Each spring, as baseball diamonds around Howard County thaw out, hope is renewed that a local public school team will return to Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen for the state championship game. But each spring for the last five years, Howard County has come up empty-handed in late May.
This spring, with talent spread deep throughout the area, Howard County baseball enters the season confident and hungry to be playing past graduation.
"Out of all the counties, I think we have the most talent," said Atholton senior center fielder Brady Acker, a three-time all-county selection who will play for George Mason next year. "I'm surprised none of us have won it yet, but I feel like this could be the year."
Despite numerous accolades, including never being caught stealing in more than 60 attempts as a Raider, Acker has never played in a state tournament game. In fact, no current Howard County player has made it past the regional finals.
Atholton and Hammond both lost in the state semifinals in 2010, and River Hill was the last local team to end its season with a win in the state championship game, in 2009.
Only four Howard County programs have ever won a state title — Atholton (2002), Centennial (2001 and 2004), Glenelg (1983, 1993, 1995, 1998 and 1999) and River Hill (2009) — and Reservoir, one of the most dominant teams in Howard County over the past five years, has surprisingly never been past the regional championship game.
"It stinks when we've all got to beat each other up, I feel like we could all meet up" at Ripken Stadium, Gators coach Adam Leader said. "This year we have a strong county and it makes all of us coaches work that much harder to win the county. We have a good shot this year."
With two-time Howard County Pitcher of the Year, junior Cody Morris, back as the Gators ace, plus eight other returning starters, Reservoir is an early favorite to contend for a county title and play deep into May.
"We return every starter from last year and even add a transfer, Joe Kearney (from Mount St. Joseph) who will definitely start in the middle of the infield," Leader said. "We're happy about where we are, but we're focusing on what we didn't do last year, which was to score runs."
The Gators allowed only 87 runs in 23 games last year, but only scored 111. With junior third baseman Jack Barry and senior catcher Danny O'Hagan (Catholic University), both second team all-county selections, back to provide run support for Morris, who has already committed to pitch collegiately for the University of South Carolina, Reservoir looks like the total package.
"I'm excited to have that experience coming into the season, and I think it's like that around the county," Leader said. "You can't sleep on anybody. I don't expect to see an undefeated team halfway through the season."
With first-team all-county pitcher Michael Slayton leading the Raiders staff, and Acker setting the table on offense, Atholton certainly has the firepower to play a tight game with Reservoir.
"I think we have the pitching to do it, it's just a matter of the bats coming around, if we can all get on a streak at the same time," said Acker, whose team scored 141 runs last year, second most in the league. "I know if I can get on and maybe steal a base, the guys behind me can get me in."
Led by all-county shortstop Jake Bender (Rider University), Marriotts Ridge — which scored a league-best 179 runs last year — will be a contender as always. Oakland Mills had a breakout season last year, going 17-6 and outscoring opponents 124-48, but graduated a once-in-a-generation senior class, led by Player of the Year Joe Zayatz.
Both of Howard County's private schools, Chapelgate (C Conference) and Glenelg Country (B Conference), won MIAA Conference championships last year, and return the talent to make a strong run at a title defense this spring.
Glenelg Country defeated Chapelgate, 2-1, last week in a battle of champions to kick off the season. The public schools are slated to get going Friday, March 21, with five games: River Hill at Centennial, Mt. Hebron at Marriotts Ridge, Hammond at Howard, Long Reach at Glenelg and Oakland Mills at Atholton.
Check back here on Friday night for results, and follow @ACHoCoSports for updates all season.
Howard County welcomes three new coaches this season.
At Glenelg, Steve Ballance takes over for Dave Boteler after four seasons.
Ballance, who has been with the Glenelg varsity since 2012, has been coaching high school, college and youth baseball for 15 years. He was a four-time all-county selection for Sparrows Point High School, where he played catcher, pitcher, third base and shortstop and still holds 11 offensive records. He previously was on the staff of the 2004 Centennial High School state championship team and was named the 2009 Maryland Junior College Coach of the Year after leading Anne Arundel Community College to the state championship with a record 39 wins. He also coached at Archbishop Curley.
