In the first two seasons of the Carroll County Unlimited men's baseball league, it's been the Westminster Storm in front of the rest.
The Storm won the regular-season title in the league's first season in 1991. They repeated last year and also won the postseason tournament. This year, the Storm is finding that fending off the competition in the six-team, over-19 league is getting tougher by the minute.
Mount Airy has been the team closest to the Storm in the previous two seasons. A look at the standings show Mount Airy finally has caught up with its Westminster rival.
Mount Airy's 13-5 win Sunday over the Westminster Rockies -- combined with the Storm's doubleheader split with the Royal Raiders -- gave Mount Airy sole possession of first place.
With a half-dozen games remaining, the regular-season title could come down to a season-ending game between Mount Airy (11-2) and the Storm (11-3) on July 20.
"Mount Airy is giving us a good run," said Storm manager John Hutchins Jr.
"We're both good hitting ballclubs with good pitching. We just have to do what we can by winning our games and go from there. That last game could decide the whole thing -- that could be exciting," Hutchins said.
Mount Airy has had the better of things head-to-head with the Storm this season -- taking two of three games. The pitching -- led by Rob Strayton (4-0) and Mike Franklin (4-1) -- has been solid, and the offense has given it the needed support.
"Some of the guys who haven't hit in the past seasons are starting to hit and the ones who have been have continued," said Mount Airy manager Ken MacIvor.
"I really think we have the team this year to win it. We're hitting the ball up and down the lineup."
The Storm relies on right-handers Chris Glass and John Harrell to handle most of the pitching chores. Glass got the win in a 6-3 victory over the Raiders last weekend to salvage the second game of the doubleheader.
John Smith, who founded the league and is in his first year as commissioner after managing the Storm the first two seasons, is pleased with the progress of the league.
"It's growing," he said. "The caliber of ball has improved since we started. We thought there were enough ballplayers in Carroll to start a league and it's come along in the three years.
"When we first started, we had a lot of old-timers come out, but after not playing for five or six years most realized their arms and legs weren't what they used to be. Now, we have some younger guys coming out of college and high school ready to play ball. It's a very young league."
Despite only Mount Airy and the Storm having winning records this season, Smith said he continues to see an improvement in play and more balance in the league.
"We've had our ups and downs, but each year we're improving," he said.
"The Storm and Mount Airy have been strong from the start, but Carroll County Pools, A.G. Carry-out and the Raiders have all improved. The Rockies are the new team this year and they're RTC taking their lumps."
A.G. Carry-out is in third with a 6-7 record, followed by C.C. Pools at 5-6. The Raiders are 4-7 and the Rockies are last at 1-10.