Tony Saunders of Ellicott City savored the moment with a huge grin Monday night at Randallstown High School after just beating the Columbia Reds No. 1 on a three-hitter. And who could blame him?

Last spring the hard-throwing junior left-hander threw impressively enough tobe the best county high school pitcher.

But he played for Howard High, whose defense was horrendous.

"We made 17 errors one game," Saunders said.

The result was a 2-7 record, so instead of the recognition he deserved, his talent went largely unnoticed.

Incredibly, he lost two no-hitters. In one late-season game against county champion Hammond, he fanned 14 batters and lost, 3-0.

But Monday night, pitching for Liberty Road of BaltimoreCounty against the Columbia Reds, a team made up of many of the county's all-stars, Saunders had a chance to show what he could do with agood team playing behind him.

He had added pressure -- several scouts, including one from the Los Angeles Dodgers, sat behind the backstop and timed him with a radar gun.

"That was the first time theyactually put a gun on me, so I was a little more nervous," Saunders said.

His nerves didn't show. He pitched superbly to beat Columbia, 5-2, and keep his team in second place in the Baltimore Metro League with a 19-6 record. Saunders' record is 6-1.

His only loss was to the league-leading Bedouins, who are four games in front of LibertyRoad.

Saunders, whose earned run average is less than two runs per game, was clocked by the radar gun at 77 to 81 mph.

That's a bitbelow major league level, but he has another year of high school left.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound 17-year-old said he would like to pitchfor Mount St. Joseph next year if everything works out. Mount St. Joe is a perennial Maryland Scholastic Association powerhouse, and its players are always heavily scouted by colleges and pros.

Only one Columbia run Monday was earned. Saunders fanned seven and walked four. Two of the three hits he gave up were infield hits. One was a bunt by Jeff Cyran. Chris Dotson legged out the other on a grounder to third base.

Brian Schroeder had a hard-hit single to center field leading off the seventh inning and he eventually scored Columbia's second run on a groundout by Matt Donovan.

Saunders overshadowed a somewhat impressive effort by Reds starter Brian Dunn, who made only his third start of the season.

With little pitching experience, Dunn expectedly had some control problems, walking six batters and pitchingbehind in the count to most batters. But he kept Liberty Road off the scoreboard until the fourth inning when he gave up two runs on two hits and a walk.

Columbia scored an unearned run in the first inning and led through three innings, 1-0.

Saunders fanned the side inthe top of the fifth. And Dunn came back to fan two batters in the bottom of a scoreless fifth.

But Liberty Road finally broke the game open in the sixth inning on four singles and a walk. Dunn gave up two of the singles and a walk before giving way to Mike Lerner. Dunn was charged with all five Liberty Road runs.

Most of the hits off Dunn were infield singles or flares to the outfield. Knoll Axt's two run double in the fourth was blasted deep to center, however.

"Brian (Dunn) has made tremendous strides as a pitcher but threw Axt a high fastball, which is what he likes to hit," Reds coach Paul Donovan said. "Axt can't hit a curve or a low fastball."

Columbia's record fell to 12-13 in the league, and the loss just about ended the Reds' hopes of catching third-place Putty Hill, which is 18-7. The top three teams are invited to postseason national tournaments.

The Reds have 14 games left to play until the season ends July 21.

The Reds No. 1 play the league-leading Bedouins at Atholton High on Wednesday and Red No. 2 at Atholton on Thursday.

"Last year we finished deadlast and this year we're in fourth place, so we've shown we can playin this league," Donovan said. "Last year no one pitched their top pitchers against us, but this year they are. We've gotten a lot of respect."

Donovan thinks that perhaps too much was expected of this year's team.

"We have good defense and pitching, but we just don't have enough hitters," he said.

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