Ballance is now the co-founder and co-owner of Dig In Baseball in Gaithersburg. He has coached 27 players who have gone on to play professional baseball.
"This is an underdog type team which I believe can and will over-achieve," Ballance said of the Gladiators. "This is a tight-knit, hard working, disciplined team, which enjoys learning and practicing everyday."
Glenelg head football coach Butch Schaffer and former head baseball coach Tom Thrasher are among Ballance's assistants.
Boteler led the Gladiators to a 39-29 league record during his four-year tenure (52-39 overall) twice advancing to the 2A South regional championship.
At Oakland Mills, Brian Rau has stepped down after two successful seasons to become the Athletics and Activities Manager at Wilde Lake. Rau was 20-14 in two seasons (28-16 overall) after Oakland Mills went 4-17 in 2011.
Rau's successor, Matt Sillers, previously was the head coach at Hammond in 2011. Sillers, who pitched for St. Vincent Pallotti and Frostburg University, is a history teacher at Hammond High School.
"I'm excited about this group of players and about OM baseball," Sillers said. "My guys are dedicated and willing to work hard everyday on and off the field. Our senior leadership is outstanding and will help us throughout the year. My coaching staff and I look forward to the season."
Sillers' assistants include Johnny Jackson, a former standout pitcher at Cardinal Gibbons and Stevenson University.
At Chapelgate, Justin Riggin steps down after three seasons, including a C Conference championship last spring, to join the coaching staff at his alma mater, CCBC - Catonsville.
In his tenure, Riggin led the Yellowjackets to a 28-25 overall record (18-8 conference) with two consecutive finals appearances, including last year's championship.
Jeremy Story is Chapelgate's new head coach. Story, who has a son in the eighth grade at Chapelgate, is a software engineer from California, where he played high school baseball and one year at junior college. He was a travel baseball coach before taking on the Chapelgate post.
"It's a program that I hope to build and grow," Story said. "The team worked hard in the offseason."
Story's assistant, Matt Siggins, was a standout pitcher at Chapelgate from 2005 to 2008 before going on to pitch for Frederick Community College and UMBC.
AROUND THE HORN
A look at all 14 local teams heading into opening day.
2013 record: 13-4 county, 15-6 overall, county champion
Coach: Jon Dupski, third season
Last state tournament appearance: 2010; Last state championship: 2002 (1st)
Key players: Seniors Michael Slayton* (P/MIF), Brady Acker* (CF), Phil Frazierˆ (OF) and Dan McCann (P/2B/OF); juniors Nick Raulin (3B/P) and Jordan Patterson (SS); sophomore Blake James (P/1B).
Key losses: Joe Bentz (SS, Stevenson), Paul Burmester (C, Catholic U), Austin Feuerman (1B, Ursinus)
Scouting report: The Raiders were one of the last Howard County teams to play in a state tournament game, in 2010, and have as good a chance as any team of making it back this spring. Slayton (6-2, 1.18 ERA) is capable of winning the big games, and Acker gives the offense a great chance to score every time through the line up, as well as providing a black hole for balls hit anywhere near center field.
Acker and Frazier combined for 59 hits last spring, more than any two teammates in the league.
Raulin (.338 AVG, 19 RBIs) and McCann (.316 AVG, 3-0, 2.86 ERA) are both capable of producing in the heart of the order and adding quality depth to the pitching staff.
James, who contributed 32 innings with a 2.16 ERA last year, looks ready to break out on offense as well this season while solidifying his role as the team's No. 2 pitcher. In all, the Raiders return 135 of their 139 innings pitched last spring.
Patterson is the team's top JV call-up, and should provide solid defense at shortstop.
Look for the Raiders to contend for a county title in May.
Key number: 11. Games won in a 12-game stretch from April 1 to May 1 by Atholton last spring.
2013 record: 3-14, 3-16
Coach: Denis Ahearn, 13th season
Last state tournament appearance: 2008; Last state championship: 2004 (2nd)
Key players: Seniors Dan Sterenbergˆ (2B), Derek Nadeau (P/SS) and Tyler Morris (OF/P).
