In the past three years, Sean Ward has pitched three games of particular importance for Joppatowne High School's baseball team.
The latest was Tuesday when the senior right-hander helped the Mariners get by Edgewood, 5-3, in their first Harford County League game of the season. The four-hit, 10-strikeout performance started the team on a string of four successive league games away from home.
Tuesday, it had been expected the win would catapult the team to a succession of wins, but it did not work out that way.
The win over Edgewood was important, however, because losses to Havre de Grace and Fallston followed, before Ward came back to pitch a four-inning no-hitter and keep the Mariners in the Harford County race with a 12-0 win over Harford Tech Friday.
Ward's earlier milestone efforts were a 10-0 regional triumph over Rising Sun in his first start as a sophomore, and a one-hit victory over Edgewood last year that, in coach Al Zelinski's opinion, "vaulted us into contention," as the team went on to win county and regional titles before losing to Brunswick in the state Class 1A championship game.
Ward and Cable Miller, a junior third baseman, plus two part-time players, are the only holdovers from that team. The resulting youth movement, coupled with the miserable early-season weather, created problems that still are being corrected.
"We've only been on our own field four times, a situation that has slowed our development, especially with such a young team," Zelinski said. "We should be farther along, but some of the players just don't have a feel for it yet.
G; "The thing that has hindered us the most is our field's
poor drainage. We missed a lot of early practices, and you need them to see the players in something other than pressure [game] situations. I've been changing the lineup around, looking for the right chemistry.
"It's been a horrendous spring."
Or, as Miller said, "Our first three games were each a week apart, we weren't sure when we were playing, and it was just tough to get into the right groove."
C7 Ward (2-2) and Miller (the team's leading hitter at
better than .400) are co-captains. "They are our leaders. They signify what this program is all about," he said.
Both have been involved with baseball since they were old enough to get into recreation programs. Ward, 6 feet 3 and 220 pounds, always has been a pitcher. He plays first base when not pitching.
Miller (5-11, 218) started out catching but, as a high school freshman, went to a starting role at third base when help was needed there. More recently he has
helped with the pitching.
Ward, second in the county in strikeouts last year and challenging the three-year reign of Edgewood's Wade Greason, averages slightly more than one an inning, and has a season high of 14.
"I used to rely on junk to get batters out, because I couldn't throw the ball past anybody," Ward said. "Now, I've got a fastball, curve, slider."
To which Zelinski added: "He has improved his mechanics, too. He uses his feet to push off, and thinks a lot more. He's a smarter pitcher than in the past."
Against Edgewood last week, the Rams roughed up Ward for three runs in the sixth inning and had the tying runs on base in the seventh when the pitcher got out of the jam with a game-ending strikeout.
"I lost my rhythm. When I focused, I realized I was getting behind [on the count], and was able to settle down," he said.
For his part, Miller said, "Last year, I did some pitching, but almost all of it was in relief. This season, I've started three times already. I think my catching experience helps my pitching, but there is a mental difference. When I'm pitching, I'm concentrating on that, and my hitting suffers. I'm my own worst enemy."
Miller, who hit .437 and led the county in RBI a year ago, is hitting HTC well, although his numbers are not as solid.
The team roster includes two freshmen, promoted from the JV. "We bring them up to play, not to sit," Zelinski said. One is Bill Callahan, who plays third when Miller pitches, and will do some pitching. The other is Justin Hunter, who has started several games.
Among others, sophomore Mike Durdock has taken charge at shortstop; junior outfielder Chris Shape has been hitting well and junior catcher Mark Heath has been a pleasant surprise, hitting with power.
"Last year, we were 18-4, and the players were used to winning. Then this young team gets blown away by errors in its second game and right away there are self-doubts," Zelinski said. "There's a lot of talent here, but it is young talent. We'll have to bear with it until the right lineup comes together."