Magnus Dunn was too scared to walk onto the baseball field when he was 5 years old. He was shy and didn’t like talking to strangers, and only after some encouragement from his mom and her help running the bases did he play in his first game.
“I didn’t want to get out there but she really pushed me to play baseball and do a lot of other things,” Dunn said, “so I’m very thankful for that. And after that, I’ve loved baseball ever since.”
Dunn said his mom always told her son that he would turn out to be special, and on the diamond this spring that became true as he blossomed into a two-way star for Mt. Hebron. The junior was one of the best hitters in Howard County — he had 26 hits, scored 19 runs and his .433 batting average was third best in the league — but he was also one of the best pitchers and featured some of the best swing-and-miss stuff in the area.
No public school pitcher struck out more batters (62) than Dunn, and he did so in just 27 innings. In another metric, Dunn, a lefty who throws a changeup and curveball to go with a fastball that topped out at 85 mph in the playoffs, punched out more than 16 hitters per seven innings pitched. He did surpass that number on occasion, though, like on April 3 against Glenelg. Of the 20 outs he recorded that day in a 5-1 win, 18 came via strikeout. He also had three hits to pace the offense.
“He had the ability that game to throw whatever he wanted to wherever he wanted to pretty much to both sides of the plate. It was really fun to watch,” Vikings coach Brian Culley said. “I’ve never been a part of anything anywhere close to that, so to sit back and be a spectator for that was a fun one to be part of.
“That, to me, was when he kind of took off and he realized he could be what he ended up being for the whole year.”
His 1.29 ERA was fifth best among public school pitchers that threw at least 20 innings, and the five earned runs he allowed this spring came against some of the best teams in the area, including county-champion Howard twice. On the year, Dunn allowed just eight hits — far and away the best among the county’s starting pitchers.
It all makes Dunn a logical choice to be this year’s Howard County Times/Columbia Flier baseball Player of the Year.
“I couldn’t stop smiling when I found out. I went downstairs and told my mom, my brothers and my dad ... my mom, she was just speechless,” Dunn said. “I knew I definitely had a good performance this year but I wasn’t really expecting to get Player of the Year for the whole county.”
At 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, Dunn didn’t always feature a powerful fastball that misses so many bats. In fact, he rarely pitched when he was younger because he wasn’t big and strong enough. When he got his shot, he said, he took advantage of it.
An injury prevented Dunn from having a proper tryout last year. He started on JV before being promoted to varsity two weeks into the season and made an immediate impact on the mound. He threw three shutout innings against River Hill in his varsity debut and, though he threw just 10 innings for the season, Dunn allowed only one earned run and had the second-best ERA (0.70) in the county.
“He’s got this quiet confidence about him on the mound,” Culley said. “An element of it to me for a pitcher is to have a belief in yourself but also an I-don’t-care aspect to it. He’s pretty even tempered, so no moment really gets to him too much. It’s a lack of letting things get to him.”
Dunn’s command guided him last year, not his velocity. His two strikeouts were the fewest in the league among qualified pitchers, but Dunn trusted the process. He threw long toss to develop arm strength and put in extra work on his mechanics and using his whole body to make up for a lack of power.
Last summer, however, his velocity started to tick up.
“I guess my arm just developed and got stronger, and during a couple of indoor practices our coach brought a radar gun and I was throwing in the low 80s,” Dunn said. “I had never done that before. I didn’t really know where it came from.”
Dunn’s ability to command his now-speedy fastball to pair with a heavy-breaking curveball was the reason for his brilliance as a pitcher this year. Culley said it was hard to pinpoint his best games because almost all of them were dominant.
Dunn and Jimmy Jaecksch combined for 13 strikeouts in a 3-1 season-opening win over Reservoir, and his start against Howard two days later put Mt. Hebron squarely among the top contenders in the league, as he struck out seven batters in a short three-inning start in a 3-2 win. He struck out five in two innings against Hammond in a game Culley said his team wasn’t playing particularly well, and Mt. Hebron improved to 6-0 after Dunn’s 18-strikeout game against Glenelg.
Dunn pitched well against Howard in the second meeting on April 29, too. He struck out nine, allowed three hits and three earned runs in four innings. In the playoffs, Dunn held Atholton to one hit and punched out 10 in four innings of a 2-0 loss. He also had three of the six hits that day for the Vikings, who finished 11-4 in county and 11-7 overall.
Dunn believes the best is yet to come.
“I just need to try to be a leader next year and try to keep everyone within themselves and playing to the level I know they can,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of good players coming back ... but I think if we just focus on each game and not think too far ahead we’ll do pretty well next season.”
