The final chapter of Arundel High School's record sixth state championship season Saturday night was a tribute to the Wildcats' system.
Top-ranked Arundel (21-1) scored seven runs in the first inning and went on to an easy 11-2 romp over the Washington area's top-ranked team, Gaithersburg (17-3) of Montgomery County, at McCurdy Field in Frederick.
The season didn't start as convincingly as the first inning of the state 4A championship game. In fact, it was chaotic for the fine-tuned Bernie Walter-led coaching staff because of something beyond their control, the weather.
Walter takes pride in his team's preparation, due in large part to his assistants whom he calls "excellent teachers of baseball."
The Wildcats' preseason training gives them an edge that has resulted in an overall record of 323-89 in 20 years under Walter, including state championships in 1976 (22-1), 1977 (20-3), 1981 (19-6), 1987 (21-3) and 1991 (20-4) and a state runner-up finish in 1979 (21-1).
Faced with deplorable field conditions at their home field in Gambrills, caused by a nasty spring, Walter's regimented program was tested. Walter and his assistants, third-base coach Nick Jauschnegg, junior-varsity coaches Tut O'Hara and Kevin Heiser were frustrated when it took practically three weeks into March before they could get onto their field.
"It turned out to be a lucky situation for us because we had a very experienced team, and the field conditions probably only hurt those battling for positions," Walter said.
The starting lineup in the state 4A championship game had been constant throughout the season, and everyone in it was a returnee from last year's team (17-6) that lost, 4-1, to Gaithersburg in the state semifinals.
Five experienced underclassmen started on what Walter says was "the best defensive team we have ever had." A team fielding percentage of .966 and 20 double plays support that claim.
The underclassmen included pitcher Brandon Agamennone (8-0 including final and four saves); designated hitter J. P. Noon, who batted for sophomore second baseman Russ Allen, shortstop Jeff Hedrick (.408); and left fielder Tony Costanzo. They're all juniors with the exception of Allen.
First baseman/pitcher Tim Giles (tied county record for average at .586 and was 9-1 pitching), catcher Mike Cozzone (.569), third baseman Brian Sands, center fielder Jimmy Taylor (.338) and right fielder Mike Fairbanks (homer, double, three RBI in finale) were the starting seniors.
"We teach the same things every year, and our kids know that from the time they are ninth-graders until they graduate what is expected," said Walter, who also coached the USA Junior National Team to a world title in Australia in 1988 and Mayo Post No. 226 to the national American Legion title in 1990, and won five national titles with Leone's-Johnny's 19-and-under team from "Our goal as coaches is to make ourselves obsolete, so that the kids just go out and play and don't even need us," he said.