They say pitching is the name of the game, but in the Class 4A East Region, where county teams will be vying for playoff berths, that's an understatement.
There is no other region in the state with as much quality pitching as the East, and only four teams will qualify for postseason play. A couple of pretty good Anne Arundel teams stand to be left out, but it's hard to say which ones.
With the state playoffs to be held at Joe Cannon Stadium in Harmans for the first time (May 27-28, state finals), Anne Arundel County hopes to have a team there to play host to the event. The possibility is good but not guaranteed.
CLASS 4A LEAGUE
It has been awhile since the Panthers basked in the glow of a winning club, but veteran coach Larry Brogden sees a light at the end of the tunnel.
Brogden, who begins his 20th season at the helm of the Panthers, last had a winning season in 1988 (17-6), when they won the school's only state title in baseball.
A new stadium is on the way at Annapolis thanks to the efforts of the boosters club, and with it Brogden hopes for a new era. A crop of outstanding young players who are products of the Annapolis legion and Annapolis city programs that have blossomed in recent years has Brogden's hopes high.
"I don't want to say we are rebuilding for the future, because I'm very high on this group for right now even though they are young," says Brogden, whose Panthers were 3-15 last spring. "They've played a lot of summer baseball and we are just as deep with this young group as we were with older kids the last couple years."
Brogden is counting on his four seniors, and primarily catcher Chris Johnson, to lead the youthful club. Johnson was injured most of last season after starting as a sophomore and has a lot of athletic ability (All-County defensive back in football) and a strong arm.
Other 12th-graders Brogden will be leaning on are second baseman/pitcher Jeff Kapusta, outfielder Darnell Ravenell and utility man Chris Barrett.
While the school's new baseball stadium is being built (on the old site) and is expected to be ready by 1995, the Panthers will play their home games at a new Crownsville Athletic Association facility.
Winning and earning state titles have become a habit in Gambrills, although one that coach Bernie Walter doesn't take for granted.
"It's not easy to repeat," says Walter, The Baltimore Sun's County and Metro Coach of the Year last spring after leading his Wildcats to an unprecedented sixth state championship and Collegiate Baseball's mythical national title.
Only once in his 21 years at Arundel has Walter (323-89) led his team to back-to-back state titles, the first two in 1976 and 1977. The other Arundel state championships came in 1981, '87, '91 and '93.
Walter returns several key players, including All-Metro pitcher Brandon Agamennone and All-County shortstop Jeff Hedrick, from last year's 21-1 state 4A champion, but is guardedly optimistic. The team is reloading, and the coach expects another great season, but one that might take a little patience because of inexperience in a couple places.
Arundel is counting on even bigger things from two players who had great junior seasons in Agamennone and Hedrick.
Agamennone and Hedrick also led the Mayo Legion team (made up of Arundel and Old Mill players) to a state title last summer and again will be two main cogs in any success the Wildcats have in '94.
As the ace of the pitching staff, Agamennone was 8-0 with four saves and a county-leading 0.71 ERA. He also played some first base when Giles pitched, but may move over to the other corner at third this year when not on the mound.
Agamennone pitched for the Oriolelanders in the fall and is being recruited by Maryland, Clemson, N.C. State and Minnesota.
Hedrick, The Baltimore Sun's Athlete of the Year for Anne Arundel County last year, anchors the Wildcats' infield. He batted a solid .421 with 26 runs scored last year and is considered to be one of the top three hitters in the county.
Hedrick guided what was Walter's best defensive team (.966 fielding percentage, 20 double plays) last season and is expected to solidify a rebuilt infield.
Junior Casey Trout and senior Jamie Stoddard, used primarily as reserves and courtesy runners last spring, will see action at second and third, respectively. Junior Brandon Sands also plays third.
Stoddard is currently battling sophomore left-hander Andy Vermillion (who also plays first base) for the important No. 2 pitching slot behind Agamennone.
Junior Sean Fairbanks is expected to be the catcher who would free up slugger J. P. Noon to play first base. Noon was the team's DH last year.
The outfield is where the Wildcats have a wealth of experience with seniors Wade Rolocut, Tony Costanza and Kevyn Dodson.
Scoring runs, especially when ace and All-County left-hander Jason White was on the hill, was the 13-7 Cougars' Achilles' heel in 1993, but second-year coach Jim Simms says opposing pitchers won't have it so easy this spring.
"I'm real optimistic because we have our pitching back and I'm convinced we will hit a lot better than last year," said Simms (22-20).