Delgado went undefeated and was consistently great on the mound this spring for the county-champion Lions to earn co-Pitcher of the Year honors for the second straight year. He finished 6-0 with a 1.31 ERA and allowed just 25 hits and nine walks, while striking out 60 in 37.1 innings and did so pitching against the county’s top teams.
Against Mt. Hebron late in the regular season, Delgado helped Howard avenge a previous loss by allowing four hits, one walk and three runs while striking out eight across 5.1 innings. He performed admirably with the bat as well, knocking in 17 runs with nine extra-base hits and two home runs to go with a .309 average.
Delgado, who is committed to UMBC, finishes his varsity career with a 2.28 ERA, a 14-4 record and 161 punch-outs across 119 innings.
“Gabe’s greatest attribute is his tireless work ethic and desire to improve,” Howard coach Nick Hoffner said. “He continued to work hard over the past year after winning a state championship and being named the Howard County Pitcher of the Year in 2018.”
Tyler Russo, Glenelg Country, senior.
No pitcher in Howard County missed more bats or was as dominant as Russo, who mowed down the competition in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference. The Towson commit went 9-1 for the regular season conference champions and struck out a staggering 100 batters in 58 innings while allowing just five earned runs, good for a 0.60 ERA, .147 batting average against and a 0.84 WHIP.
His all-around effort — he also batted .376 with a county-best 13 doubles and 28 RBI and 24 steals — helped the Dragons finish with a school-record 15 conference and 20 overall wins.
“Tyler’s senior year completed his high school career that is regarded as the most dominant, impactful career in all phases of the game in Glenelg Country School history,” Glenelg Country coach Chris Garber said.
Elliott transferred in from Archbishop Spalding and made an immediate impact for a Gators team that needed a top-end starter and shortstop.
On the bump, Elliott had good control and swing-and-miss stuff. He finished 2-2 with a 0.75 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 37.2 innings and walked just nine to go with 21 hits for a sub-1.00 WHIP. His bat, however, was arguably even better, as the switch-hitter led all county players with a .470 average and drove in 18 runs and scored 17 in just 49 at-bats.
His best moment this spring came against Hammond when he hit two first-inning home runs — one from each side of the plate. He’s the first player in Reservoir history with a two-homer game and is one of nine players in Maryland history to hit two bombs in one inning.
“Daniel’s work ethic is incredible,” Gators coach Adam Leader said. “He hits almost everyday and spends a lot of time on his defense and pitching. As a result, he is able to do things, especially at the plate, that most players can’t do.”
Benji Thalheimer, Atholton, junior.
The Raiders were the biggest surprise in the county this spring by finishing second in the county standings and Thalheimer was the biggest reason why. The two-year varsity starter was the ace of the staff and actually had the lowest ERA (0.53) among all county pitchers with 20 or more innings pitched.
“He was the player we looked to give the ball to for all of our toughest match-ups,” Raiders coach Jon Dupski said. “Our team had a tremendous amount of confidence in our junior leader and knew Benji could get any hitter out in any situation.”
Thalheimer was strong right out of the gate; pitching 3.1 innings and hitting a game-winning grand slam against Marriotts Ridge in a 6-4 win in the season opener. That start began a stretch of five consecutive starts without allowing an earned run. He allowed just three on the season and struck out 59 to finish 4-1 with a save and a complete game.
A five-tool player and just a sophomore, Betler has the potential to be one of the county’s best players in the coming years. He played “flawless” defense at shortstop and center fielder, according to Eagles coach Denis Ahearn, but did his best work with the bat.
He finished second in the league in batting average (.463) and his 31 hits were most among public-school players. His speed was also a factor, as he stole nine bases, and he also scored 22 runs (fourth-best among public schoolers) and drove in 17 from the three-hole.
One of his best games came against Long Reach in the playoff opener when he hit a two-run triple to set the tone for a 7-1 win.
“As a hitter, Chris is extremely mature for a sophomore,” Ahearn said. “He has a great approach and tremendous plate discipline coupled with fast hands and good power. Add to this a great arm and great speed and you have a classic five-tool stud.”
Alex Campbell, Howard, junior.
A second-team selection a year ago, Campbell solidified the Lions’ defense up the middle at shortstop and batted near the top of the order for the league’s best offense.
He finished eighth in the county in average (.418), scored 18 runs and drove in 13 while walking nine times and stealing six bags. Campbell batted lead off most of the season but “really came around” when he moved to the third spot in the lineup late in the season, Howard coach Nick Hoffner said. Defensively, he committed just four errors.
His best performance came in the playoffs against Catonsville, during which he had three hits, scored two runs and drove in four in a 9-1 victory. Overall, Campbell scored at least one run in 12 games and went hitless in just three.
