Head coach Jody Harris played baseball at Mount St. Joseph and graduated in 1979. He was an assistant there from 1985 to 2010 and again in 2013 before taking over the head job from Dave Norton in 2014.
During his time there, the Gaels never faced Catonsville in a regular-season game.
“I don’t recall playing them in a regular-season game as a player or coach, but we were scheduled to play them in a regular-season game last year and it got rained out,” said Harris whose squad, is scheduled to play at Catonsville on Tuesday, March 22 at 4 p.m.
It will be a much shorter journey than the Gaels’ trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., last weekend, when they traveled nine hours to play four games in three days.
It’s a trip Harris and the team has taken eight times, but for several Gaels who were making their debuts in starting roles it was true test as they played games against St. Joseph Regional (N.J.) and Pascack Hills (N.J).
“We are going to find out in a hurry how good we are,” Harris said.
The first game against St. Joseph was a scrimmage on Friday, March 11, but the Gaels (3-0) won their regular season opener 5-4 against them on March 12 and then defeated Pascack 6-2 and 2-1 before returning home.
“With the graduation of several senior position players, the diamond is open for several players to make an impact,” said Harris, whose squad graduated all of its fulltime position players.
The only players who saw appreciable time were designated hitter Ethan Gallagher and shortstop Nick Caporlette.
Gallagher, a Catonsville resident, moves to right field; Harris has high expectations for the junior.
“He’s already getting some interest from Penn State and a couple other Division I programs,” Harris said. “He played on the Canes (Evoshield Canes North) showcase team in the summer, so he plays on a pretty high level.”
An injury to senior Max Rogers midway through last season vaulted shortstop Caporlette into the starting role, and the senior will be there again.
“He did a real nice job and he’ll help anchor the middle for us,” Harris said.
The one place on the diamond where the Gaels do have experience is on the mound.
Senior right-handers Zac Stoll and Josh Pieniazek combined for 12 of the Gaels’ 18 wins last season when they went 18-7 and 9-7 in the MIAA A Conference.
Stoll (6-1, 2.90 earned run average) had 39 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings.
Pieniazek went 6-2 and won two games in the playoffs.
“He started to pitch well when we really needed it, so that’s what you hope happens there,” Harris said.
That squad was the fifth seed in the playoffs and came within one game of reaching the tournament finals.
Other mound candidates include junior southpaws Michael McManus (1B) and Matt Conley.
Beyond that, it will be trial by fire for a slew of pitching candidates.
“I’ve got a bunch of other kids in the mix and I’m just waiting to see who comes through,” Harris said.
Junior Jack Stilling, Most Valuable Player on the junior varsity last season, and senior Jacob Wyandt will share catching duties.
When Stilling is catching, Wyandt plays third base.
Senior Sean Zaranski (CF) and sophomore Connor Feustle (LF) hope to replace graduated outfielders Clark Clatchey (.347) and Andre Brown (.402).
Catonsville native Clatchey (Towson University) and Brown (USC Aiken) played in the Brooks Robinson All-Star game last summer.
Sophomore Luke Hess (INF) should join Feustle as one of the sophomores who gets plenty of playing time.
“We are going to try to weave him (Hess) into the middle,” Harris said. “He’s got a lot of potential, a pretty high ceiling.”
The coach isn’t worried about thrusting the sophomores into key roles.
“Having two sophomores to try and get extended time is really good for the program to be able to mix in those guys with juniors and seniors hopefully that builds over a long period of time,” he said.
In a scrimmage against Atholton, the Gaels strung together five singles and a double. Harris was impressed.
“I like the approach they have taken at the plate,” Harris said. “They’ve got to buy into the fact that they want to put the ball in play and continue to put pressure on the defense.”
As for a prediction, he hesitates.
“You want to be peaking when we get to the playoffs, which is what we did last year,” Harris said. “If we can get guys that are playing well at the right time, all you’ve got to do is get in the tournament and the team that gets hot wins.”