Everyone around Howard County baseball knew who Andrew Johnson was coming into the season, but very few had seen him pitch in a high school game.
The University of Maryland commit and left-handed pitcher entered his senior season at Glenelg with only three games pitched for the Gladiators under his belt. After throwing in three contests as a freshman, Johnson missed his sophomore season due to injury and his junior campaign due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite having the reputation as a Division I commit, Johnson entered his final high school season with a chip on his shoulder, and he showed everyone around the area this spring the talent his left arm possesses.
“I had to show everyone that I can do what people have heard on paper,” Johnson said. “No one had really seen me much in high school, so I had to show people what I could do.”
This spring, Johnson had one of the most dominant pitching seasons in Howard County history. The southpaw went 6-0 on the mound with a 1.02 ERA for the Gladiators and struck out 67 batters in only 27 1/3 innings.
For his efforts, Johnson has been named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Baseball Player of the Year.
“I’m so thankful, because this has been a goal of mine,” Johnson said. “I thank my whole team and my parents and everybody. I wouldn’t be here without the trust of my teammates and everyone else.”
Howard County has seen dominant seasons from pitchers in the past. In just the last decade, pitchers like Mt. Hebron’s Magnus Dunn, Oakland Mills’ Joe Zayatz and Reservoir’s Cody Morris have all put up stellar seasons on the bump. But no pitcher in recent history has struck out batters at the rate Johnson did this spring.
The 6-foot, 190-pound lefty — sporting an 88-90 mph fastball with run, a sharp breaking ball and a delivery that makes it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball — recorded 67 of his 82 outs via the strikeout. He allowed only nine hits and walked 10 in his 27-plus frames to lead Glenelg to an 8-3 regular season record and a spot in the 2A West Region I title game.
“Before the season, he was one of the best players in Maryland that no one knew about. But he proved this year to everyone why he’s a D-I kid,” said Glenelg coach Steve Tiffany. “He’s a once-in-a-generation type talent. But he works as hard if not harder than any high school athlete I’ve ever met.”
In his first two full starts of the season, Johnson punched out 18 batters in each contest. The first was in six innings against River Hill — meaning every out he recorded was a strikeout — while the second was in a one-hit win over Atholton in 6 2/3 innings.
“Honestly, it was surreal. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Glenelg catcher Gavin Henley of Johnson’s high-strikeout games. “We had heard so much about him, so when he performed like he did we were all in shock by the numbers he was putting up. He’s the best pitcher I’ve caught by a million.”
While the games were impressive at the time, they are even more remarkable in hindsight considering the opponents he faced. River Hill was the best hitting team in the county with an average of 7.7 runs per game, and Atholton was the last Howard County squad standing as the runner-up in the Class 3A state playoffs.
“To strike out 18 in a game I think maybe ties the county record, we’re not really sure. But to do it in back-to-back starts is damn impressive,” Tiffany said. “I doubt we ever see that again.”
Johnson started his high school career as a freshman on JV, but he was called up midway through the season. He hit .300 in the several games he played and pitched in three games, including the team’s Senior Day game and in the playoffs.
Johnson started getting interest from Division I coaches early in his high school career, and he committed to Maryland in October of his sophomore year. Both of his older siblings went to College Park, and he’s been a Terps fan his whole life.
It was a perfect fit, Johnson said.
“Maryland really stood out,” he said. “I just really got that family environment feel from them. I like being around people who will have my back and I’ll have theirs.”
A few months later, though, Johnson tore his meniscus in his knee while playing basketball with his friends. The injury and the surgery caused him to miss 10 months, including both his high school and his summer baseball seasons in 2019.
“It was very difficult for me,” Johnson said. “The hardest thing was watching them go out and play without me.”
If missing just his sophomore season wasn’t challenging enough, Johnson and the rest of the ballplayers in the county couldn’t play the 2020 season due to COVID. For Johnson, who battled back from his knee injury to be even better than before, it was “devastating.”
But Johnson never lost his focus. First, as a D-I commit, he still had to work hard in the offseason to get ready to compete in college. But also he never lost hope of having his senior season, and he wanted to show the county how good he is.
“He really persevered through everything,” said Tiffany, who just finished his fourth season as the team’s head coach. “He’s had so much down time to do other things and get caught up doing other things or get lazy or get out of shape. But he didn’t. His story is one of a kind.”