Key losses: Joe Eads (P), Brandon Feuerman (OF/P)
Scouting report: Another three-win season won't do for the Eagles, who have a long history of success. Sterenberg, who batted .351 last year and has already committed to play for the University of Pikeville in Kentucky next spring, is the team's most polished player and should lead the offense.
Morris, the quarterback of the Eagles football team, has a live arm, which will be an asset in the rotation and in getting the ball in from the outfield.
Nadeau was the teams No. 2 pitcher last year, so the Eagles will have experience in the rotation. The Eagles will need to improve in all three aspects — pitching, hitting and defense — to make a marked improvement over last year's outcome.
Key number: 7. Number of games in 2013 that the Eagles allowed 10 runs or more. In four more games, Centennial allowed 8 or 9 runs.
2013 record: 9-8, 10-11
Coach: Steve Ballance, first season
Last state tournament appearance: 1999; Last state championship: 1999 (5th)
Key players: Seniors Tyler Hoeflich (P/1B), Alex Melcher (OF/P), Lou Gillespie (P/3B), Jake Franke (P/OF) and Chris Dornan (RF/C); juniors Anthony Bowman (SS/P), Davis Jones (IF), Garrett Southern (C) and Nick Goneconto (CF).
Key losses: Logan Dubbe (P/OF), Nick Crabill (CF), Luke Brister (2B), Forrest Southern (C), Jacob Liebno (OF), Dylan Waddell (1B)
Scouting report: Last season was a disappointment for the Gladiators, who graduated a very strong senior class but finished with very mediocre results. Glenelg never won more than two games in a row last spring, finished one game below .500, and were outscored 102-98 on the season.
With another strong senior class, Glenelg is hoping to make amends in 2014. A healthy Hoeflich is capable of being the team's best pitcher and hitter, although Melcher (.393 AVG, 15 RBIs) had the team's hottest bat in 2013 and could very well do so again this spring.
Bowman made major strides on defense last year, and has always been a strong hitter. Dornan is also a proven varsity hitter, and Gillespie and Franke give the Gladiators a pitching rotation that goes four deep.
Key number: 5. Number of games the Gladiators lost by two runs or less last season.
Hammond Golden Bears
2013 record: 10-7, 12-10
Coach: Casey Medairy, second season
Last state tournament appearance: 2010; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Seniors Adam Whaley (LHP/1B), Matt Hagerty (C/3B) and DeWayne Richard (OF/LHP); junior Andy Weaver (3B/C); sophomores David Hutchison (LHP/1B) and DaVonn Griffin (OF/SS).
Key losses: Derek Sicca (P/3B, CCBC Catonsville), Matt Cassett (SS), Ben Miller (C, Susquehanna), Garrett Kelley (CF), Corey Dickson (OF), Will Winder (OF)
Scouting report: The Golden Bears graduated a trio of cornerstone players in Sicca, Miller and Kelley, who provided half of the team's RBIs and 75 percent of its extra base hits. Sicca was also the workhorse of the pitching staff, logging a league-high 56 innings.
But Hammond doesn't enter 2014 empty handed. Griffin was a very productive varsity hitter (.328 AVG, 14 R, 8 RBIs) last year as a freshman, and Hagerty (.276) was also a solid hitter. The returning trio of Hutchison, Richard and Whaley combined for 80 innings and eight wins last year, so the pitching staff will be proven and experienced.
Weaver gets his chance to play with the graduation of Sicca and Miller, and has the size and strength (6-2, 240) to hit the ball out of the park.
Key number: 26. League-best bases stolen by Kelley last year, nine more than the closest competition.
2013 record: 9-8, 10-11
Coach: Nick Hoffner, fourth season
Last state tournament appearance: 1998; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Seniors Brett Schaeffer (C) and Mark Reagan (OF/P); junior James Cain (P/INF); sophomores Eric Greenbaum (C), Riley Seaman (2B) and Zach Phillips (3B/P).
