N. Carroll baseball stuns fans, foes with victories


How sweet it is.

That is the rallying cry around North Carroll these days, as the Panthers' baseball team is taking it to Central Maryland Conference foes Frederick and Thomas Johnson.

North Carroll is 3-0 against the Cadets and Patriots and was alone in first place in the CMC before two one-run losses to Linganore on Monday.

No, this is not a misprint.

The same 2A North Carroll school that was outclassed on the football field last fall by 3A Thomas Johnson and 4A Frederick is having a ball against those same two schools this spring.

The Panthers are 6-2 in the CMC.

And it couldn't have happened to a nicer man than Randy Clark, who is in his first season as North Carroll's varsity baseball coach.

Clark is one of the true gentlemen in coaching in this state, and he took more than his share of the blame for North Carroll's winless football season last fall before resigning in late November.

It would be easy for Clark to boast about the surprising performance by the Panthers, who were 5-13 last season but were 8-1 this season before the two tough losses to the Lancers on Monday.

However, the strongest statement Clark will make about the 3-0 mark against Frederick and Thomas Johnson is: "It's a little bit of therapy."

That is class.

How has Clark turned around a team that he had said would be lucky to get close to .500 this season?

Has he done it with mirrors? Has he sneaked some new bodies into those North Carroll uniforms?

What Clark has done is put together a fundamentally sound baseball team in a season when outdoor practices are a rarity. Most practices were rained out, forcing players to get on-the-job training during the games.

"My high school baseball coach in West Virginia used to say you only got better by playing games," Clark said. "We played 51 games one season, and the next year they made a rule in the state that limited the number of games you could play to 30."

Clark's players will get a chance to improve this week. They are playing four complete games and the remainder of two suspended games.

The highlight is today's confrontation at Westminster, where the Carroll County baseball championship will be on the line.

The Panthers and Owls (both 3-0 in the county) will complete a 4-4 game called because of rain and then play a complete game, too.

When asked what he was going to do about pitching against Westminster, Clark responded, "I guess I'll have to pull somebody out of the stands."

Not quite.

Clark will send ace right-hander Kevin Dull to the mound in the full game today. Dull is 5-0 with a 2.16 ERA, and he has struck out 43 in 38 innings.

Dull also is one of the leading hitters on the team, with a .385 average.

"Kevin has been, without a doubt, a major reason for our success," Clark said. "He doesn't walk many hitters and is consistently strong game after game."

Donnie Hudgins (0-2, with two one-run losses) is the team's No. 2 pitcher and power hitter. Hudgins has two home runs and three triples while batting third and fourth.

Behind Hudgins is sophomore left-hander Mike Huller, who has been a major surprise with a 3-1 record.

Huller could have been 4-0 if it had not been for terrible conditions in an early-season game against Linganore.

Huller was leading 3-0 going into the seventh inning when the rains came; he pitched that inning in the rain and gave up three runs.

That game eventually was suspended with Linganore ahead 4-3, and the Lancers held on for the win Monday when the game was completed.

"You could hardly stand up on the mound it was raining so hard that day," Clark said.

Other big contributors to North Carroll's success have been second baseman Geoff Little (team-leading .423 average), designated hitter James Ballard (.409), third baseman Steve Hansen (.350), catcher John Swam (.320), center fielder Art Crouse (sparkling defense) and shortstop Eric Wright.

"This team has nice focus, the kids show some spirit, they run the bases well and play decent defense," Clark said.

"The kids are all good players, but we have no one really outstanding player."

The result is an 8-3 start and first place in the state Class 2A, Region I points standings.

Asked whether he might have played down his team too much in the preseason analysis, Clark said:

"What else could I say? We lost a lot of players from a 5-13 team. I knew a lot of these kids showed they could win on the junior varsity last year [9-3 record]. But that doesn't mean they would win on the varsity."

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