CO-COACHES OF THE YEAR
Carl Rihard and Guy Stull, Westminster -- Some people say the days of playing strong fundamental baseball are long gone but not for these two preachers of the inside game and it paid off with a memorable 20-3 season and a trip to the state 4A championship semifinals in College Park for the Owls.
Rihard and Stull, co-coaches, guided this team to an exciting 11-3 record in one-run games, and eight times, Westminster rallied in the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th innings to win games. There were some experts who thought the Owls might be only the third best team in the county this season behind a loaded South Carroll nine and a Mike Huller-led North Carroll squad. But Westminster quickly dispelled that thinking by starting out the season 10-0 before losing back-to-back 5-4 games to Liberty and South Carroll.
Then the Owls won 10 more in a row to bring them within two victories of the school's first state baseball championship. However, a physically- and emotionally-drained Westminster team ran out of steam in the late innings against Perry Hall in the state semis and lost a heart-breaker, 4-3, in nine innings.
Twenty-four hours earlier, the Owls had played a tension-filled 10-inning thriller, coming from behind twice to tie Springbrook before winning, 5-4, in the last of the 10th on a booming triple by Steve Mays to win the 4A West Region title.
Westminster had a pocketful-of-miracles season lost three games by a total of three runs, only losing one time (5-4 to Liberty) when the Owls had at least one day off between games, and making the state final four for only the second time in the school's history.
The Owls won the Central Maryland Conference title with a 10-2 record and shared the county title with South Carroll (4-2 records).
FIRST TEAM AT A GLANCE
Jon Barnowski, Liberty, Sr., outfield -- One of the primary reasons the Lions earned a berth in the state 2A West Region playoffs for the first time in four years, Barnowski hit .373, had 16 RBIs, four doubles, two home runs and two triples. He also adjusted quickly to a midseason switch to center field after playing shortstop most of his career at Liberty. That move enabled sophomore Ryan Renehan to play short and contribute to the team's overall success (11-9 record). "Jon is a good kid and very coachable," said Liberty coach Steve Insley. "He had a lot of good games for us." Liberty made it to the 2A West final with a 6-2 victory over Damascus before losing to South Hagerstown, 8-2. Barnowski will attend either Catonsville Community College or Frederick Community College.
Denny Bowers, Westminster, Jr., designated hitter -- This strongly-built athlete crunched the ball most of the season for the Owls and he was an immediate success on the mound as the team's No. 3 pitcher, going 5-0 with a 1.12 earned run average, 27 strikeouts and seven walks in 25 innings. Those pitching stats were a surprise, but nothing Bowers did with the bat surprised many people after watching him hit a couple of times. He stung the ball with authority nearly every time up, hitting .405 with four long home runs, driving in 22 runs, hitting eight doubles, scoring 21 runs and finishing with a .676 slugging percentage. As expected, he batted cleanup in the strong Westminster lineup that produced a 20-3 record and a berth in the state 4A semifinals. Bowers announced he was ready to pitch in the 4A West championship game against Springbrook moments after the Owls had tripped Gaithersburg, 4-3, in the semifinals 24 hours before the Springbrook game. Bowers got his wish, being called on to relieve starter Andy Marsiglia in the seventh and going the last four innings to pick up a 5-4 victory that sent the team to the states. He shut down Springbrook on one hit and no runs, striking out three and walking three.
Eric Eldridge, Liberty, Sr., outfield -- When this youngster with a strong love for the game arrived at Liberty from Archbishop Curley two years ago, it pumped new life into a struggling program. In two seasons, Eldridge played a major role in the Lions' gaining new respect around the county and in the Central Maryland Conference. "If I had eight more players like Eric, we'd be in great shape," said Liberty coach Steve Insley. Eldridge was the team's No. 1 pitcher this season (4-2 record, 3.50 ERA, 38 strikeouts in 33 innings) and he threw a six-hitter in a 6-2 victory over Damascus in the 2A West Region semifinal. Eldridge also went the distance in a 5-4 victory over Westminster, handing the Owls one of their three one-run losses this season. At the plate, he hit .305, stole 14 bases and had two doubles and two triples. When not pitching, Eldridge played center field and he had a .990 fielding percentage.
Bryan Herche, South Carroll, Sr., shortstop -- Once Herche started hitting late in the season, many of the South Carroll problems seemed to disappear and the Cavaliers regrouped to come ever so close to winning the state 3A championship (2-1 loss to Broadneck in the finals). Herche, or "Burr" as he is known to his teammates, went on a hitting tear that gave him a final season batting average of .392, 16 RBIs, eight triples, nine doubles, one home run and 20 runs scored. This fiery shortstop was moved up to leadoff in the order from seventh place and always seemed to be on base for the heavy hitters, Kile Maxcy and Jeremy Hancock.
