Wilde Lake senior Kevin Carlson doesn't have any secret when it comes to hitting a baseball hard.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound pitcher/first baseman, a first-team All-County selection last season, doesn't get caught up in the mechanics of hitting or guessing on pitches. He just settles into the batter's box - crowding the plate from the left side - and simply dares a pitcher to throw one by him.
This season, it has been easier said than done.
Batting cleanup, Carlson is hitting .528 with 23 RBIs and 13 runs scored as the Wildecats entered the week with a 6-5 mark. For Carlson, who has been playing baseball as long as he can remember, the batter's box is a home away from home.
"I've been playing so long and have had so many at-bats to learn from, hitting has just always come natural to me. Right now, I'm just relaxed and I feel like I couldn't feel any more comfortable at the plate," he said.
Under first-year coach Matt Forsyth, who previously coached at Mount Hebron, the Wildecats have surpassed their four victories in each of the past two seasons.
Junior pitcher Josh Futter is the team's ace, but Carlson is doing his share on the mound, going 3-0 with a 2.90 earned run average in 19 1/3 innings pitched. In a 9-0 win over River Hill, he threw a three-hitter and struck out 11 Hawks. But Carlson's biggest contribution for the Wildecats comes at the plate.
"When you watch him swing, it may look like he's not really putting forth a great effort. But he's just so smooth," Forsyth said. "So it's not that he's not putting forth the effort, it's just that it comes so naturally to him, he makes it look so easy. I've been in the county for quite a few years and I've never seen anybody built like that - so tall, so big, so strong - who can hit like that. He's the total physical package."
Futter, who bats third right in front of Carlson, said he had not seen a poor at-bat from Carlson all season. It took some time, but Carlson recalled getting fooled on a changeup from Centennial's Alex Bechta in the first inning of the Wildecats' 4-3 upset win - weakly grounding out to second base. The next time up, Carlson hit one over the fence.
"He's a tough lefty bat, and if you leave the ball out over the plate, he can definitely send it a long way. He's definitely the type of kid that, if you make a mistake, he'll make you pay," said Centennial coach Denis Ahearn.
On varsity for four years, Carlson's best baseball memory at Wilde Lake came during his sophomore year when the Wildecats found playoff magic, capturing their first regional title in 34 years and reaching the state title game after a 4-16 regular season.
"It was an unstoppable feeling," he said. "It was weird because everybody just thought our season would be over. But we got a lucky draw ... and people started believing. It was a snowball effect, and everybody gained confidence, made their plays and we won."
After pressing to carry the team and perform well last year, Carlson this spring has taken the same approach as he does hitting: relax and be confident.
"It's been awesome. We've had solid pitching, some key hits and, if we step up defensively, we can be tough to beat," Carlson said.
"I think the talent in the county is spread out," he said. "Centennial, even though we beat them, is still the team to beat. But I think we're definitely one of the top-tier teams. We just have to keep playing hard."
Carlson, still undecided on a college, maintains a 3.5 grade-point average and plans to study engineering.