Pitching and catching will be Atholton's strengths as it attempts to repeat as county champion. The Raiders posted a 14-7 overall record and 11-3 league mark and shared the county title with Glenelg last season.
Coach Kevin Kelly returns six players but only one starter.
Pitcher Richard Blankenship didn't throw a lot of innings, but the side-arming right-hander was effective in relief and is expected to do well as a starter. Blankenship also plays the outfield.
Joining Blankenship as one of Atholton's top two pitchers is junior right-hander Shane Beaver, a hard-thrower who started and won one varsity game but spent most of his time pitching for the junior varsity where he won six games. Beaver also plays third base. He was 7-4 with a 2.45 ERA for the 15-16 Columbia Reds last summer, striking out 71 batters in 56 1/3 innings.
Catching is in the capable hands of Kevin Nickey, a returning senior. But Nickey batted only .214 for the varsity last season and must show more punch or risk losing his starting job to junior Ryan Schneider, who is up from junior varsity.
Nickey batted .360 last summer for the 17-18 Columbia Reds, but missed half the season after cutting his hand.
Schneider batted .319 for the 15-16 Columbia Reds last summer with 11 doubles, one triple and two home runs. He threw out 86 percent of would-be stealers. He also can play center field.
"Catching is our strongest position," Kelly said.
Senior Ryan McQueeny, the backup shortstop last season, takes over that position full time.
Junior Derek Schneider is a talented center fielder who can run and hit and has a good arm. He batted .348 for the 15-16 Columbia Reds last summer, including 14 doubles, four triples and three home runs. He also stole 38 bases.
Sophomore Peter Yoder, a left-handed hitter, is a good defensive player at first base.
Second base should be split between junior Mark Lowenthal and junior Spike Altman. Altman also pitches and Lowenthal can play shortstop.
Sophomore D. J. Chiles looks like he'll start in left field.
"We'll be young this year, but should be a contender by next year," Kelly said.
A lot of coaches would like to have Centennial's pitching staff.
Senior Brent Mertes and juniors Kurt Weitzel and David Hudson form a formidable mound trio that may keep the Eagles in title contention. They finished 8-6 and fourth in the league last season.
Mertes is a control pitcher who played for the 17-18 Columbia Reds last summer and impressed its coach, Tom Showe.
Hudson played for the 15-16 Dayton Raiders where he struck out 53 in 61 innings and compiled a 4-5 record and 4.10 ERA. He also batted .315 with seven extra-base hits.
Weitzel, Centennial's hardest thrower, also played for the 15-16 Dayton team, but missed most of the season with a broken wrist. He was 2-0 with an 0.73 ERA before the injury.
The team behind those pitchers will be extremely young and small in numbers, however. Several seniors quit because they disagreed with some of third-year coach Ron Martin's methods, leaving him with just 11 players.
Martin makes everyone on the team meet a qualifying time for a 5-mile run.
"A bunch quit on me because they didn't like some of my decisions," Martin said. "But as long as the flu bug doesn't hit and we keep injuries to a minimum we'll be all right."
One plus is that several players on the team can play multiple positions.
Sophomore Jason Babcock can catch or play the outfield. He batted .336 for the 15-16 Dayton Raiders, who finished second in the Baltimore Metro League last summer with a 23-12 record.
Junior Joe Mellendick can play second base or shortstop, and he batted .359 with 13 extra-base hits for the 15-16 Dayton team.
Senior catcher Chris Forstner is one of only six returnees.
Martin is looking to three sophomore newcomers for offensive help, including center fielder Curtis Mitchell, outfielder Brian Dowell and first baseman Kevin O'Connor.
"Defensively we won't be the best in the county but we won't hurt ourselves," Martin said. "I think almost every game in the county should be close this season. I'd be surprised to see any one team run away with it."
Last season when Glenelg tied Atholton for the county championship it was the Gladiators' fifth title in 10 years under coach Terry Coleman.
They did it with the worst offensive team in Coleman's 13-year coaching tenure. The Gladiators set school records by scoring only 83 runs and stealing only 28 bases. And they batted only .255 as a team. They were 12-6 overall and 11-3 in the league.
This year's squad shows enough promise to win another title and almost certainly will produce a lot more runs, although its pitching might not equal last year's 1.73 team earned run average.
Senior right-hander Jeff Lewis returns from a 7-1 season in which he had a 1.73 ERA and won four 2-1 games.
"He's a real pitcher," Coleman said. "He changes speeds and knows how to pitch in and out."
Another pitcher is senior David Gunter, who will bat cleanup and also play the outfield. Sophomore left-hander Sean Lookingbill, last fall's quarterback, will pitch. And sophomore Mike Goldberg also will help on the mound.
