Coaches' preseason predictions tend to come back to haunt them. But Joppatowne baseball coach Al Zelinski doesn't have to worry about any ghosts this season.
Zelinski predicted early on that his Mariners, with their strong combination of pitching and hitting, would be tough to beat.
He was right.
After Sean Ward pitched a one-hit, 5-0 victory at Edgewood Wednesday, the Mariners (9-1 overall) were unbeaten in nine county league games.
The secret to their success is no mystery.
"We've played good, sound fundamental baseball," said Zelinski. been fortunate to get good hits when we needed them.
"What can I say? When you're on a roll, you're on a roll."
The Mariners have several tough games remaining, including ones against defending county champ C. Milton Wright, Fallston and North Harford. In their first meetings, the Mariners won one-run games over each.
"What helps them is winning those one-run ballgames," said Edgewood coach Kevin Tyree. "It's hard to go undefeated in this league, but they don't beat themselves."
As the wins mount, the players get more confident.
"We want to win the county title, because it's been a long time since it's been done in our school," said senior center fielder Damon Davies.
"After that, then we'll think about the playoffs."
The Mariners last won the county title in 1980.
Zelinski isn't making any predictions about this year's title race, but said he is thrilled with the season thus far.
"Every day there seems to be a different hero. We've got a strong lineup from top to bottom. Most of these kids have been with me for three years, and it's that maturity that's coming out."
The Mariners displayed all their talents Wednesday in shutting outthe struggling Rams (4-8, 4-6). The pitching was splendid, the offense was just as good and the defense, nearly flawless.
Ward went the distance, facing only 25 batters. The junior struck out 10, while giving up only three walks.
Ward had a no-hitter going for 5 1/3 innings before the Rams' Keith Kimmel broke it up with a booming triple down the line. Joppatowne right fielder Bill Pilkerton dove for the ball to preserve Ward's no-hitter, but the shot was beyond his reach.
The Mariners had only six hits, with five of them in two run-scoring innings.
The Mariners got all they needed in a three-hit, two-run fourth. Greg Smith singled, but pinch runner Chris Weber was forced on Bill Pilkerton's fielder's choice. Damon Davies followed with a triple to score Pilkerton. Ward's single scored Davies for a 2-0 Joppatowne lead.
In the fifth, the Mariners got another run without a hit. J.P. Lilliston walked, stole second and scored on an error.
Joppatowne added two more runs in the seventh. After Ward walked, pinch-runner Brett Gilbert stole second and took third on Tim Miller's long fly to center. Lilliston singled Gilbert home, reached third on Don Thomas' bloop single to left center, and scored on a double steal.
The Mariners were charged with an error when first baseman Dan Foxwell dropped a ball, putting Greg Watchinsky on first with one out in the fourth inning. But Ward struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
After Kimmel reached on his triple, the Mariners got a nifty unassisted double play from shortstop Tim Miller. Miller caught a popped-up bunt attempt by Roger Barnes and tagged third, doubling up Kimmel, who had broken for the plate too soon.
Pilkerton also had a big day in the field, bagging five fly balls.
For the Mariners, two wins in a single season over Edgewood, which has made two straight appearances in the state Class 2A final four, provides a boost toward their county title hopes.
"We've always wanted this team," said Davies. "We felt this was one of the humps to get over if we were going to have a good rest of the season."
For Edgewood, much of the season has gone like Wednesday, with every team out to get them.
"You hate to be a duck in a shooting gallery," said Tyree, who has plenty of talent that hasn't quite gelled.
Against Joppatowne, the Rams didn't play a bad game. They just couldn't get enough hits off Ward.
Jamie Coons pitched his best game of the season for Edgewood, striking out five and walking five.