With some key players, including centerfielder Roy Marsh, back from the team that won the state Class 4A championship last year, Perry Hall gets the nod for top billing in The Evening Sun Top 20 baseball rankings this season.
The Gators will get a strong challenge from any of the top five or six, but they should be back at the top of the class in 4A, along with Old Mill and Arundel.
Dundalk and Hammond, unranked a year ago, appear to have improved enough over the offseason to be contenders in Class 3A and 2A, respectively, while Calvert Hall is favored to win its fourth straight Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference championship.
The Top 20, as selected by The Evening Sun with cooperation from area coaches, follows. Last year's records and rankings are listed in parentheses. Statistics throughout are for last season.
1 Perry Hall (20-0, No. 1)
* Along with Marsh, who hit .468 and made the All-Metro first team in centerfield, the Gators return two All-Metro second-teamers: shortstop Donnie Burks (.524) and lefthanded pitcher/outfielder Kevin Loewe (.294). The Gators have some holes to fill, but Gilman transfer Danny Brown, a righthander, will help, as will a handful of reserves plus key performers up from the 12-4 junior varsity. "If our experienced players can carry us for two weeks, we should be OK," said coach Larry Butts. Never one to brag, when the mild-mannered Butts says, "OK," others might say "good," "great," or even "awesome."
2 Old Mill (19-4, No. 3)
* He has had only one losing season since 1979, and coach Mel Montgomery again has enough experience returning to make a run for a state title. Lefthander Doug Stockman (9-2) is back and shortstop Eric Scott (.429) had a 4-1 pitching record last year. He'll get help in the offense from centerfielder William Beverly (.367, 15 steals) and leftfielder Jimmy Simms (.375). Sophomore lefthander Lee Haney, up from the JV, will pitch and see action in the outfield.
3 Calvert Hall (21-3, No. 2)
* Ken Konopacki, who led the MSA A Conference in batting (.500) last season, returns to catch and holdover seniors David Pitts (2B) and Dan Coker (SS) will anchor the infield. Coach Joe Binder is high on sophomores Brian Matz, Larry Marino and Joe Mulherin. The first two will help on the mound and Mulherin will play third base.
4Arundel (16-5, No. 6)
* The Wildcats are loaded with power, as 16 and 19 runs scored in 19 scrimmage innings attests. Scott Young will anchor the infield at shortstop and the senior outfield of Rodney Stevens, Eric Hontz and A.J. Trout is solid. Pitchers Jeff Beard, Zack Collins, Larry Dobson and Chris Tutas return, and sophomore Shawn Cruise, 3-1 for the varsity last season, will be at first base when not pitching. Coach Bernie Walter, ever optimistic, said it should be a fun season.
5Mount St. Joseph (15-7, No. 5)
* Lefthander Ryan Clark (8-3, 1.50 ERA) will carry the Gaels on the mound this season and Brian Dunn, the hardest thrower on the team, will help when not at third base. Knoll Axt (.343) shifts from third base to shortstop and junior Bob Bush (.366) will play leftfield or first base when Clark pitches. Rich Briatsch moves up from the championship JV where he was the top hitter. He will back up Pat Young at catcher and play second or the outfield once coach Dave Norton decides on his lineup.
6 Northeast-AA (22-1, No. 4)
* Coach Harry Lentz has taken the Eagles to the playoffs every season except for 1977 and 1978. They return six starters, led by pitcher Charlie Buckheit (19-3 for his three-year career), so the Eagles should contend again for the state Class 2A championship after reaching the semifinals last year. Don Shump (.459, 36 RBIs) is back at third base. Craig Everett (.320, 20 RBIs) and Shawn Royston (.333, 20 RBIs) return to the outfield. Everett also was 4-0 on the mound last season.
7 Poly (13-8, No. 9)
* Righthander Rob Baker and lefthander Scott Roane return. They accounted for six wins and five saves last year for coach Charlie Sullivan's Engineers. Catcher George Freeberger, excellent defensively, should improve on his .260 batting average. Jelani Rucker (.400) is back in left, as is Lenard Marcus (.250) in center. Marcus, a first-team All-Metro defensive back, has signed with Stanford for football. Matt Holland (.285) is steady at second base and Kevin Crosby, who sat out with a broken wrist in 1990, will play shortstop. Sullivan is high on JV grad Steve Stumpf, a hard-throwing junior righthander.
8 Dundalk (10-7, unranked)
* "If defense and pitching can win, we'll be there at the end," said coach George Schuelen, wondering if the Owls will hit well enough to help the pitching staff that includes Kevin Rexrode (7-1, 70 strikeouts in 55 innings), Chris Toland (3-1), lefty Jeff Burnett and relief specialists Dave Wilson and Richard Keller. Joe Speed, who doubled as a track ace last season, is out full time for baseball and teams in the outfield with centerfielder Chuck Albrecht, who may be faster than Speed in short sprints.
c,25p4,geb,18,189 Chesapeake-AA (11-9, No. 15)
* Returning pitchers Derek Hasselhoff and Sean Sesney will be supported by JV grads Jimmy Wolfe and Jason Simer. That's the strength, said coach Bob Dill. "If we can start to hit, we're going to be there with the leaders," he said. Reserve first baseman Jeff Young has looked good at the plate and Paul McKenzie and Ricky Prestridge are back in the outfield. Nick Coulbourne, injured and sick much of last season, is back to catch.