Key losses: Aidan Cain (P, CCBC Essex), Ben Baker (P), Logan Seitz (SS/2B , McDaniel), David Wolf (2B/OF), Darian Dudley (OF), Jake Vonella (1B), Nick Duffy (OF)
Scouting report: Opportunities abound for new Lions to step up this spring, after Howard graduated 113 hits and 80 innings of pitching from last year's team. But while senior heavy in 2013, the Lions were also breaking in several rookies.
The trio of Greenbaum, Seaman and Phillips all gained valuable experience last year and can be counted on as starters this spring. Schaeffer (.407 AVG, 22 RBIs) was one of the best run producers in the league last year, and Reagan can help the Lions on offense and on the mound.
Despite being outscored last year, 152-114, on the season, Howard finished 9-8 in league play last year. If they can figure out how to win the close games, the Lions could be a county title contender.
Key number: 18. Number of games, out of 21, in which Howard and its opponent combined to score at least 10 runs last year. The Lions were not accustomed to playing in pitchers duels.
Long Reach Lightning
2013 record: 1-16, 2-17
Coach: Mike Repsher, fifth season
Last state tournament appearance: NA; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Seniors JD Huffman (P/C), Kyle Fleischerˆ (IF), Jake Siegleman (IF/P) and Joe Grabowski (IF); juniors Nick Moy (IF/P) and Giovanny Seanz-Diez (OF/C); sophomores Mark Wicklein (IF/P) and Josh Kulina (IF/OF).
Key losses: Chris Stanko (P/INF), Brandon Cave (P/INF , University of Maryland Club)
Scouting report: The results weren't there for the Lightning in 2013, but Long Reach returns many experienced players, including four of its top five pitchers, and its top four hitters.
Fleischer (.317 AVG, 20 hits, 7 RBIs, 10 SB) earned second-team all-county honors last spring, and was the only member of the Lightning to bat over .300.
Wessels has shown flashes of power: he homered twice last season as a sophomore, and twice this spring in an opening day loss. Huffman and Siegleman are both veteran starting pitchers, and this is the most experienced team Repsher has coached.
Key number: 10. Number of games the Lightning lost by three runs or less last season.
Marriotts Ridge Mustangs
2013 record: 10-7, 16-8, 2A South regional finalist
Coach: Paul Eckert, ninth season
Last state tournament appearance: 2008; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Seniors Michael Dorsch (P), Jake Bender* (SS), Wes Carson (C/IF), Kevin Rossˆ (OF) and Grant Summers (P); junior Alex Caffes (3B); sophomore Chris Morath (OF); freshman Gunnar Bardnard (P/1B).
Key losses: Eric Brown (P), Matt Marinelli (2B, Stevenson), Connor Delaney (OF), Eric Augustino (1B, University of Maryland Club), Ryan Miller (OF)
Scouting report: The Mustangs are in the mix every spring, and this year should be no different. Bender, who has committed to play for Rider next spring, is an excellent leadoff man (26 H, 15 BB, 29 R), and will have plenty of effective bats behind him again, with Ross (.367 AVG, 17 RBIs), Carson (.338 AVG, 17 RBIs) and Caffes (.324 AVG) looking to pick up right where they left off last spring.
Summers boasted the league's best ERA last season (.79) after allowing only three runs in 26 2/3 innings, and Dorsch has been a workhorse for the Mustangs for several seasons now.
One of the most well rounded teams in the league, Marriotts Ridge has a real shot at the county title.
Key number: 45. Runs scored by the Mustangs in four playoff games last season.
Mt. Hebron Vikings
2013 record: 9-8, 12-10
Coach: Brian Culley, eighth season
Last state tournament appearance: 1980; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Seniors Paul Lutchenkov (C) and Mike Lettieri (P); juniors Mark Smith (P/1B), Matt Ansaldi (P/IF), Jake Snyder (OF) and Joey Trapuzzano (OF/IF); freshman Jack Schroeder (OF/IF/P).
Key losses: Brady Smouse (P/1B), Fred Simard (3B), Jacob Meyer (P/2B)
Scouting report: The Vikings have a deep, athletic roster sprinkled with proven commodities. Lutchenkov (.429 AVG) has shown two years in a row now that he can rake against varsity pitching, and Ansaldi hit .350 last year as only a sophomore.
