If the 2012 Howard County baseball season picks up where it left off, then Atholton and Reservoir will be battling back and forth this spring.
Last April 15, Reservoir knocked off Atholton on a play at the plate. But a little more than a month later, Atholton avenged the loss at Reservoir in the regional semifinals, ending the Gators' perfect season.
Much has changed since then. Atholton graduated seven starters, including all-county first teamers Kory Britton, Paul Beers and Jon Thews, and retired its longtime coach, Kevin Kelly. Reservoir waved goodbye to T.J. Pipik, the Player of the Year who drove in 35 runs with 18 extra base hits last year and was 9-0 on the mound, along with four other senior starters.
Those aren't the only changes this spring. Starting this season, all bats used in high school baseball must be BBCOR (Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution) approved. To put it simply, the new bats won't be as "live" as the old BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio) bats.
Don't expect the game to revert to the dead ball era of the early 1900s though.
"I don't think the bats are going to play that much differently," said Centennial coach Denis Ahearn. "You do get fewer cheap hits. If you (jam) a guy it's not getting out of the infield."
Ahearn said that his former players who are now in college — the NCAA began using the BBCOR bats last season — have reported back to him that the lessened power is most noticeable in colder weather, which shouldn't be an issue this spring.
"Some coaches may try to go small ball more, that wouldn't shock me," Ahearn said. "But it's still a metal bat. It's different from a wooden bat."
After 21 seasons, Atholton coach Kevin Kelly has stepped down to watch his son, Sean, and daughter, Grace, play sports. Over two decades, Kelly led the Raiders to 284 wins, a 2002 state championship and five more appearances in the state final four.
"I feel really blessed over the years to have some of the great players that I've had," said Kelly, who has not ruled out returning to coaching as an assistant once his children graduate high school.
Kelly's successor, Jon Dupski, is a math teacher at Atholton. In 2004 he was named the Baltimore Metro Player of the Year after leading Centennial to a state championship. He played for four years at Towson as a lefthanded pitcher before becoming a JV coach at Atholton, earning Kelly's endorsement.
At Hammond, Mike Lerner returns to the head coaching position that he had for nine years before stepping down last season to spend time with his newborn son. In 2009 and 2010, Lerner coached Hammond to back-to-back county titles.
At Oakland Mills, Rod Clifford has stepped down after eight seasons with the Scorpions.
In 2006, Clifford led Oakland Mills to its first winning season in more than 15 years, finishing with a 13-9 record. His team won 32 games between 2006 and 2008.
Clifford's replacement, Brian Rau, teaches in Prince George's County. He is a 1994 graduate of Chancellor High School in Fredericksburg, Va., where he played baseball.
He played college ball at Longwood College and Frostburg State, and has coached at Spotsylvania (Va.) and High Point high schools. He is a U.S. Army veteran and was deployed to Bosnia and Iraq between 2001 and 2004.
Around the horn
Here is a look at all 14 county teams as the season begins.
2011 record: 16-1 county, 19-3 overall, 3A East regional finalist
Top players: Seniors Josh Martin (P/SS) and Karter Seamonson (LHP/OF); juniors Paul Burmester (C) and Austin Feuerman (1B); sophomores Brady Acker (CF) and Michael Slayton (P).
Scouting report: Atholton's big trio of Paul Beers, Kory Britton and Jon Thews have graduated, so Dupski will need to come up with his own winning formula for his debut season. Luckily, former coach Kevin Kelly didn't leave the cupboard bare. Martin, the projected ace of the 2012 pitching staff, was 6-0 last year with a 2.00 ERA. He also batted .426 with six doubles and 22 RBIs and will play shortstop when he's not pitching. Seamonson and Slayton, the ace of the Raiders JV squad last year, will slot in behind Martin in the rotation. Acker, a speedy centerfielder with good range, batted .333 with five doubles, 23 runs and a county-best 18 stolen bases last year as a freshman. Burmester, who will move from third base to catcher, hit .382 with eight extra base hits. Dupski hopes that Burmester and Feuerman, a masher on JV last year, will provide a powerful one-two punch in the middle of the line-up.