Brian Boteler, a first-team All-County third baseman as a sophomore, batted .388 with 19 RBI, two homers and a .515 on-base percentage. Some teams chose to walk Boteler intentionally last year. He walked 15 times. Coleman has switched him to shortstop.
Another good offensive player returns in senior Jamie Brinker who will switch from outfield to second base.
Senior Dave Buckholz started at first base and is one of six returnees. He has a good glove and batted .290 for the 17-18 Columbia Reds last summer. Senior Jason Beall returns in the outfield.
Newcomer Matt Morraye hopes to add to Glenelg's offensive punch. The junior is a good contact hitter who will lead off.
The catching position is highly competitive with junior Kevin Curtin, sophomore Mike Deming and senior Steve Shulski. Curtin played for the 15-16 Dayton Raiders and batted .375 last summer.
Coleman is concerned about making the playoffs because of the baseball schedule the county instituted this season in which county teams are locked into schedules with Frederick and Carroll county teams.
"We've got defending state champion Thomas Johnson which is 3A, Frederick which is 4A and South Carroll which is 3A," Coleman said. "I thought one of the purposes of this schedule was to play against teams in our classification, but we have no game against Class 2A Liberty, which is right up the road from us."
Glenelg, a Class 2A school, is the only county school to ever win a state title (1983). It also won regional titles in 1983 and 1989 and has a 163-100 record under Coleman.
Speed, hitting and defense will be the cornerstones of Hammond's veteran club. The Golden Bears return seven starters.
"We'll be successful if our pitchers can hold opposing teams to three or four runs, because we are capable of scoring five or six runs per game," Bears coach Bob Maxey said.
Last season the Bears were 7-12 overall and 5-9 in the league. It was considered a rebuilding year after they won the county championship two seasons ago with a 19-5 record.
"We could win 12 or maybe 15 games this season," Maxey said.
Leading the offense is senior outfielder Joe Brewer, a first-team All-County selection who batted .411 (23-for-56) with seven doubles, 10 RBI and 20 runs scored. He stole 10 bases and made 31 putouts without an error.
Shortstop Matt Cyran, a second-team All-County pick, also batted .411 and hit five home runs. He has speed and might bat leadoff. He'll be the Bears' No. 2 pitcher.
Hammond's No. 1 pitcher, Jeff Price, is a junior who plays well under pressure. When he doesn't pitch he'll be the designated hitter. With the Columbia Reds 15-16 team last summer he was 5-4 with 38 strikeouts in 48 innings.
Hammond's No. 3 pitcher will be senior Mike Kaplan. He's also a quality third baseman who hit .280 last season. He batted .288 with 22 RBI for the Columbia Reds 15-16 team last summer.
Senior Jeff Busick played second base last season and moves to left field this year.
The Bears have an outstanding junior taking over at second base, David Brewer (no relation to Joe).
"He's the best I've ever had at that position," Maxey said. "He hits, fields and throws well.
"We're going to start four or five seniors and they all need to hit .350 if we're going to succeed. The big question is whether our pitching will hold up and throw strikes."
First-year Howard coach Matt Forsyth has his work cut out trying to turn around a team that was 2-17 overall and 1-13 in the league.
But senior transfer Tito Santos will help make Forsyth's job a lot easier. Santos, from Springbrook High in Montgomery County, may be Howard's No. 1 pitcher and he'll play shortstop when not on the mound.
"He looks like our best defensive player and should produce a lot of offense for us," Forsyth said. "He's fundamentally sound and just looks like a ballplayer."
Jamie Kendrick, a senior returnee, will catch and hopefully produce the same kind of season that had him hit .400 last year. He also can steal a base.
Howard has only five returning players, including third baseman Brad Mountcastle, who also can pitch. Mountcastle was 2-2 with a 2.97 ERA and five saves for the 15-16 Columbia Reds last summer.
Infielder Jason Shefrin and outfielder Josh Tzucker are the other two returnees.
A newcomer Forsyth thinks can step right into a prime pitching role is freshman Larry Long. "He'll be our No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher. He has great mechanics, throws hard and has good location," Forsyth said.
Another pitcher who throws hard and has good mechanics is senior newcomer Edgar Dameron.
Sophomore second baseman Brian Glover has been hitting the ball better than anyone else in practice, but junior Mark Godfrey probably will start at second base.
"We're trying to instill a winning attitude," Forsyth said. "We're young, with five sophomores and a freshman, and we're optimistic. A .500 season would be a nice goal."
Forsyth, 24, teaches at Dunloggin Middle School and was the junior varsity coach at Wilde Lake last season. He graduated from Towson State University.