Matt Horrell, Liberty, Jr., outfield -- The surprise player in the county by far this season, Horrell suddenly blossomed into a .400 hitter and started every game for the 11-9 Lions. He drove in 14 runs and had five assists from right field and left field, often showing a strong arm to throw out unsuspecting runners. "We knew he had a good arm on the junior varsity, but we didn't expect him to hit .400 in his first year on the varsity," said Insley, his coach. Horrell was the only Liberty player to make first-team All-Central Maryland Conference.
Mike Huller, North Carroll, Sr., pitcher -- A hard-throwing left-hander, Huller attracted more radar guns and major-league scouts to Carroll County than anybody has seen in a while. Huller first gained the notice of the scouts last fall when he pitched for the Oriolelanders, a team of young pro prospects managed by Orioles area scout Jim Gilbert. Huller went 10-0 with a 1.10 ERA for the Oriolelanders and this spring was 6-1 record for a 9-8 North Carroll team. He pitched 48 2/3 innings, had a 2.70 ERA, struck out 77 and walked 32. When not pitching, Huller played first base and he hit .308 with two home runs and 10 RBIs. He made second-team All-CMC and has received a full scholarship to George Mason University, which has a strong baseball program.
Dave Johnson, Francis Scott Key, Sr., second baseman -- A unanimous first-team All-Monocacy Valley Athletic League selection, Johnson did all he could in an attempt to lead the Eagles to the MVAL title and a possible state 1A championship. But Key finished second by one game to South Hagerstown in the league standings and was beaten by Boonsboro in the semifinals of the 1A South regional tournament, dropping to a final record of 13-6. Johnson hit .407, had eight doubles, two home runs, 18 RBIs, scored 19 runs and struck out only five times in 54 at-bats. He was the team captain, a leader in the middle infield and a Baltimore Sun first-team All-Carroll pick for a second straight year.
Kile Maxcy, South Carroll, Sr., first baseman -- On some days, it looks as if Maxcy can do almost anything he wants on the baseball field. He is a gifted hitter with power, thrives on pressure, can pitch on heart alone but is a talented left-hander, is a smooth-fielding first baseman, leads by example and can be vocal, and comes with enough fire on the field to ignite any team. The South Carroll baseball program is going to miss this youngster even more than some might realize now. He hit .373 this season, led the team in home runs with three, had 28 RBIs, four doubles and three triples. On the mound, Maxcy was 10-3 with one save for the 17-7 Cavaliers, had a 1.14 ERA, struck out 59 and walked 20. He is one of five repeat All-Carroll first-team selections and is headed to Western Maryland College.
Steve Mays, Westminster, Sr., outfield -- Completed a brilliant high school athletic career by making first-team All-Carroll baseball this spring after being chosen first-team All-Carroll basketball and the offensive football Player of the Year in Carroll in his senior year. Known around the school as "Mr. Clutch," Mays more than lived up to that name in baseball this season, winning two games in the last of the 10th inning with hits. He beat Frederick, 3-2, in 10 with a two-out, two-strike, bases-loaded single to right and then sent the Owls to the state 4A semis for only the second time in school history with a 365-foot triple that beat Springbrook, 5-4, in 10 innings in the 4A West finals. In the state semis against Perry Hall, Mays came to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out in the fourth inning and smashed a line drive to center field that went for a sacrifice fly to give the Owls a 3-1 lead but would have cleared the bases if it had been hit anywhere but straight at the center fielder. As a speedy center fielder himself, Mays made several spectacular running catches in the alleys, robbed some hitters with shoestring grabs and had two assists. He also stole 14 bases, including four against C.M. Wright, hit .268, had three triples, one home run, scored 14 runs and drove in 10.
Mike Peters, Westminster, Jr., pitcher -- His pitching stats were spectacular (9-1 record, 1.33 ERA, 81 strikeouts, 21 walks) and he was one of the top hitters (.324, 15 RBIs) on the team. Peters had an MVP-type season for the 20-3 Owls, who almost always found a way to win games. Peters, a hard-throwing right-hander, had a knack for getting stronger as the game went on which was an important asset for a team that played a lot of extra-inning games. With a little luck, he would have won the state 4A semifinal game against Perry Hall, 3-2, in seven innings instead of leaving after seven innings with the score tied at 3. The Gators had scored one unearned in the first and the tying run in the sixth scored on a short sacrifice fly behind second base. Peters had to leave after seven because he had pitched his quota of 14 innings in seven days, and Perry Hall won the game, 4-3, in the ninth inning. It also took a super running catch by Perry Hall shortstop Kevin Znamrowski to retire Peters (who stayed in the game after leaving the mound) in the top of the ninth inning with a runner on first and one out. He wound up with a 2-for-4 night at Shipley Field in College Park.