White, a Division I prospect, and lanky senior right-hander Jeremy Pellegrini (6-1 last year) give the Cougars a solid 1-2 punch hoping for offensive help. Junior JV grads Derek Blood (LHP) and Randy Clifford (RHP) add pitching depth.
Going 5-4 with an ERA of 1.40, White lost three games in extra innings, two of them to Arundel. The stylish left-hander lost to the Wildcats, 3-2, in eight innings, then 1-0 on Tim Giles' homer in the bottom of the ninth in the region semifinals.
The Cougars scored only 22 runs in the nine games White started, but Simms expects a dramatic change this spring.
White, who batted .313 as a junior, again will be one of the top hitters, along with Pellegrini and speedy center fielder Brian Doyle (second-team All-County) and Justin Wilde, an outfielder who played part-time a year ago.
"We've only got a couple big names, but this is a great bunch of kids who should keep us in the race," said Simms.
Glen Burnie Gophers
Bruce Sider doesn't remember much about last season, and what he does, he would rather forget.
"I don't even remember what our record was," says the 15th-year coach.
The Gophers' 7-10 record pales in importance to what happened to the coach in early April. Sider was struck in the head by a line drive while throwing batting practice without a protective screen at Southern of Harwood and was rushed to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
Sider suffered a permanent hearing loss, but after extensive therapy is in good shape for this season.
"I have a constant ringing in my ear, I still intend to pitch BP, but never without a screen again," said Sider.
Junior Brad Emge is back at shortstop and senior Brad Brady returns at second after playing together in school ball and with the Severn Legion the past couple years.
"Emge and Brady are the key and give us a strong defensive infield, and our pitching is a question mark, but I suspect it will be pretty good," said Sider.
Seniors Keith Volkman, a left-hander who also plays first base, third baseman Mike Bronakoski and Ken Baker are on the staff with impressive juniors Chuck Harris and Jay Sponaugle.
"We've competed [seven consecutive winning or .500 seasons until last year] in the region, but never have been able to get over the hump," said Sider. "But if we hit with authority, maybe we will this year."
Don't mind Rick Terry for being excited about the '94 season. After several seasons as a JV coach, and a season last year as a varsity co-coach, he's a varsity coach for the first time.
Last season Terry shared the coaching duties with athletic director Ralph Beachley.
"I kid Ralph that he was responsible for the 12 and I had the six," laughed Terry referring to the Mustangs' 6-12 record last year.
The important thing is that the team was competitive, and Terry hopes to make some strides with seven returning players and some bright new talent.
"It depends on their attitude, which appears to be very good, and we are deeper in pitching than ever before and hope to show a lot of improvement," said the coach.
Terry said he has "four guys who can bring it," in returning seniors George Cruz and Mark Cruz (no relation), 6-foot-4 freshman Danny Todd and sophomore Alaskan transfer Nathan Griffis. They're all right-handers.
Terry hopes to blend the youth with other returning seniors such as center fielder Dennis Jenks (.422, five triples, one error), catcher David Myer (.375 before breaking ankle at mid-season), Mike Bell (2B), Ken Harriford (OF) and James Heuck (1B).
Old Mill Patriots
When it comes to pitching depth and tradition, Old Mill is the closest team to Arundel in Class 4A.
Coach Mel Montgomery (224-83) begins his 16th season as Patriots coach with a pair of state championships under his belt, the last in 1989. His 1994 pitching makes his club a serious threat to dethrone Arundel.
Old Mill was 14-6 last year as the 4A Region IV runner-up to the Wildcats, but returns three outstanding pitchers, good overall team speed and a few players who can swing the bat.
Senior right-handers Ken Pumphrey, Mike Bussey and Jeff Haynie give Montgomery as a good a starting trio as any school in the metro area.
Pumphrey was 5-1 as a junior. The 6-5 right-hander is considered a pro and Division I prospect along with Bussey.
Bussey, who is 6-4, has had two great summers (10 wins or more) with Mayo Legion and pitched for the Oriolelanders in the fall, but never has put it together in the spring. This could be his year.
Haynie, another 6-4 Mayo Legion pitcher, won a couple big games for the Patriots last spring and has an excellent slider second only to Arundel's Agamennone.
Juniors Tim McGuirk and Tim Kisling who sparkled for the once-beaten Joe E. Brown League Champion Severna Park team, and sophomore Craig Haney, who was 6-0 for the Little Orioles' 14-and-under team that was 55-2 locally, are battling for the fourth pitching spot.
"You need four pitchers when we play three games in a week, and I'm confident we're going to be fine there," said Montgomery.