Top players: Seniors Jerry Burgo (P/RF), Ben Ciraolo (C), Ben Goldsmith (P/CF), Garrett Kurtz (P/1B) and Jared Lacey (3B).
Scouting report: Centennial's pitching staff was hit hardest by graduation, as college freshmen Mike Long and David Kendrick are now helping Washington College baseball to its best start in 75 years. But the Eagles return their best two-player in Kurtz, who batted .400 with two home runs last year and will be expected to lead the pitching staff this season. Goldsmith and Burgo will also be relied on to eat up significant innings on the mound. Ciraolo and Lacey batted in the heart of the order last year, and will be looked to again to drive in a healthy share of runs.
Coach: Dave Boteler, third season
2011 record: 10-7, 14-9, 2A South regional finalist
Top players: Seniors Matt Hughes (P), Dan Grimes (P) and Ryan Perry (LF); juniors Logan Dubbe (OF/P), Nick Crabill (CF) and Forrest Southern (C); sophomore David Brookhart (SS).
Scouting report: Dubbe has been raking the ball since he batted .385 with 18 RBIs as a freshman in 2010. He and Southern both batted better than .400 last year, and Dubbe belted 10 doubles with 23 RBIs. Hughes is the Gladiators' most reliable returning pitcher, with 22 innings pitched and 19 strikeouts last year, but Dubbe, a year removed from Tommy John elbow surgery, could be a surprise on the mound. Brookhart was impressive in his varsity debut on the football field this fall, and could have a similar performance on the diamond.
Coach: Michael Lerner, 10th season
2011 record: 8-9, 9-10
Top players: Seniors Kyle Cheuvront (1B/P), Anthony Saleiro (SS/P) and Will Sandish (OF); juniors Derek Sicca (3B/P), Ben Miller (C), Matt Cassett (2B/SS) and Garrett Kelley (OF).
Scouting report: A new season means to players in new positions for Hammond, but Lerner is pleased at how hard his players are working to make those adjustments. Cheuvront, who has committed to play baseball for West Virginia Wesleyan next season, looks to lead Hammond both at the plate and on the mound, and Sicca — who batted .462 (best among returning players) with five doubles, three home runs and 20 RBIs, and was 3-1 with 26 strikeouts and a 1.88 ERA — will look to build on a breakout sophomore campaign. Miller was a productive hitter at DH last year (.333) and will look to make a bigger impact in 2012 as the everyday catcher. Saleiro will also adjust to a new role, sliding over to shortstop from second base, and figuring into the pitching rotation. Kelley batted a team-best .464 (26 hits) with 24 stolen bases for the JV last year.
Coach: Nick Hoffner, second season
2011 record: 6-11, 6-13
Top players: Seniors Colin Dyer (SS), Josh Lee (3B) and Sean Sivo (CF); juniors David Wolf (P), Aidan Cain (P), Ben Baker (P), Jake Vonella (3B/DH) and Logan Seitz (2B).
Scouting report: The Lions traditionally like to let their pitchers focus on pitching, and Hoffner will count on Wolf, Cain and Baker to provide most of Howard's innings on the mound. Dyer did get through 25 innings last year with a sub-3.00 ERA, so he could also be useful on the bump. Keeping Dyer's bat hot (.403, nine doubles, 19 RBIs) is a bigger priority though. The senior will be joined in the heart of the Lions' line-up by two other carryovers from the 2011 campaign, Lee and Sivo. Vonella and Seitz were leaders on the Lions' JV squad last year, with Seitz belting two home runs in one game.
Coach: Mike Repsher, third season
2011 record: 0-17, 0-19
Top players: Seniors Alec Taylor (1B/P) and Randall Weist (SS); juniors Brandon Cave (P) and Chris Stanko (P); sophomores JD Huffman (C/3B/P) and Kyle Fleischer (OF/2B).
