SOFTBALL IS SET, BUT BASEBALL HAS MOUND OF QUESTIONS

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Major league baseball managers always worry about pitching.

For the most part, such is the case in Carroll where most coaches think their team's success will depend on pitching.

Perhaps Liberty coach Bryan Harman summed it up best, saying, "Good pitching beats good hitting."

The feeling is mutual with most others.

Francis Scott Key coach Bob Caples calls his staff "untested," while North Carroll coach Craig Walker tagged his team's pitching"questionable."

Westminster and Liberty appear to be the two headand shoulders above the rest as the season begins.

Francis Scott Key and South Carroll could surprise, while North Carroll will be improved but still at the bottom of the county race.

Here's a closer look at each team:

FRANCIS SCOTT KEY EAGLES

Third-year coach Bob Caples has a solid balance of skilled veterans and promising newcomers.

Coming off a 3-15 year, the Eagles return six juniors and two seniors with varsity experience.

"Right now I'm optimistic that we have the talent to do considerably better than the past two years," the coach said.

Caples has emphasized the team will go as far as thepitching will take it and he has six arms to send it in the right direction.

"Pitching will be the key and dictate how much we win or lose," he said. "We are six pitchers deep and will look to (junior Eric) Bohn and (sophomore David) Ruskey to be our stabilizers."

The Eagles should have little trouble scoring, as a number of .300 hitters return from last year.

"Offensively, I'm pleased with the kids. They ran the bases well last season and we're looking to be a bit more aggressive on the bases this season," Caples said.

The Eagles open their season at South Hagerstown on March 22.

LIBERTY LIONS

Coach Bryan Harman enters his ninth season with a lot of returning firepower on offense and some experienced pitching as well.

Offensively, the Lions will rely on the senior duo of Jeff Wagner (.484 last year) and Bryan Schroeder (.452) -- the top two returning county hitters from last year.

Harman's one concern is pitching, where the Lions appear to lack experienced depth. Returning from last year's 13-8 team are Wagner and senior Josh Mackert.

"We're not real deep in pitching and have a lot of guys inexperienced at the varsity level. I'ma firm believer that good pitching beats good hitting," Harman said.

Harman will need to find replacements for the seven seniors he lost from last year's squad.

"We lost some quality seniors from lastyear but have some quality juniors to fill their shoes," he said.

Liberty will visit Linganore to open the season on March 21.

NORTH CARROLL PANTHERS

The Panthers are looking to clean the slate from last year's dismal 0-17 season and start fresh.

Coach Craig Walker,in his third season, is confident he has laid the groundwork to turnthings around.

"We have a good foundation which to build on. I have 11 juniors -- three with varsity experience," Walker said. "I'm not worried about how many games we win or lose, as long as we play as hard as we can and do the best we can."

Walker is working extra hours with his pitchers, stressing they need to do more than just throwstrikes.

"Pitching is questionable. We have some decent kids but throwing strikes doesn't make it, we're trying to concentrate on location for our pitchers," he said.

Walker is excited about his speedy offense.

"We have some team speed and will look to put the ball in play and see what happens," he said.

The Panthers will look to turn things around beginning with a home game against Frederick on March 21.

SOUTH CARROLL CAVALIERS

Joe Foltz is the only coach in thecounty more concerned about his team's offense than pitching.

TheCavaliers return only two players -- Joe Goodwin and Chris Larrick -- who hit more than .300 last season and must find someone to fill the void of Sachs Lowe, who batted .474 in 1990 before graduating.

"We lost some key players. Our offense is still a big question mark and nobody has really stepped forward yet," Foltz said.

While the offense remains a mystery, Foltz is confident his experienced pitching staff will produce.

"I'm pleased with our pitching. We have three pitchers with experience. (Rob) Myers and (Mike) Downs will be our one and two starters and we also have Goodwin, but I'd like to keep himbehind the plate as much as possible," the fourth-year coach said.

South Carroll will start the season on the road with a March 21 date against Westminster.

WESTMINSTER OWLS

Coach Carl Rihard said a total team effort will be the key to the Owls' success.

Coming off a 10-10 year, Westminster will rely on an even balance of offense, defense and pitching. The Owls also have an interesting mix of returning players and top newcomers.

"It's still pretty early to tell, butwe're looking for a pretty good season," Rihard said.

Rihard, in his third season as head coach, is particularly enthusiastic about his offense, expecting a team effort with no holes in the lineup.

"The offense should be our strength. We are solid from top to bottom with everyone picking each other up. It will be a total team effort in winning," he said.

He is looking for the same team effort from hispitching staff, where he will use four starters.

"Our pitching looks good as long as we can stay away from injuries. We'll go with (Adam) Klohr, (Rob) Ruhlman, (Mike) Hastings and (Kirk) Engel --everyoneis going to contribute," he said.

The Owls host South Carroll on March 21 in their season opener.

WEST. MD. GREEN TERRORS

The GreenTerrors are looking to rebound from a disappointing 6-15 year and coach Dave Seibert believes he has the nucleus to do so.

"I'm pleased with everything so far. We have a lot of juniors and seniors back with experience and leadership. We just have to shake coming off a badseason," Seibert said.

Western Maryland is led by senior captain Jeff Wrabel, a second baseman who hit .366 a year ago.

"This is his second year as captain and he is everything you can ask for in a team leader -- both on and off the field," Seibert said.

Seibert thinks any one of the six teams in the Middle Atlantic Conference Southwest Division can win it.

The Green Terrors opened their season yesterday at Cocoa Beach, Fla., where they will be for the next week.

CARROLL CHRISTIAN PATRIOTS

Coach Mike Shellman would like to start this season right where his club left off in 1991.

The Patriots captured last year's Mason-Dixon Christian Conference tournament and have the two principals returning in senior Steve Meushaw and sophomore Kevin Ash.

"Our pitching will be our strong point this season withSteve and Kevin back," Shellman said.

One concern for the second-year coach is the team's lack of depth where it is losing four starters from a year ago. "We don't have as much depth this year and are replacing the four seniors we lost with some very young players," Shellman said.

Included in the youth movement are a pair of eighth-graders -- Matt Good and Bruce Wright -- who will be looked on to contribute.

The Patriots will open up at home against Cumberland Valley on March 21.

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