10 Thomas Johnson (16-6, No. 11)
* Power-hitting Chad Putnam (.315, eight home runs) will carry the offense and head the thin pitching corps. "If we can find the pitchers to help out, we should do quite well," said second-year coach Jack Patterson. Junior catcher Mike Leatherman (.350) returns for his third season and the Patriots have a slew of lettermen back for their second year, including slick fielding shortstop Ronny Shankle. Junior basketball players Kevin Krimm and Keith Krumm could help with the pitching. They both are tall (6 feet 5 and 6-6), but need experience.
11 Hammond (10-10, unranked)
* Coach Bob Maxey calls this team his best in four years. Jeff Cyram (.460) leads the pitching staff that includes Mike Lerner and lefthander Joe Nestor. Tom Costell (.290) is a flashy fielder at second base. The outfield consists of three sophomores, so how quickly they blend and help offensively bears watching.
12 Edgewood (15-9, No. 8)
* Speed is up, but power is down for the Rams. Still, the return of pitcher-second baseman Eric Santana (5-2) and the maturing of sophomore lefthander Wade Greason (4-3) means the Rams again will battle for the Harford County title. Sophomore Greg Watchinsky (.318) is back at catcher and third baseman Corey Anderson should improve on his .250 batting average. Junior Brian Kocur (.303) adds a good glove and bat at shortstop. "We really don't have a cleanup hitter," said coach Steve Williams, "but we hope better team speed at the top of the lineup can make up for what we lack in power."
13 Broadneck (11-9, unranked)
* Athletes. The Bruins have a bunch back, including soccer-basketball standout Johnny Williams, a three-year starter at second base. He also will pitch, as will leftfielder Matt Weimer and shortstop Jeff Vincent. Both are soccer-basketball starters. Soccer keeper Sean Tettemer is the catcher and junior Tim Collins, the centerfielder up from the JV, is the state 800-meter indoor track champion. "They all know how to win," said coach Mark Stover.
14 Archbishop Curley (7-13, unranked)
* The Friars return pitcher Bryan Bowan (2.10 ERA), centerfielder Jimmy Libber (.319), who also pitches, and senior twins, Joe and John Petryszak. Joe (.320) is the strong-armed catcher and John (.250) is the leftfielder. "The first nine looks good," said coach Al Frank. "We're not deep and the pitching is a bit thin, but can win some games."
-! 15 Catonsville (12-7, No. 14)
* The Comets of coach John Leslie return seven starters, including third baseman Chad Bangs, shortstop Brian Bouchet and outfielders Ron Hippler and Doug Doyle. First baseman Scott Mealey is back to lend power from his cleanup spot in the batting order and catcher Jason Cropper has experience. Bangs, Mealy and senior Dave Cropper will do the pitching. As they throw, so the Comets' season will go.
.' 16 Centennial (4-13, unranked)
* First-year varsity coach Ron Martin can boast of strong-armed catcher Jon Loden and hard-throwing Brian Bickerton. Senior transfer Justin Thomas (from Oregon) and Jason Weinstein will help with the pitching. Thomas, a big hitter, will be in centerfield when not pitching. "The seniors are tired of losing," said Martin, BTC "and our pitching depth is good." The defense should be OK with seniors Brent McGraw, Austin Groves and Sam Yurko anchoring the infield. Junior Greg Short may end up at second base and free Yurko to camp in leftfield.
17 C. Milton Wright (15-6, unranked)
* This season's success hinges on the pitching of senior Ryan Lowery and JV grads Greg Cooper, Lee Crouse and lefty Brian Kinnan. Jason Asbury will anchor the infield at shortstop and Ken Batten and Jeff Hawk are back to patrol the outfield with first-year senior Chris Knorr. "We're a little young and have a lot of work to do, but we may be OK," said coach Jim Miller, who has shown a knack for developing pitchers and getting his teams into the playoffs.
18 Overlea (15-3, No. 12)
*The Falcons have plenty of veterans back, including pitcher Steve Dietrich (7-1), catcher John Swigart (.430), second baseman Dave Filipkowski (five home runs), leftfielder Steve Newberger and centerfielder Ralph Boarman. Lefthander Steve Lockett is fighting a case of tendinitis and the shortstop will be a sophomore, Mark Truczkowski, but coach Dave O'Neill is optimistic.
19 John Carroll (10-5, No. 20)
* The Patriots will start two sophomores, second baseman Geoff Pickett and centerfielder Dave Ishmael, so the team is young. Senior Bill Reese and juniors Caleb Brown, Jake Hollin and Marty Kuser form the virtually untested pitching staff. Brown and Hollin, among others, move up from the Harford County JV championship team. "If the pitching appears, we'll be fine," said coach Al Ward.
20 Southern (16-6, No. 19)
* The Bulldogs, MSA B Conference finalists last year, return ace righthander Jerry Fischer and top hitter Jerry Gastinger, a junior catcher-pitcher who batted .468 last season. While there are some holes to fill, coach Bill Parker also welcomes back three-year performers Chris Broseker at first base, Danny Fyffe at shortstop and Jerome Gaines in leftfield. Freshman Jimmy Loetz has impressed and could help with catching, infield or outfield duty. Southern has made the MSA playoffs in five of the last six seasons.