Charlie Becker and Jim McCandless knew what everyone else knew. They just decided to let the others do all the talking.
While coaches from rival American Legion baseball teams sang the praises of Severna Park Post 175 earlier this spring, tabbing them as the favorites to win the league championship, Becker and McCandless remained silent.
"We knew we had a good shot and everybody was talking about us," Becker said. "We just played the game between the lines."
And they played it well, finishing first in the league with a 20-4 record and qualifying for the double-elimination state tournament, which begins with a 1 p.m. game Saturday against Dundalk in Hagerstown. Dundalk, behind the pitching of left-hander Gary Burroughs, defeated Ravio, 2-1, Tuesday night in the Northern Central District final to make the eight-team field.
Severna Park's Legion schedule ended July 18 with a 13-10 victory over Mayo Post 226, the winners of three straight state championships and the national title in 1990. The win enabled Post 175 to claim every season series against its league opponents.
"Annapolis finished one game out [behind Mayo] last year, and we beat them three straight times at the end of the year, so we had a lot to say about where Mayo went," Becker said. "This year, we really earned our spot ourselves. We beat everyone."
A fast finish is nothing new to Severna Park, which closed the 1991 regular season as the hottest team in the league, but still could do no better than third place, two games behind Mayo.
"We felt we really had the best team [last year]," Becker said, "so we knew we'd had a good nucleus this year. Plus, we picked up a couple ballplayers."
The additions included heralded Broadneck High School imports Jeff Vincent and Matt Weimer, who have solidified an eight-man pitching staff that could be the most formidable -- and certainly the deepest -- in the tournament. The club even could afford to hold Archbishop Spalding High's Jeff Paxson, who is recovering from shoulder injury, from the rotation and use him as the designated hitter.
"[Pitching] separated us from the rest of the league," Becker said. A look at the numbers tells why.
The team's earned-run average is 2.90. Weimer (1.80) and Vincent (2.02) are a combined 8-1, and Glenn Shiring (2.34) is 5-2. Saturday's starter, right-hander Rob McCandless of Severna Park High is 5-1 with four saves and a 2.70 ERA.
But perhaps the most valuable member of the staff is Chris Sutch, who mostly played the outfield at Broadneck while waiting his turn behind Vincent and Weimer. He leads Severna Park with six saves, has won two games and sports a 1.89 ERA.
Pitching this summer "is definitely something I was anxious for," he said. "I'm used mainly in middle relief and as a closer, so I know I can throw every day, or every other day, and not take a toll on my arm. I can be at my best."
Rob McCandless believes versatility and improved pitching and defense are the greatest differences between the last two Severna Park teams.
"We have the ability to move a lot more people around," said McCandless, who has appeared at third base -- a position he never had played before this summer -- in about 30 games. "We don't seem to come up short anymore. We always have an extra player."
What the team doesn't have, McCandless insisted, is the added incentive of trying to atone for a poor finish during the high school season. The vast majority of its players come from Severna Park High, which entered the Class 4A Region IV playoffs this spring as the top seed, only to lose to Broadneck in the semifinals.
"We have nothing to prove," said McCandless, who is batting .308 with 34 RBI. "If we play well, we'll win. If we play bad, we'll lose. We don't have any regrets about the high school year. We just didn't do it at the end."
"These boys are not losers, they're winners," Becker said.
Dundalk (18-6 in Legion league play) hopes to turn them into losers Saturday.
To do so, Dundalk will have to contend with more than just Severna Park's stellar pitching. The offense, sluggish at times, is beginning to come around, and the team batting average is up to .288.
"We had gone into a lull, but we're coming out of it," Becker said. "The last few games, we've hit the ball hard."
Scott Neuberger, a Severna Park High graduate heading to the University of Maryland, has six home runs, 34 RBI and a team-leading .402 average. Weimer is batting .370 with nine home runs and 41 RBI, and catcher John Milisitz has a .326 average, eight homers and 42 RBI. Infielder/pitcher Byron Druzgal is batting .364.
"We're trying to peak at the right time," Becker said. "Plus, when we get into the tournament, that will be an emotional lift. I think it's going to put us over the top.
"The potential is there for this team to win the states. We have as good a shot as anyone."
If Severna Park (38-15 overall) wins its first game, it will play again at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. A loss would mean a 1 p.m. game Sunday. The finals are slated for Wednesday morning.
Weimer will start Sunday's game against either Funkstown or Cambridge.