Scouting report: The Lightning is mired in a 30-game losing streak, but Repsher is optimistic because this year's squad is the most experienced he's had in his three years. Taylor is the team's top returning pitcher and hitter, having logged 10 innings on the mound last year while displaying a keen eye at the plate (12 walks, 11 hits, nine runs). Weist, Cave and Stanko also got significant at-bats last year. Long Reach may not be a county title contender, but an improvement of several wins wouldn't be a stretch.
Coach: Paul Eckert, seventh season
2011 record: 10-7, 11-8
Top players: Seniors David Menker (C/1B), Ben Ferraro (OF) and Avery Reidy (OF/3B); junior Eric Brown (P/3B); sophomores Michael Dorsch (P/OF) and Jake Bender (IF).
Scouting report: The Mustangs, who played their first varsity season in 2007 and have won 53 games over the past four years, return a pair of all-county players in Menker (.448 avg.) and Ferraro (.458, 21 runs, 20 walks). Reidy was also a key contributor last year, batting .346 and driving in 22 runs. Eckert will have to find a few new pitchers this year, but Dorsch, a JV call-up, and Brown, who got his feet wet on varsity last year, are capable arms.
Coach: Brian Culley, sixth season
2011 record: 5-12, 8-13
Top players: Seniors Patrick Wethington (2B/P) and Raul Shah (SS); juniors Brady Smouse (P/1B), Jacob Meyer and Fred Simard; sophomore Marty Stevenson; freshman Jake Snyder.
Scouting report: Andrew Giuliani, the Vikings' best hitter and pitcher, has graduated and talented center fielder Tyler Anthony is unfortunately lost for the season due to injury. But Mt. Hebron does return one of the league's best fielding shortstops in Shah, (.943 fielding percentage, 14 BBs, 22 RBIs). Wethington and Smouse will look to lead the pitching staff, though neither saw significant time on the mound last year. Meyer, Simard, Stevenson and Snyder head up a talented group of newcomers.
Coach: Brian Rau, first season
2011 record: 3-14, 4-17
Top players: Seniors Alex Figeroa (OF/P), Nick Zayatz (OF/P), Ryan Andrews (OF), Michael Moore (2B), Matt Huewe (1B) and Khari Lane (P/1B); juniors Kyle Madden-Stricker (P/OF), Evan Russell (SS/P), Westan Hart (P/3B) and Joe Zayatz (P/SS); sophomore Ben Hale (C).
Scouting report: Although the Scorpions won only twice between 2009 and 2010, things started to turn around last season with four wins. Rau hopes to continue to make progress and having ace Madden-Stricker anchor the pitching staff is a good start. Joe Zayatz (.328, 14 runs) was the team's best hitter last year, and he and his brother Nick will both see time on the mound as well. Hart, a newcomer, could be the Scorpions' No. 2 pitcher. Russell could be counted on as the team's closer in tight spots, but he can also play all over the infield and is a sparkplug on offense. Last year he drew 20 walks, scored 13 runs and stole 11 bases.
Coach: Adam Leader, 10th season
2011 record: 17-0, 21-1, county and District V champion
Top players: Seniors Lee Lawler (P/SS), Bryan Davidson (P/OF), Danny Klein (3B) and Luke Schuster (OF); junior Tyler Hornberger (P/1B); sophomore Danny O'Hagan (C); freshman Cody Morris (P/1B).
Scouting report: As soon as last season ended, T.J. Pipik's jersey number was retired. He will be sorely missed at Reservoir, but — as he often pointed out — he didn't win 21 games last year by himself. Lawler quietly was 5-0 with 41 strikeouts and a .70 ERA as the Gators' No. 3 starter. He'll be their ace this season, but Davidson — who did not pitch last year — and Morris, a talented ninth grader, will have his back. Offensively, Davidson (.391, 8 SBs), Klein (.293, 10 BBs) and Lawler (.277, 7 SBs) give Reservoir some good weapons, and Schuster can cover a lot of ground in the outfield. O'Hagan played varsity last year as a freshman, but was primarily used in pinch situations.
