On the surface, Glenelg is in the kind of groove any baseball team would covet.
The Gladiators (11-3, 12-5) are headed for this weekend's Class 2A Region I playoffs. They earned a share of the county championship with Atholton on Monday by beating Howard, 5-0. They have won eight of their last 10 games. They have worn out opponents since the Easter break with phenomenal pitching.
But there is a flip side to Glenelg's impressive regular-season finish.
The Gladiators can't seem to hit anymore.
"Sometimes, we're not even making loud outs," lamented Glenelg coach Terry Coleman.
In their last six games, they've managed a paltry 14 runs. The last five batters in their lineup are flirting with .200 batting averages. As a team, the Gladiators are hitting a mediocre .257. Since pounding Wilde Lake two weeks ago, 14-5, Glenelg's bats have fallen silent. Just in time for the playoffs.
"We hit the ball so well the whole first half of the season," Coleman said. "Nobody can explain a slump. You just go through these phases. Anyone that can figure it out, I'll pay them big bucks."
Anyone who can figure out how to retire the top of the Gladiators' batting order in the postseason will probably walk away a winner.
Leadoff man Jamie Brinker (.378, team-high 16 runs), Joe Goldberg (.365, 19 RBI) and Brian Boteler (.360, 17 RBI) -- the Gladiators' third and fourth hitters -- are Glenelg's only .300 hitters. Brinker, Goldberg, Boteler and fifth-place hitter David Gunter (.239) have collected 54 of Glenelg's 69 RBI.
The offense has struggled so much lately that Monday's three-run first inning against Howard qualified as an explosion. The Gladiators had not scored more than two runs in an entire game since the Wilde Lake rout.
"I think people are starting to think about it [the slump] a little bit," said Goldberg, the senior shortstop who has been the backbone of the Gladiators. He singled home a run in his first two at-bats during a 2-for-4 performance Monday.
"I think we got a little messed up against some slow pitchers, and then we stopped hitting," Goldberg added. "We've just hung in there with defense and good pitching."
Make that extraordinary pitching. Through 17 games, Glenelg's staff has worked to a stingy ERA of 1.55. And were it not for starters Jeff Lewis (7-1, 1.93) and Kevin Roland (5-3, 1.23), the Gladiators would not have survived the last two weeks.
The offensive slump surfaced immediately after the Wilde Lake blowout. The next day, Glenelg managed one hit in a 2-1 loss to Howard -- a team that won only two of 17 games this spring.
That's when the pitching took over, as the Gladiators went on a four-game winning streak that put them in the playoffs. Each of their victories over Centennial, Hammond, Atholton and Mount Hebron came by a 2-1 score.
Glenelg's anemia at the plate continued Thursday against Oakland Mills in a 6-1 loss, a game punctuated by a rare defensive collapse, as the Gladiators committed eight errors.
The Gladiators certainly didn't kill the ball Monday. They touched Howard pitchers Marty Wright and Tait Arend for six singles and scored two runs on wild pitches by Wright. Brinker singled, walked twice, stole three bases and scored three runs. After seizing a 4-0 lead in the second inning, Glenelg had only two hits and left four runners in scoring position.
Lewis took care of the rest. With an effective fastball-curve-changeup mix, he went the distance to record a three-hit shutout and improve on his team-best record. He walked three, fanned six and retired 11 straight in the middle innings. The Lions put runners in scoring position only in the second and seventh innings.
And although his record doesn't show it, Lewis actually is Glenelg's No. 2 starter behind Kevin Roland. The victim of some
hard-luck defeats, Roland has allowed only 25 hits in 51 innings, while striking out 53. Lewis has allowed 79 base runners in 50 2/3 innings.
"The pitching has been really good. Kevin has been excellent, and Louie [Lewis] has been living with people on base," said Coleman, whose Gladiators will play Friday against a semifinal opponent that had yet to be determined by the Howard County Sun's deadline.
"I didn't think we'd get this far and be this talented," Coleman said. "We're not as fundamentally sound as teams I've had in the past.
"The difference is, we don't make the big mistake. But there isn't any doubt that I wish we were hitting the ball better."