Paul Reter, Westminster, Sr., shortstop -- This youthful-looking shortstop fit in perfectly with the fundamentally-sound Owls. He could bunt, hit behind runners and specialized at making contact every time he went to the plate. Reter only struck out seven times in 74 at-bats and he hit .324 with 14 RBIs and even muscled up twice to hit two home runs. His squeeze bunt in the last of the seventh inning beat Gaithersburg, 4-3, in the state 4A semifinals. A silent leader on the team, Reter was a positive force because of his belief in team unity and never-say-die attitude. If there was ever an unsung hero on any team, it was Reter, who will continue his baseball career at Division III Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio.
Ryan Starliper, Westminster, Sr., third baseman -- This confident baseball player could beat teams in a lot of ways, with his glove, bat, pitching arm and base-running ability. As the second batter up in the state 4A semis against Perry Hall, Starliper sent a towering fly ball to deep left field that appeared to go for a two-run homer and a 2-0 lead for the pumped-up Owls. He circled the bases and got all the congratulatory high-fives from his teammates and it appeared Westminster was on its way against the Gators. But the base umpire called Starliper back to second and Steve Mays back to third, ruling that the ball did not leave the park but got stuck between a sign on the fence and the fence. That ruling on Starliper's drive took some wind out of Westminster and the Owls did not seem to play with as much confidence the rest of the night and lost, 4-3, in nine innings. Later in the game, Starliper was called out on a third strike that appeared to be outside but he still went 2-for-5 in the game and wound up the season hitting .316 with 13 RBIs, six doubles, four triples, two home runs and 21 runs scored. He also had a .926 fielding percentage.
Dan Stephenson, Francis Scott Key, Sr., outfield -- The leading hitter and one of the top pitchers on the team, Stephenson had one of those seasons most players dream about. He hit .458, had 23 RBIs, 11 doubles, struck out only twice in 59 at-bats, had a 5-3 pitching record, 3.55 ERA, and struck out 40 and walked 17 in 45 1/3 innings. Stephenson was also an outstanding center fielder and set an example for his teammates with a good attitude, said F.S. Key coach Bob Caples. Stephenson is a repeat first-team All-Carroll selection and comes from a successful baseball-playing family that also includes his brother Garrett, who played at Boonsboro High and signed with the Orioles. Garrett Stephenson is now a pitcher with the Bowie Baysox.
Ronnie White, South Carroll, Sr., outfield -- It was on the pitching mound this season that White flourished the most even though he had his usual outstanding season defensively in center field for the Cavaliers when not pitching. White had a 6-3 record on the mound, a 3.00 ERA, struck out 30 and walked 27. He was a tough-luck 3-2 loser in eight innings on the mound against Westminster, giving up a two-out, bases-loaded single to Brian Tozer on a 2-1 pitch after White thought he had Tozer struck out on two pitches that were called balls. At the plate, White had his average drop to .267 from .340 as a junior, but he still scored 23 runs and had 10 RBIs along with one triple and one home run.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: CATCHER JEREMY HANCOCK
No one hits .532 for an entire high school season, right?
Well, look again. South Carroll's Hancock, who has one of the sweetest swings ever seen in Carroll County, did it. There were days when Hancock was impossible to get out and he went on to set a single-season South Carroll record with the .532 mark. It surpassed the previous mark of .509 that was established by Joey Goodwin, who is now a baseball standout at George Mason, and helped Hancock finish with a .427 career batting average.
The youngster who switched from his natural position of third base to catcher for the good of the team in his junior and senior seasons also broke five other school career and single-season records in 1995. The career marks are most hits (82), most RBIs (66) and most doubles (20), and the season records in addition to batting average are most hits (39) and most RBIs (31).
In a spectacular senior year, Hancock also had two home runs, nine doubles and five triples and was a silent leader on a team that struggled early but charged down the stretch to reach the state Class 3A championship game with a 17-6 record before losing, 2-1, to Broadneck. He will continue his baseball career at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va., this fall. The Baltimore Sun 1995 All-Carroll County Baseball Teams were chosen by Bill Free after consultation with staff writers and area coaches.