Coach: Wes McCoy, fourth season
2011 record: 11-6, 13-8
Top players: Seniors Nick Riso (3B), Davis Grove (1B) and Mas St. George (2B); juniors Evan Griffin (SS/P), Jason Freishtat (P), Richie Lancashire (P/CF) and Shrawan Sinha (RF); sophomores Sam Kolodrubetz (LF) and Drew Pritchard (C); freshman Rohan Tilva (P).
Scouting report: The Hawks are in the enviable position of being both young and experienced. Their top three pitchers — Griffin, Freishtat and Lancashire — each pitched around 20 innings last year and look to get most of the time on the mound this year. Griffin was named first team all-county last year after batting .446 with 27 runs, 12 stolen bases and 12 extra base hits. Grove (.338, 17 RBIs), Riso (10 BBs, 11 RBIs), Lancashire (.298, 16 Rs) and Kolodrubetz (.324) were all productive hitters last year as well.
Coach: Kareem Penn, second season
2011 record: 7-10, 7-11
Top players: Senior Devon McNeel (SS/P); juniors Thomas Mee (C/P), Brandon Pelletier (2B/3B), Nick Wright (3B) and Jackson Quade (1B/DH); freshmen Wibert Jimminez (P/1B) and Cuinn Mullins (LF).
Scouting report: Mee was a pleasant surprise last year as a sophomore, batting .444 with 13 stolen bases. Since the Wildecats graduated 90 innings of pitching, he'll also be asked to pitch this season, along with McNeel (.377, 10 SBs) and Jimminez, a promising ninth grader. Wilde Lake gave up a lot of hits last year but could hit with anyone, so if that trio can keep opposing bats in check, the wins should come. Heading into the season, McNeel, Pelletier, Wright and Mee occupy the top four spots in the batting order.
Coach: Justin Riggin, second season
2011 record: 4-4 MIAA C Conference, 6-9
Top players: Senior Jordan Lawrence (SS); juniors Alex Bishop (P), Jordan Gorsuch (P), Kris Hatton (CF) and Jonathan Hamilton (1B); sophomore Steve Siggins (P); freshman Michael Patton (OF/P).
Scouting report: The Yellowjackets opened the season with two losses, but they were both close games with B Conference opponents. That bodes well for the C Conference season, which began on March 23. Lawrence is the team's leadoff hitter and emotional center, while Bishop, Gorsuch and Siggins comprise the pitching staff. Patton, a talented freshman, will be used in several different capacities by Riggin, and that could include some pitching. Bishop, Hamilton and Lawrence were all named C Conference All-Stars last year.
Coach: Chris Garber, third season
2011 record: 10-7, 15-10, MIAA B Conference semifinalist
Top players: Seniors Tyler Henderson (3B/P), Gerald Quarles (C) and Brandon Henderson (IF); juniors Jack Dougherty (1B/P) and Miguel Flores (CF); sophomore Will Seiferth (SS).
Scouting report: The Dragons took a big step forward last year, winning 15 games and advancing to the conference semifinals, but they will have to try to repeat that success without conference All-Stars Ben Koffel and Doug Miller, along with Andrew Franklin, who all graduated. That trio accounted for more than 60 runs, 60 RBIs and nine home runs, and Miller and Franklin were two of the team's top pitchers. But there is no need to panic, as Glenelg Country returns plenty of talent. Tyler Henderson and Dougherty return to lead the pitching staff after combining to win seven games last year. Those two are also the Dragons' top returning hitters, having amassed 31 runs and 36 RBIs between them, with batting averages well over .300. Tyler's twin, Brandon, belted three home runs last season. Though just a sophomore, Seiferth proved that he could hit varsity pitching last season, batting .333. The speedy Flores (12 BBs, 27 runs) makes a good leadoff man, and Quarles (14 RBIs) slots well in the heart of the order.