Snyder can fly on the base paths and in the outfield. The Vikings have plenty of capable arms who can pitch, but if an ace can emerge during the season they could be a serious contender in the postseason.
In the early going, Schroeder — only a freshman — has shown flashes of future greatness.
Key number: 3. Games in which the Vikings allowed double digit runs prior to April 11 last spring. After April 11, they didn't allow any double digit outputs.
Oakland Mills Scorpions
2013 record: 12-5, 17-6
Coach: Matt Sillers, first season (second overall)
Last state tournament appearance: 1987; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Seniors Ben Hale (C), Tim Miles (1B/P), Bryce Mack (IF/P) and Jack Cheney (P/IF).
Key losses: Joe Zayatz (P/SS, UNC Asheville), Kyle Madden-Stricker (P/RF), Evan Russell (SS/P), Weston Hart (3B), Ben Kale (CF), Wesley Brunson (1B)
Scouting report: Losing Zayatz, Madden-Stricker, Russell and crew to graduation is not the ideal way to start a season, but Sillers still has some very solid players to build around, led by Hale, who batted .338 last season with 13 stolen bases and 15 RBIs, and is also strong behind the plate.
Miles and Mack both worked very hard in the offseason in anticipation of becoming senior leaders.
Cheney, a transfer from High Point, batted .378 last season and was named his teams MVP. His addition to the Scorpions on both offense and defense is a boon.
Key number: 9. Winning streak by the Scorpions to start the 2013 season. After a loss to Atholton, Oakland Mills began another five-game streak.
2013 record: 12-5, 16-7, 3A East regional finalist
Coach: Adam Leader, 12th season
Last state tournament appearance: NA; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Seniors Danny O'Hagan (C), Paul Quattrone (OF) and Joe Kearney (MIF); juniors Cody Morris* (P/1B), Jack Barryˆ (3B/P) and Jon Mierzwa (P/MIF).
Key losses: Seth Singer (1B)
Scouting report: The Gators are still looking for their first state tournament appearance, and this spring could be their best opportunity yet. Morris, who has already committed to pitch for South Carolina in two years, is one of the most promising pitchers in the state, and Barry batted .417 last 13 walks and 10 doubles.
O'Hagan was also an excellent hitter last year, and is one of the best defensive catchers in the league. Mierzwa makes for a solid second pitcher behind Morris in the rotation, and the Gators got a great boost in the middle of the infield with Kearney, a transfer from Mount St. Joseph.
Perhaps most impressive, the Gators had seven sophomores start last year, so depth this year and next will not be a problem. Outfielders Joey Janush, Dan Rosenberry, Tony Grabow and Drew Stone all batted better than .300 last year.
Key number: 8. Game winning steak the Gators had going into a season ending, 3-1 loss, at Stephen Decatur last year.
River Hill Hawks
2013 record: 10-7, 13-10
Coach: Wes McCoy, sixth season
Last state tournament appearance: 2009; Last state championship: 2009 (1st).
Key players: Seniors Billy Smalls (1B), Sam Kolodrubetz (OF/P), Falan Garner (3B) and Drew Pritchard (C); juniors Rohan Tilva (P) and Jordan Northrup (SS).
Key losses: Richie Lancashire (OF/P , DeSales), Karan Sinha (P/3B, Catholic), Jason Freishtat (P/2B, Marymount), Shrawan Sinha (OF, Virginia Commonwealth club team), Dylan Robson ¿.
Scouting report: Last year pitching was a strength for the Hawks, who had five pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched and an ERA of 3 or less. But the offense lagged, with only one hitter — returning third baseman Falan Garner — batting over .310.
River Hill does have plenty of talent on its side. Koldrubetz, Northrup, Smalls, Garner and Pritchard all made major contributions on offense and defense last year, and when healthy, Tilva is capable of being an all-county pitcher. Junior Ben Borucki will also give the Hawks quality innings on the mound.
Key number: 110. Pitching innings the Hawks lost to graduation last season, of 145 total.