Old Mill's outfield also has Montgomery excited with hard-hitting seniors Jimmy Greer and Andrew Lewis and speedy sophomores Chuck Manns and Joe Barnes.
The infield is a bit unsettled with last year's third baseman Ryan Wood (.306 as junior) moving over to shortstop and sophomore Brian Bogle taking over third base.
"Ryan is a winner and plays well in the big games," says Montgomery. "So far he has made a smooth transition to short, and we've been able to do it because Bogle has really impressed with the bat and defensively at third."
North County Knights
After chalking up its first winning baseball season (11-7) in the school's four-year history and returning perhaps the top junior pitcher in the state in Mike Wooden, the Knights are ready to step up.
Wooden, a starter since his freshman year, was the All-County third baseman last spring and won four games (4-3, 1.77 ERA, county regular season-leading 84 strikeouts) pitching for the Knights. He led the Knights in hitting with a .347 clip and went on to have a great summer for the Little Orioles and fall with the Oriolelanders.
Coach Don Usewick (39-70, six seasons, three at North County) also will call on senior left-hander Bob Christopher and junior right-hander Tweety Barton behind Wooden. Christopher, who should be one of the top pure hitters in the county, also will play outfield, Barton will be on first, Wooden on third.
Senior Mike Saffield will be the catcher and his twin brother Dave, who swings with authority, will play in the infield or outfield. The Saffields played for the Linthicum-Ferndale Connie Mack team.
Junior Scott Shamleffer is pushing senior Justin Rice for the starting shortstop position and the team's only sophomore, Chris Rice, may be the second baseman.
Second team All-County senior John Bermudez (.333 last spring) will be in center field and fellow 12th-grader Doug Slusher will be in left or right.
"I thought we were strong last year, but are solid everywhere this year and I expect us to be right there," said Usewick. "I don't see why not."
Severna Park Falcons
When Falcons coach Jim Pitt was setting records at the University of Maryland and later in the Minnesota Twins' farm system, he did it with his bat.
Now in his 25th season (21st at Park) as a head coach, Pitt is considering taking up pitching.
"We're going to pitch by committee this year and I might even pitch," Pitt (309-182) said jokingly, referring to his team's lack of experienced pitchers. "We can put eight good ones [position players] out there, but I don't know if we can get anybody out."
The lack of experienced pitching could be a nightmare for Pitt and the Falcons, who play in the county's smallest park.
Seniors Brad Tippin and Brad Ruffell, who spent their summer with Severna Park Legion, are the only returning varsity pitchers, but their school time on the mound has been limited. Tippin also will play first and is considered another of the county's top hitters.
Sean Miller, who made the varsity as a freshman catcher, has played the outfield the past couple years and will be tried on the mound this year along with junior Bill Erskine.
The all-senior infield and the outfield are pretty solid defensively and offensively. Around the horn, it will be Tippin at first base, Jason Keefer at second base, Shane Norgard at third base and Eric Kunkel or Scott Vane at shortstop.
Speedy senior Mike Fleming will be in center and flanked by juniors Matt Griswold and Scott Neuberger. Griswold, who set a Severna Park legion record for hits in a season, should be one of the county's top hitters.
CLASS 3A-2A LEAGUE
Statistics don't always reveal the true story of a team, but there is no denying they aren't lying when it comes to the 1993 season for the Bruins.
Broadneck hit only .215 as a team and lost three games in extra innings, thus the 8-10 record for only the second losing season in coach Mark Stover's 10 years at the Cape St. Claire school.
Had it not been for the power pitching of junior Sean Ryan (6-1, school-record 76 strikeouts) and the staff's school record-low ERA of 2.30, and returning senior outfielder Brian Zimmerman's .320 average with three homers and 15 RBIs, the Bruins could have done worse.
"We had a tough year, but I really expect us to hit much better this season," said Stover (99-85), whose Bruins are now in the Class 3A East Region. "Still, we will be playing the county 4A schools and the tough schedule should give us a shot in our region."
Ryan, a pro and Division I prospect, is a 6-7 right-hander with a lot of savvy, the result of his three-sport prowess. A second-team All-County quarterback and third-team All-County basketball player, he is one of the metro area's top athletes and a bona fide leaders.
Pitching again will be the Bruins' strength and other staffers include seniors Matt Slater, Ryan Darr and Dan Lynch, and junior Robert Wakefield.
After an 11-11 campaign (region runner-up) that came on the heels of two straight Class 2A state championships, Eagles coach Harry Lentz is not starting his 27th season in ideal fashion.
