Shortstop Eric Scott's hitting dilemma is representative of the early-season problems faced by the entire American Legion Mayo Post 226 baseball squad.

"Maybe I was trying too hard, but I was in a slump -- hitting ground balls and popups," said Scott, who was hitting .259with nine RBIs after 23 games.

"Our whole team was hitting badly, but it's getting a lot better.I just try to be a leader by playing well on the field and try not to think about it."

Although the "it" Scott last mentioned was his own hitting, he easily could have been referring to the pressure of defending the national title the team won last year.

"Winning the national title made winning the (Class 4A state title at Arundel High)seem like just another game," said second baseman Scott Young, who led the Wildcats this past spring.

"The early part of this season (for Mayo) was rough, but now it's going real smooth and I think we have a chance to get back to the national championship game. But there are a lot of new people so it's taken us a while to get back in stride."

As two of only seven returnees from the national champion squad, Scott and Young have the job of showing the newcomers how to perform like champions.

"It's hard to be a leader when you're not feeling good about the way you're hitting," said Mayo coach Bernie Walter.

"But for the most part, the experienced guys are doing the right things, showing leadership in the field. We've been hurt by a few losses, but we've been in every single game that we've lost."

Mayo was 18-8 before Friday's game against Charles County's Chaney Post and Saturday's outing against the Arundel Stars. Mayo plays the Ferndale American Legion today.

Already this year's version has lost more games than last year's 71-7 squad. And though the comparisons to last year's team are inevitable, Walter is trying to keep them to a minimum.

"There's no use talking about these things until things start falling into place. Some players are really new to the system of baseball that we play," said Walter, who expects Mayo to get a stern test in both the 16-team Binghamton (N.Y.) tournament beginning Tuesday and the Burlington (N.J.) tournament over the Fourth of July weekend.

"In New York, we'll have the premier tournament of the summer," said Walter. "Six teams are from the American World Series and three or four will be from national junior teams of different countries. Thoseare two big tournaments, and I'm sure everyone will be pointing at us."

Newcomer Tre Overstreet has stepped in to lead the team with a.364 average, followed by Young (.340) and returning catcher Chris Dinoto (.355), whose 13 RBI rank second on the team. Rookies Mike Mahoney (.326, 10 RBIs) and Larry Dobson (.191, a team-high four homers) are contributing.

"We really played great Monday night against (Panama City, Fla., an 8-1 victory) and Severna Park (a 14-3 win)," saidYoung, who is batting .340. "Severna Park had beaten us earlier, so it shows that once we get our streaks going we get back on track. I think that's starting to happen."

So is the pitching, led by returnees Jeff Beard (3-1, 3.80 ERA) and left-hander Doug Stockman (2-1, 2.50). Stockman and Beard are also a hit at the plate with averages of .455 and .429, respectively.

Another left-hander, Jimmy Simms (1.33 ERA) is batting .333 with a team-leading 15 RBI. He threw a no-hitter in a 10-0 victory over Broadneck Wednesday.

"We expect to go back to the nationals -- the returnees do," said Dinoto, an Arundel High graduate who completed his freshman season at North Carolina's ElonCollege this past spring.

"This team just hasn't played up to itspotential until this past week when we've been killing people. The bats are coming around and the people on the bench are getting into the games more. It's just attitude -- we're starting to have fun out there."

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