Wilde Lake Wildecats
2013 record: 4-13, 5-16
Coach: Kareem Penn, fourth season
Last state tournament appearance: 2005; Last state championship: NA.
Key players: Seniors Tommy Aubin (P/2B), Matt Miller (P/2B) and Evan Adamson (P); juniors Cuinn Mullins (CF), Sergio Irazary (SS) and Wyatt Oler (OF); sophomores Jeff Jones (1B/P) and Michael Fontana (OF).
Key losses: Thomas Mee (C/OF, Johns Hopkins), Kris Hines (1B), Nick Wright (SS), Jack Skolnik (OF), Brandon Pelletier (3B)
Scouting report: Pitching has been a problem for Wilde Lake the past several seasons — they allowed 137 runs in 21 games last spring — but the good news is that their two most reliable arms — Aubin and Miller — are back with an additional year of experience.
The Wildecats were able to hit last year, with five guys batting better than .300, but driving in runs was a problem. This spring, Mullins and Oler will be looked to to drive the offense while several newcomers, including sophomores Jones and Fontana, get up to speed.
Adamson, a transfer from Bowie, will give the pitching staff a much-needed boost.
Key number: 27. Combined RBIs by the graduated trio of Mee, Wright and Skolnik last season, almost half of the team's total.
2013 record: 6-2, 12-9, MIAA C Conference champion
Coach: Jeremy Story, first season
Key players: Senior Stephen Siggins (P/1B); juniors Wayne Baldwin (SS) and Michael Patton (P/1B); sophomore Seamus Harrigan (C/P).
Key losses: Jordan Gorsuch (P/SS), Matt Hearn (3B), Kris Hatton (CF), Jon Hamilton (1B/P)
Scouting report: The Yellowjackets carry the momentum of last spring's C Conference title into 2014, and have enough young talent to defend their crown. Patton and Baldwin were both C Conference All-Stars last year, and both played key roles in the championship run.
Siggins combines with Patton to give Chapelgate a nice 1-2 punch in the rotation, and Harrigan is provides a solid foundation for the entire defense behind the plate.
Story's son will be a freshman next year at Chapelgate, and Siggins' older brother, Matt, is an assistant coach for the Yellowjackets.
Key number: 6. Consecutive losses by the Yellowjackets to start last season. Chapelgate went on a four-game winning streak to end conference play, then beat St. Johns Catholic — a team it had lost three-times to — twice in the championship round to win the title.
Glenelg Country Gladiators
2013 record: 13-2, 19-2, MIAA B Conference champion
Coach: Chris Garber, fifth season
Key players: Seniors Will Seiferth* (3B/OF/C), Jake Figueroa (P), Max Godwin (C) and Logan Smith (2B); juniors Dylan Farnellaˆ (P/SS), Colby Manekin (2B/SS/P) and Matt Sheehan (OF).
Key losses: Jack Dougherty (1B /OF/P, Emory), Miguel Flores (CF, University of Maryland Club team), Cameron Clifton (OF/2B)
Scouting report: On paper, there is no reason the Dragons shouldn't play for the B Conference title again this spring at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. Dougherty and Flores are two big losses, but Garber brings back his best power hitter — Seiferth (.426 AVG, 5 HR, 28 RBIs) — and two aces — Figueroa (6-0, 1.75 ERA, 44 Ks) and Farnella (6-0, 1.84 ERA, 34 Ks). Manekin, who batted .436 with 25 runs, 22 RBIs and 15 stolen bases last season, will help replace Flores' production at the top of the line up.
Seniors Joey Pickens (OF) and Kyle James (P/1B/OF) have returned to baseball after competing in track and golf last spring, and Matt Campbell was a solid varsity contributor as a sophomore last year.
Godwin, Smith, Farnella and Sheehan all batted comfortably over .300 last year, and combined for 62 RBIs and 75 runs last spring, making the Dragons at least seven spots deep with experienced hitters in the batting order.
Key number: .491. County best batting average by Dragons center fielder Miguel Flores last season.
* 2013 First team all-county