Here they are again, those Wildcats and Eagles, or as some like to call it, "the Bernie and Harry show."
It's an old, familiar story -- one that keeps repeating itself. Arundel and Northeast are headed back to the final four in high school baseball to defend their state championships. The Wildcats' Bernie Walter and the Eagles' Harry Lentz are 300-plus game winners and annual playoff contenders.
Arundel (17-5) copped the Class 4A Region IV title Saturday with a 9-1 win over Broadneck (13-8) behind overpowering Brian Rolocut, who fired a one-hitter with 12 strikeouts.
Northeast (16-6) swept two games Saturday to win the Class 2A Region III title.
Arundel won its region semifinal by 5-2 over Old Mill (13-7) on Friday, and Broadneck upset top-seeded Severna Park, 5-4, but Northeast was rained out. Lentz decided to schedule two the next day and get it over with.
Wayne Hudson went out and no-hit Chopticon of St. Mary's County, 7-0, in the first game of a matinee-night twin bill, then Chris Kelly one-hit Surrattsville of Prince George's County, 10-1, under the lights in Pasadena.
Tomorrow, Arundel and Northeast return to the state semis in their respective divisions. We know that Arundel will be playing at Joe Cannon Stadium in Harmans, but we won't know where Northeast is playing until later today.
The opponents for both perennial state title contenders will be determined today as well, because games in other regions remain to be played.
Arundel is seeking an unprecedented sixth state championship, while Northeast is going after its third. The Wildcats have won state championships under Walter in 1976, 1977, 1981, 1987 and 1991 and have a gaudy 301-87 (.776 percentage) in his 19-year tenure.
Northeast won a District V region title in 1973, before the state championship format was employed, then captured its first bona fide state championship in 1975 and won last season.
Last year the Eagles completed arguably the greatest season in state public school history, going 24-0 and taking the mythical national championship. In 25 years at the Pasadena school, Lentz has a career mark of 328-174 (.653).
When the season started, a lot of people liked Severna Park (17-3) to dethrone Arundel in Class 4A. And after the perfect season in 1991, people who know baseball would not have been shocked had Northeast taken a slide. After all, what do you do for an encore?
You go back to the playoffs and try to repeat with the current team establishing its own identity. And that's exactly what Northeast has done.
It won't come as any surprise if both Arundel and Northeast are playing Saturday at McCurdy Field in Frederick, site of the state championship games. Walter and Lentz again have proven they know how to bring a club to championship level.
The two crafty old skippers usually win the games needed to qualify for the regional playoffs and generally have their teams playing their best baseball by that time, the right time.
Arundel went from being, in the words of Walter, "the worst team we've ever had," to one of the best in school history.
After losing standout infielder-pitcher Shawn Crews to a family move to Indiana and starting sophomore shortstop Jeff Hedrick to a broken hip in the second game of the season, the Wildcat mentor warned, "They better get us early because they're going to have a tough time getting us late."
The Cats were gotten, but not enough to bury them, and they won an Easter holiday tournament in Salisbury. That came on the heels of a crushing, 3-2 loss to Old Mill, in which the Patriots rallied for all three runs in their final at-bat.
After that defeat, Arundel won the Easter tourney on the Eastern Shore and started a win streak of seven in a row. Northeast ended the streak with a 5-3 victory at Joe Cannon Stadium on May 4, but that is Arundel's only loss in the last 13 games.
The Region IV title victory over Broadneck was vintage Rolocut, the Cats' unquestioned MVP. Rolo punched out a dozen Bruins, walked just two and gave up only a lead-off second-inning home run to losing pitcher Matt Weimer.
Rolo stopped Broadneck twice in style last week, winning the county Bay Division title over the Bruins by 7-3 last Monday on a six-hitter with 14 strikeouts before the region championship victory.
The pair of victories ran the flame-throwing right-hander's record to 11-0 and his strikeout total to 131 in 73 innings. Rolo has an outside shot at the county and state record for strikeouts in a season of 161 set by Brooklyn Park's Dean Albany in 1981.
"He could pitch the last two games for us on Tuesday and Saturday," said Walter. "We will see how his arm feels on Monday and go from there."
Pitchers are allowed 14 innings within a seven-day period and 10 in three days under state rules.
In avenging the startling final-inning loss to Old Mill in the semifinal Friday, the Wildcats got a superb pitching effort from sophomore Brandon Agamennone (5-2). Agamennone spun a seven-hitter, with seven strikeouts and only one walk.
"Aggie has learned how important it is to pitch and work hard when you are out there and has really improved," said Walter. "He has been one of the main reasons for our turnaround. He has learned how to compete."
"Aggie" admitted to being a bit nervous in the early innings on Friday at Old Mill, but it really helped when his teammates exploded for four runs in the second inning and gave him a 5-0 lead.
"That gave me a lift, and I was able to throw strikes and use my third pitch," said Aggie, who, thanks to Walter, has added a slider to his repertoire of a fastball and curve.
Walter, who will welcome back 14 guys from this ballclub, also credited the play of freshman shortstop Russ Allen during the absence of Hedrick.
"Russ did the job for us while Jeff was out, and that was crucial in keeping this team together," said Walter. "He is only the second freshman to play for us. Shawn Crews was the other. His play was a key for us not going in the tank."
Walter also cited 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior first baseman Tim Giles as another factor in the team's return to normalcy in Gambrills.
"Tim may be the purest hitter, best swing, we've ever had here at Arundel," said Walter.
Giles had two hits and three RBI in the region final.
"We're looking forward to going to the state semifinals and representing Anne Arundel County, which is the best high school baseball league in the country," Walter said.
Lentz and his Eagles proved how good Anne Arundel baseball is last season by becoming the first Maryland team to go unbeaten in 24 games and winning the mythical national crown.
There won't be any national title for the Eagles this year, but another state 2A championship is a distinct possibility, especially if the team gets the kind of pitching in the final two as it did Saturday.
Two juniors in Hudson and Kelly pitched the Eagles into the final four.
In the Region III 7-0 semifinal win, Hudson fired the club's second no-hitter of the season. Hudson fanned eight and walked only one to match Kelly, who had turned the trick two weeks ago against Broadneck.
Not to be outdone, Kelly took the ball in the region final, with his sights set on duplicating what Hudson had done earlier in the day. He struck out the side in the first inning against Surrattsville to set the tone for a 10-1 romp.
Kelly, who struck out 10 and did not walk a batter, took a no-hitter into the fourth inning. Andrew Robinson's shot barely off the glove of Eagles third baseman Chad O'Brien was Surrattsville's only hit.
Northeast's Joe Hoyer had two RBI in each of the two games.
The Eagles have a legitimate shot at repeating because they possess the main ingredient for baseball success -- pitching.
It seems like pitching is always the star of the Bernie and Harry show. Is it the coaching that makes these reruns so frequent?