butler (3B), Luke Heming (P) and Chris Niccolini (P); freshman Dillon Story (C).
Key losses: Stephen Siggins (P/1B).
Scouting report: The Yellowjackets bring a lot back from a team that advanced to the C Conference finals one year after winning the title.
Baldwin (.436 AVG, 16 RBI) and Patton (3.25 ERA, 47 K, .375 AVG) will be the team's unquestioned senior leaders, especially after catcher Seamus Harrigan transferred to Centennial. Baldwin has committed to play for Hood College next year.
Heming and Niccolini will round out the rotation behind Patton, and D'Alessio and Butler will add experienced bats to the line-up and gloves to the infield. Marvin will be the Yellowjackets' speedster, and Story can be relied on to put the ball in play and get on base.
Key number: 12. Win streak for the Yellowjackets between March 24 and May 13. The run ended with an 8-1 loss against St. John's on May 15.
2014 record: 10-3, 11-6, MIAA B Conference
Coach: Chris Garber, sixth season
Key players: Seniors Dylan Farnella (P/SS), Colby Manekin (2B/SS) and Matt Sheehan (OF); junior Tim Oh (2B).
Key losses: Will Seiferth^ (3B/OF), Jake Figueroa (P), Max Godwin (C), Logan Smith (2B), Joey Pickens (OF), Kyle James (P).
Scouting report: The Dragons are off to a good start with Farnella (7-3, 3.50 ERA, 40 K) serving as the team's ace and Manekin (.386 career AVG) sparking the offense, but the production of the rest of the line-up with determine whether they can make another deep playoff run after winning the conference title in 2013.
Sheehan (.356 AVG, 11 RBI) will be an asset in the middle of the order, and Oh (.364 OBP) should also contribute to run production.
Sophomores Brendan Grady (P/OF) and Will Bartlett (OF/C) could also find themselves in some high leverage situations this season.
Key number: 8-2. The Dragons record in April last year. They went on to go 1-3 in May, including back-to-back losses to Friends and Boys Latin in the double elimination playoffs.
* 2014 First team all-county