The Year of the Pitcher has given way to the Year of Parity and Potential in Anne Arundel County baseball.
There was more outstanding pitching from top to bottom in the county last spring than any season in recent memory. The veteran coaches claim it might have been the best in distant memory.
"It was the best I've seen in my 26 years," says Severna Park coach Jim Pitt, who begins his 22nd season with the Falcons after coaching Annapolis for four seasons.
Pitt is one of four coaches with 22 years or more experience in the county, and the others, Harry Lentz (28th at Northeast), Bernie Walter (22nd at Arundel) and Larry Brogden (22nd at Annapolis), agree with him.
Seven of last year's top county pitchers now are pitching college baseball, and three more signed professionally in Ken Pumphrey (Old Mill, New York Mets), Sean Ryan (Broadneck, Texas Rangers) and Keith Volkman (Glen Burnie, Atlanta Braves).
Those pitching in college include four at Anne Arundel Community College in Jamie Stoddard (Arundel), Mike Bussey (Old Mill), Jeremy Pellegrini (Chesapeake) and Troy O'Connor (Southern).
Also, county Player of the Year Brandon Agamennone (Arundel, Maryland), Jason White (Chesapeake, James Madison) and Bob Christopher (North County, Essex) are throwing at the next level.
No such quantity of quality exists this spring, but that's not to say the pitching won't be good.
North County boasts the best 1-2 punch in four-year starter Mike Wooden and three-year starter Tweety Barton and has a bona fide shot at unseating perennial 4A powers Arundel and Old Mill.
Wooden, who has accepted a scholarship to the University of Maryland and has a major-league curve ball at times, starts the season sharing the county record for career no-hitters. The 6-2, 186-pound right-hander threw the first perfect game in the county in 20 years when he beat Old Mill, 2-0, last spring for his second no-hitter.
The only other known perfect game was by Brooklyn Park's Bobby Boyd in 1975, 1-0 over Wilde Lake in the state playoffs. Boyd had two career no-hitters as did Frank Pareira (Arundel, 1976), Scott Wharton (Old Mill, 1978) and Brian Rolocut of Arundel, who pitched one and took part in another in 1992.
Defending 4A East Region champion Arundel doesn't have the seasoned pitching Walter has been accustomed to, but as the coach says, "we've got some pretty good arms."
Arundel will be banking on junior left-hander Andy Vermillion and right-handers Kurt Light (sophomore) and Derek Loosararian (junior).
"North County has a tremendous edge with Mike [Wooden], but jTC the league should be well balanced," said Walter.
North County and Arundel appear to be the frontrunners in the 4A East, but Old Mill, Glen Burnie, Chesapeake and Severna Park should be in the hunt for the four playoff spots.
Arundel was top seed, Old Mill second, Severna Park third and North County fourth last year.
Old Mill's pitching is even younger and coach Mel Montgomery is planning on a speed game offensively with outfielders Joe Barnes and Chuck Manns leading the race.
"We might have a bunch of guys people haven't heard of, but by midseason, we hope to be in the running," said Montgomery.
Pitt expects his pitching to be better at Severna Park, but admits to having "no burners." Junior Scott Vane was a second team pitcher last year, but will have a totally new infield behind him this season.
Few high school teams have a better combo swinging the bat than the Falcons' returning All-Metro outfielder Scott Neuberger and Matt Griswold. Both are Division I prospects.
Glen Burnie, with the best overall team speed in coach Bruce Sider's 17 years and a host of returnees, and hard-hitting Chesapeake loom on the horizon hoping to break up the top four.
"If this team stays focused and has no personality conflicts, we will make the playoffs," said Sider.
Chesapeake's Jim Simms is another with a mostly underclass pitching staff and just one senior pitcher with experience in finesser Randy Clifford. If the younger Cougars arms come through, Chesapeake might slip in after missing the playoffs by a point in 1994.
While the county 4A appears to have six solid clubs, Annapolis will be no pushover and Meade should show improvement.
Northeast has a trio of senior pitchers in Jeff Dolch, left-hander Bobby Reinhardt and Kenny Rogers who could return the team to the top of the 3A/2A league and the 2A East Region playoffs.
Veteran coach Harry Lentz, battling cancer, provides an inspiration with his continued dedication to the program, and former star player, Donnie Gilbert is imparting much of what he learned under "Coach."
South River appears to have the strongest group of returnees, but did lose three-year ace Randy Long to a transfer to St. John's in Washington, and Southern has a new coach in Russ Meyers who has big shoes to fill.
Chuck Crandell led Southern to back-to-back winning seasons but had to give up his position because of job restrictions.