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Solid Key squad can't test itself against county Francis Scott Key


Francis Scott Key baseball coach Bob Caples has a problem.

He has his best team in five years at the school and he can't even challenge any of the other Carroll County schools.

"The state doesn't want us playing any more than 18 regular-season games," said Caples. "We play nine Monocacy Valley League teams twice and that's our 18 games. I would love to play at least two games against Carroll County teams."

Especially this season.

"I've never had the depth all the way around the team that I have this season," said Caples. "On paper, we look real good. We have five pitchers and they always say that pitching is the key to being successful at the high school level."

Senior right-handers John Engel and Jason Smith had outstanding seasons for the 9-11 Eagles last year and are proven performers.

But the top pitcher on the team this season just might be strongly built senior right-hander Dave Ruskey, who was injured most of last season.

Ruskey (6 feet 2, 185 pounds) is a hard thrower who can intimidate high school hitters.

"He has a cannon for an arm," said Ruskey. "He's the hardest thrower we have. But he had a couple of

injuries last season and only pitched out of the bullpen a couple of times."

And there are two more talented arms for opponents to worry about.

Caples got lucky when junior right-hander Kyle Stephenson transferred to Key from Boonsboro where he had a good year on the junior varsity as a pitcher and shortstop.

The fifth Eagles pitcher is sophomore left-hander Joey Brooks, who dominated the hitters at the junior varsity level last season. The Key JV team was 8-4.

All five pitchers will play other positions when not on the mound, giving Caples a lot of maneuverability.

Engel can play shortstop and left field, Jason Smith is a left fielder, Ruskey plays center field, Stephenson can play shortstop and Brooks is a lefty-hitting first baseman.

Dueling for the right to catch these five pitchers are senior football and wrestling star Dale Bloom and junior Erin Brilhart.

Bloom and Brilhart are both excellent defensive catchers.

"Whoever hits the most will get the job," said Caples. "Bloom does have the advantage of leadership because of all his experience in three sports."

At first base, senior Mike Johnson will battle Brooks for playing time, and sophomore Dave Johnson has second base wrapped up because of his all-out hustle.

"Dave Johnson is a scrapper," said Caples. "He will run through a wall."

Stephenson and Engel are set at shortstop, and third base is up for grabs between senior Dan Weinholt and junior Matt Haines.

The outfield will consist of senior Rich Hooper on a full-time basis in center or right along with Ruskey, Jason Smith and the versatile Engel when he isn't pitching or playing short.

Senior Mark Smith will be the designated hitter.

With no chance to win a county championship, the Eagles will concentrate on dueling usual Monocacy Valley League powers Brunswick, Walkersville and Middletown for the league title and a berth in the Class 1A, Region I playoffs.

"Brunswick has finally lost all those players from the Little League World Series team," said Caples. "So now we might have a better chance. They have won three straight state 1A titles and beat us last year in the Region I final."

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