While Johnson was superb on the mound, he was also one of the top power hitters in the county.
As the Gladiators’ No. 3 hitter and first baseman when he wasn’t pitching, Johnson hit .342 with a .500 on-base percentage. He finished second in the county with three home runs and was one of only seven players with double-digit RBIs by driving home 12 runs. He also hit two triples and a double and scored 11 runs for a Glenelg team that finished second in the league with an average of 6.9 runs per game.
“I knew I was going to do what I could on the mound, but I wanted to step up with the bat as well,” Johnson said. “As the No. 3 hitter, I needed to come up in big spots and get some RBIs.”
While Johnson’s individual excellence was evident, he said he couldn’t have done it without his teammates, especially Henley and the rest of the Gladiators’ senior class.
“Gavin was playing with a torn meniscus the whole season. He came out and caught me and everyone else and battled through pain,” Johnson said of his catcher. “He overcame a lot of adversity, and that showed how much we wanted it as a family.”
Johnson was one of the few Howard County players to be selected for the Brooks Robinson High School All-Star Game at Camden Yards in late June, and this summer he’s playing for the Thunderbolts in the highly competitive Ripken League.
This fall, he’ll start his career at Maryland for the Terps’ baseball team.
“I’m super excited,” he said. “I can’t wait to compete and show what I can do.”
Also named to first-team All-County:
NOTE: Due to the nature of the 2021 season and not having a 2020 season, the Howard County baseball coaches voted for a much larger All-County team this season than in any previous season. The All-County team will return to normal size in future seasons.
CO-PITCHERS OF THE YEAR:
Cadeyrn Ahearn, Centennial, freshman
As just a freshman, Ahearn helped lead the Eagles to a county championship as one of the county’s top pitchers.
Ahearn ended the season with a 4-0 record and a 0.20 ERA in 28 1/3 innings for Centennial (13-2 overall, 10-1 county). He posted a 1.02 WHIP with 35 strikeouts.
The right-hander didn’t allow an earned run in the regular season and was the winning pitcher in the Eagles’ 3A East Region I championship win over Marriotts Ridge.
At the plate, Ahearn hit .310 with eight RBIs.
Branden Brown, Atholton, senior
Brown was the top pitcher for a Raiders team that went farther in the postseason than any team in Howard County.
The right-hander went 4-0 with a 0.64 ERA for Atholton (12-4, 8-3), which won four straight playoff games before losing in the MPSSAA Class 3A championship game. Brown, who boasts a mid-80s fastball, a curveball and a changeup, allowed nine hits, 24 walks and 10 runs (three earned) in 33 innings with 54 strikeouts. Batters hit only .080 against Brown this season.
His best performance was a 13-strikeout, one-hit shutout against Howard. He then pitched in the Raiders’ playoff wins against Long Reach and Stephen Decatur.
Brown, who is going to play next year at the Combine Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, was invited to the Brooks Robinson Game and was named the South Team’s Most Outstanding Pitcher after throwing a scoreless seventh inning with a pair of strikeouts.
Ryan Knisley, Reservoir, senior
As one of the top southpaws in the county, Knisley allowed only four runs in 26 innings.
The senior posted a 1-2 record for Reservoir (7-7, 5-6) with a 1.07 ERA. Knisley struck out 33 batters versus 10 walks.
He plans to walk on at Salisbury this fall.
Conarie Steinbach, Centennial, senior
Steinbach teamed up with Ahearn to form the top rotation in the county.
The right-hander posted a 4-1 record and a 1.27 ERA in 38 1/3 innings. He allowed 17 hits and walked 20 while striking out 39.
The Eagles had a streak during the middle of the season of five straight shutouts, and Steinbach threw complete games in two of them. The first was an 11-strikeout, one-hit shutout against Marriotts Ridge, while the second was a seven-strikeout win over Reservoir.
Steinbach then earned the victory in the Eagles’ county-championship clinching win over Howard.
Qwynn Ahearn, Centennial, sophomore
In his first varsity season, the backstop proved his skill behind the plate and in the batter’s box.
Qwynn Ahearn, the son of Centennial coach Denis Ahearn and older brother to Cadeyrn, was a reliable bat in the middle of the Eagles’ batting order. The sophomore hit .363 with one double and 12 RBIs.
Despite being only a sophomore, Qwynn Ahearn’s skills as a defensive catcher are advanced. That was on display in the Eagles’ region title win over Marriotts Ridge in which the backstop threw out two runners. He also had two RBI singles in the triumph.