"It's not the way to start a season, with only three seniors from a .500 team," said Lentz (341-184, three state titles), referring to his frustrating practice conditions.
Two years ago, the county put in a new field for the Eagles in Pasadena, and there have been serious drainage problems since.
"It wasn't done right the first time, and they're tearing it [field] up again to re-do it," said Lentz. "We practice wherever we can find a dry area and will play our home games at Joe Cannon Stadium."
Despite the obvious disadvantages, the Eagles should have enough with power hitter Jason Hohman and two new pitchers in left-hander Norm Stephenson and right-hander Larry Burkindine to make a run for the 2A East Region title.
Hohman, a three-year starter, will pitch and play third base or the outfield. He hit .323 with five homers and 18 RBIs last year.
Stephenson and Burkindine are seniors from Severn Legion. Stephenson, who transferred from Chesapeake, also will play first base, and Burkindine, from Glen Burnie, will play some third base.
Catcher Larry Barath and outfielder Todd O'Brien, each of whom saw limited action in '93, are the only two other returning seniors.
Lentz is excited about a crop of junior JV graduates led by shortstop Jeff Dolch, another in the long line from the Dolch family to play for the coach.
"We're building with an all-junior infield, but our pitching should be pretty good," said Lentz.
Pitching is what Southern's fourth-year coach Chuck Crandell (19-35) knows best, and he's going to get plenty of opportunity to teach it this year.
After missing what would have been the Bulldogs' first playoff appearance since 1977 by a game in last year's 10-8 season, Southern has lost its top two pitchers. Left-hander Chris Bush (5-2) graduated and All-County second team pitcher/first baseman Kirk Rogers transferred.
Rogers transferred back to Riverdale Baptist, dropped out of the Prince George's County private school and, according to Crandell, is at Annapolis, but not eligible to play.
Crandell is hoping Troy O'Connor (2-3, 1.20 ERA), a 6-4 senior right-hander, will throw as well as he did last summer for Annapolis Legion.
"Troy could be one of the best in the county, and after that I've got the arms to make pitchers," said Crandell.
One of those "arms" is 5-6 senior center fielder Wayne Small, who volunteered to help on the mound. Small, who batted .436 and led the county in stolen bases (20) to earn second-team All-County honors, is being recruited by Crandell's alma mater, Florida Southern.
Small returns to the outfield with senior Corey Contee and junior Chris Worrell.
Crandell is also excited that for the first time since he took over the reins of what was then the county's worst baseball program (15-118 in eight years), he could "write down our lineup before we began because we have so many kids back."
South River Seahawks
A strong junior nucleus that was fed to the wolves last year and then went out and played a lot of summer baseball has coach Kenny Dunn thinking turnaround in '94.
Dunn (119-170), who has had only four winning seasons in 15 years, the last in 1989 (11-8) and the best in 1983 (15-7, state A runner-up), is looking for his Seahawks to turn around last year's 5-15 record.
"We lost six one-run games and maybe we can turn them in our favor this year despite being awfully young," said Dunn. "More than half our kids played a lot of summer ball in the Annapolis Legion program, and there is a lot of potential there."
Only two seniors return -- outfielder Kevin Dove (.378) and third baseman Mike Sheehan -- but six seasoned juniors are back, including right-hander Randy Long. Long (1.41 ERA last spring) is getting over an arm injury suffered at a winter camp, but Dunn expects him back to pitch and play first base.
Other key juniors include outfielders Tom Terry and Andy Meyers, catcher Andy Tidings, shortstop Shane Sanders and second baseman Doug Cook.
Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers
A promising freshman and four seniors are expected to help the Cavs improve on last season's 5-11 record.
Coach Tom Lind has eight returning players, including leading hitter and first baseman Andy Canterna (.350). The other three seniors are catcher Matt Shiers and outfielders Brent Pollard and Leo Zerheusen.
Also returning are juniors Dominic Lascola (SS-RHP) and Brad Mosher (RHP), and sophomores Matt Brady (OF) and Glenn Pollard (2B). Lascola was a standout last summer for the Maryland Sports Braves and the Pasadena Saints.
It's a young team that goes up against the likes of Calvert Hall and McDonogh and will be relying on a freshman pitcher in Jared Vogt. Vogt led the Little Orioles 14-and-under team in hitting (.448, 16 HRs, 71 RBI) and pitching (19-1, 136 strikeouts in 112 innings) last summer.
"Jared is a good kid, has a pretty good fastball for his age , and we will have to get his bat in the lineup," said Lind. "He's a leader even though he's just a freshman."