Nothing shy about Rams

The Baltimore Sun

Say this for Digital Harbor's baseball players: They are nothing if not audacious.

The Rams have the impudence to dismiss Wednesday's 12-1 win over Samuel Banks in a city league game because they didn't get to a 10-run lead quickly enough to call the game early.

They have what some would say is the foolhardiness to believe they could not only hang with top-ranked Calvert Hall, but also beat the Cardinals, despite not having been ranked all season or beaten a ranked team.

Call it daring, call it brashness, call it whatever you like. The Rams, who are a win away from completing an unbeaten season in league play and winning the first city title in Digital Harbor history, believe they are among the best teams in the area.

"When we get into the regional tournament, and hopefully the states, people will start realizing that we're not just a city team, that we're something to be considered as one of the best," junior Stephen Kovalesky said.

Fortunately, the Rams (12-1), play the game as well as they talk it, though it didn't manifest itself at times Wednesday against a clearly outclassed Banks team. The Rams occasionally failed to run out grounders and didn't take advantage of scoring opportunities.

"We came out a little flat," third-year coach Dave Verdi said. "Who are we kidding? We came out a lot flat. But once we started to realize that we needed to show up with the intensity that we bring to most games, things will turn around."

Indeed, by game's end, the Rams placed on full display the qualities that have them on the doorstep of breaking Poly's eight-year hegemony as city champion.

For one thing, the Rams have hit well enough this year to counter their mental lapses. While they only have five home runs, they've outscored their opponents 184-21 and had an on-base percentage of .476 through Wednesday's game.

And once they get on, the Rams make things happen on the basepaths, converting all but one of their 63 stolen base attempts.

Still, the commodity that will give Digital Harbor a chance to capture the city's first state title is pitching.

The pitching staff, led by juniors Shaun Merson and Michael Sauble, has surrendered only 21 earned runs (through Wednesday) working to a 2.07 ERA. Kovalesky, who has starter's stuff, heads the bullpen and has two saves, including nailing down a critical, 6-5 win over Poly two weeks ago that gave Digital the leg up in the city race.

"I can't say enough ... about their work ethic," Verdi said. "In practice the other day, I've never worked pitchers harder, and they didn't complain for half a second. They're a great group of guys, and they're really throwing the team on their shoulders and carrying us."

In addition, Verdi has found gold in one of the city's most talented young players, freshman Nathan Pitts Jr., who not only leads the team in homers, but threw one of the team's three no-hitters, a 21-0 win over Forest Park last week, when he was one walk away from perfection in the five-inning game.

Sauble threw his second no-hitter of the season yesterday in Digital's 24-0 win over Reginald F. Lewis.

The Rams, whose lone loss was a 3-1 season-opening setback to North County, understand that all their talk in March and April will mean little if they can't back it up with wins in May. They had their state title hopes dashed with a loss to Marriotts Ridge in the regional playoffs last year.

However, with a newly configured 1A North region, loaded with teams they can likely handle, Digital Harbor -- a school that under another name (Southern) was once home to Hall of Famer Al Kaline -- might be ready to forge a new identity based on deeds, not words.

"This year, we're trying to break into our own name," Verdi said. "We're really happy with the idea that we might be taking down Poly. The city [title] would be something nice along the way, because we hadn't had it, but we really want to make some noise in the region. We want to get Digital Harbor baseball as something that people need to know about."

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