Ben Davis, Reservoir, junior
Davis was one of the best and most well-rounded hitters in Howard County this season.
The lefty hit .405 with five doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs. His five two-baggers were tied for first in the county, while his 13 walks and .550 OBP were both near the top of the county leaderboard as well.
Behind the dish, Davis threw out seven of nine runners that attempted to steal bases against him.
Ryan Anderson, Howard, senior
As the Lions’ leadoff hitter, Anderson posted one of the best slash lines in the county.
The shortstop hit .462 with a .596 OBP and a .513 slugging percentage. He had 18 hits in 15 games with six stolen bases, 13 walks and 13 runs.
The senior was one of several solid performers that sparked the Lions’ playoff run. After an average regular season, Howard (9-6, 6-5) won its first three postseason games en route to winning the 4A East Region I title.
Chris Betler, Centennial, senior
Betler was one of the top offensive shortstops in the county. The Eagles’ No. 2 hitter batted .417 with four doubles, a triple and two homers. He scored 13 runs and drove home 13 more.
The senior had two hits in Centennial’s playoff win over Mt. Hebron and an RBI in the Eagles’ region title win over Marriotts Ridge.
Betler was one of two returning first-team All-County players this season from the 2019 campaign. He is going on to play at Division III York College.
Demetre Koutras, River Hill, sophomore
Koutras was a cog at the top of the Hawks’ lineup.
The sophomore shortstop hit .404 with a .478 OBP. He finished in the top five in the county in runs (19) and stolen bases (11) while adding five RBIs, two doubles and a triple.
Koutras, along with the Okojie brothers, led River Hill (8-3, 8-2), which finished second in the county and had the top offense in the county at 7.7 runs per game.
Xavier Gilliam, Wilde Lake, freshman
Gilliam achieved the rare feat of being a freshman to make first-team All-County after leading the league in multiple offensive categories.
The first baseman led the league in RBIs (19) and home runs (four) while finishing second in batting average (.542). He also scored nine runs and hit four doubles. Eight of his 13 hits were for extra bases.
In Wilde Lake’s lone win of the season, Gilliam hit two home runs and had six RBIs in a 9-0 victory over Mt. Hebron.
Jack Pistner, Centennial, senior
As the leadoff hitter for the best team in the county, Pistner did it all for the Eagles.
On top of playing solid defense at third base, Pistner finished second in the county with 22 hits and posted a .449 batting average. He smacked five doubles, four triples and a home run, driving home nine runs and scoring a league-high 20 runs.
One of Pistner’s best games of the season was in the Eagles’ playoff win over Damascus, during which the senior went 3 for 4 with an RBI triple and a stolen base.
Along with Betler, Pistner was one of two returning first-team All-County players this season from the 2019 campaign. He was also one of the few players from Howard County to compete in the Brooks Robinson Game.
Pistner is going on to play at Division III Gettysburg College.
Chris Stanford, Long Reach, senior
Stanford was one of the top leadoff hitters in the county this spring.
The senior hit .368 and reached base at a .469 clip. He scored 15 runs for an offense that finished tied for first in games with 10-plus runs and stole 10 bases.
Stanford also showed some power, hitting two triples and one home run to total six RBIs. Defensively, Stanford, who plans to play in college at Division III Penn State Harrisburg, played both corner infield positions for the Lightning.
Alfonse Dello Russo, Glenelg, sophomore
Dello Russo was one of the most well-rounded players in the county.
The sophomore was one of four players with more than two stolen bases and double-digit runs and RBIs. The Gladiators outfielder stole four bags, scored 12 times and drove home 12 more runs.
Dello Russo led Glenelg with a .410 batting average and a .521 OBP. He also showed off his pop with five doubles.
Ehi Okojie, River Hill, senior
Okojie and his younger brother Eje were dominant in the Nos. 2 and 3 holes for the best offense in the county.
Ehi Okojie hit .424 with a .556 OBP and 16 RBIs. He also scored 16 runs and stole 12 bases, which ranked second in the league. He smacked four extra-base hits, including one home run.
The speedster was also one of the top defensive players in the county, as the center fielder had multiple diving catchers for the Hawks.
Eje Okojie, River Hill, sophomore
In his first season of high school baseball, Eje Okojie proved he’s one of the best players in Howard County.
He led the county with a .652 OBP and also had a .448 batting average. As one of the most well-rounded offensive players in the league, Eje Okojie hit five doubles, drove in 10 runs, scored 14 runs and stole seven bases.
Playing next to his older brother Ehi, Eje Okojie bolstered the Hawks’ outfield defense.
Johnny Welch, Reservoir, senior
No Howard County hitter totaled more hits this spring than Welch.
The Gators outfielder smacked a league-high 26 hits for the top batting average in the county (.553). No other Howard County batter had more than 22 hits.
Welch, the Gators’ leadoff hitter, hit three doubles and one homer, drove in five runs and stole a county-high 13 bases. He was also one of the few players from Howard County to compete in the Brooks Robinson Game.
Brandon Bartolotta, Long Reach, senior
Bartolotta was one of the best two-way players in the county this spring.
On the mound, the right-hander went 3-1 for the Lightning. In 30 1/3 innings, Bartolotta struck out 27 batters and posted a 3.69 ERA. At the plate, the senior helped lead a strong Long Reach offense with a .341 batting average. He totaled six extra-base hits, nine runs and 11 RBIs.
Arguably his best game this spring was in the Lightning’s 3-0 win over Wilde Lake to end the regular season. Bartolotta went 3 for 3 with his bat and pitched a shutout on the bump.
Marcus Arterburn, Glenelg Country, senior, utility
Arterburn was a B Conference All-Star selection after a standout season at the plate and on the mound for the Dragons.
As the team’s ace, Arterburn went 3-3 with a 4.53 ERA. In 40 2/3 innings, the righty struck out 46 batters for a Glenelg Country team that was one of the top squads in the B Conference.
At the plate, the senior tied for first on the team in batting average at .404 and led the Dragons with 12 RBIs. He posted a .576 OBP, hit three doubles, stole eight bases and scored nine runs.
In the field when he wasn’t on the bump, Arterburn played several positions, including second base, third base, shortstop, center field and catcher.
Dylan Melton, Glenelg Country, sophomore, outfield
Melton was a B Conference All-Star pick after a solid season for Glenelg Country.
He tied with Arterburn in batting average at .404, while leading the team with 21 runs and 13 stolen bases. The sophomore excelled with two strikes, totaling 19 singles, three doubles and a triple.
In the field, Melton anchored the Dragons’ defense with his range in center field. He even pitched a little for Glenelg Country, posting a 2.98 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings.
Scooter Summa, Chapelgate, senior, infield
Summa was a C Conference All-Star selection after leading the Yellowjackets in multiple offensive categories.
The senior infielder led the team with an impressive .543 batting average. He smacked two home runs and only struck out once all season. He added 11 walks and five hit by pitches as an on-base machine for Chapelgate.
Summa plans to play in college at Division III Waynesburg University.
Second Team All-County
Anthony Cline, Hammond, senior, pitcher
Liam Snow, Atholton, junior, pitcher
Tony D’Angeli, Atholton, senior, catcher
Gavin Henley, Glenelg, senior, catcher
Josh Barke, Mt. Hebron, senior, middle infield
Diego Carrion, Atholton, sophomore, middle infield
Heath Franklin, Oakland Mills, junior, middle infield
Will Kilcoyne, River Hill, junior, corner infield
Braeden Sumpter, Glenelg, senior, corner infield
J.P. Tennant, Long Reach, sophomore, corner infield
Tucker Freer, Long Reach, senior, outfield
Jake Keller, Howard, junior, outfield
Jordan Peguese, Marriotts Ridge, junior, outfield
DJ Stolba, Glenelg, sophomore, outfield
Grant Gladden, Wilde Lake, senior, utility
Nick Varda, Atholton, senior, utility
Final Spring 2021 Standings
1. Centennial: 13-2 overall, 10-1 county (county champion, Class 3A state semifinalist)
2. River Hill: 8-3, 8-2
3. Glenelg: 10-4, 8-3
4. Atholton: 12-4, 8-3 (3A state runner-up)
5. Howard: 9-6, 6-5 (4A East Region I champion)
6. Marriotts Ridge: 6-7, 5-6
7. Long Reach: 6-7, 5-6
8. Reservoir: 7-7, 5-6
9. Hammond: 4-8, 4-7
10. Mt. Hebron: 5-8, 4-7
11. Wilde Lake: 1-10, 1-9
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12. Oakland Mills: 1-11, 1-10