Gavin Ross, Marriots Ridge, senior.
Ross was a four-year varsity player who started the last two and a half seasons for the Mustangs. He batted second in the lineup and “started hitting on Day 1,” according to assistant coach Scott Reeling, and this spring he batted .396 with 15 runs scored to go with 16 steals.
“It was great to see him fulfill everything we had envisioned he would be,” Reeling said. “He was asked to play a position he had not played before, and it was greeted with a ‘Yes sir, I can do that.’”
Ross started the season scorching hot at the plate. He was batting .583 after a three-hit day against River Hill on April 1.
“Everyone on this team wanted him up if we needed a hit,” Reeling said, “and he came through more times than not.”
For his career, Ross batted .325 with 11 extra-base hits and 25 RBI.
Looper will go down as one of the best players to wear the Scorpions’ black and orange in recent memory. He was a four-year starter and two-time first-team selection and team leader on and off the field.
“He led the team in almost every category and contributed greatly to our success this year and our continuing success as a program over the past four years,” Oakland Mills coach Matt Siller said. “Ben was there for all of the ups and downs, and as we progressed each year he remained dedicated to the game and to his team.”
This spring, Looper was ninth in the county with a .411 average and scored 16 runs while driving in 19. He also hit seven doubles and a pair of homers, walked nine times and stole six bags. He was also a bulldog on the mound, finishing third in the league in innings pitched (41.1) while striking out 57 and allowing 31 hits and 17 earned runs for a 2.80 ERA.
Looper, who had a.356 average in 80 career games, will pitch at Wilson College next year.
Jack Pistner, Centennial, sophomore.
A first-year varsity player, Pistner was consistently a thorn in the side of opposing pitchers. He was known for long at-bats and wearing pitchers down and did so successfully to the tune of a .397 average and good power numbers — 16 RBI and seven doubles. He also scored 20 runs and walked 12 times, which was among the best in the league.
“Jack was a leader on the field,” Eagles coach Denis Ahearn said. “He was always talking and directing traffic. He was a also a table setter for Chris Betler and Zach Steen.”
Pistner had three hits and four RBI against Long Reach on April 23 and had two hits and a RBI in Centennial’s shutout victory over Reservoir in the playoffs.
Zach Geesaman, Atholton, junior.
Geesaman was one of the county’s top sluggers this season and slugged a county-best four home runs, two of which came in the same game against Oakland Mills, to go with six doubles. The second-year starter and third-year varsity player was stellar behind the plate defensively, too, and is being recruited by several Division I colleges.
“Defensively, Zach is highly effective behind the plate and at third base. His glove skills standout and are combined with a great arm,” Raiders coach Jon Dupski said. “Overall, Zach is a player all coaches want on their team due to his drive to succeed and willingness to do whatever it takes to make the team better.”
On the season, Geesaman batted .354 and tallied 23 hits in 65 at-bats. He doubled twice, singled, walked and stole a base in a 4-0 win over Mt. Hebron on April 8, and a week earlier he drove in two key runs late in an 11-10 victory against Long Reach.
“Next season, Zach is projected to be one of the best hitters in Howard County,” Dupski said.
Jaecksch was stellar as a reliever and a second-team selection last year but this spring was one of the best two-players in the county. His .426 batting average was fourth best in the county and his 0.57 ERA was fifth best among all players.
“He was someone that we could depend upon in the middle of the order to be a run producer for us and to give us a chance to win every game he started for us on the mound,” Vikings coach Brian Culley said. “His steadying attitude and constant grinding effort, as well as his ability to play the game extremely hard at all times, is what separates him and made him such an impactful player for us.”
As a pitcher, the left-hander allowed just 14 hits, eight walks and two earned runs and struck out 36 in 24.2 innings. He and Magnus Dunn combined for 13 strikeouts and he scored the game-winning run and drove in one in a 3-1 win against Reservoir on opening day. Versus River Hill on April 23, Jaecksch had three hits, three RBI and two runs.
Jack Johnson, Atholton, senior.
Johnson, a four-year varsity player and three-year starter, was the table-setter for the Raiders offensively and one of their best pitchers despite six appearances and two starts.
With the bat, Johnson had the ability to hit the ball to all fields. He led the team for the second straight year and was sixth in the county in batting average (.424), and he also scored a team-high 16 runs while drawing 11 walks.
Johnson, a lefty who played multiple positions, also allowed no earned runs in five of his six appearances at pitcher. In a start against Hammond, he allowed one hit and struck out seven in four innings, and he threw 2.2 scoreless innings in a 2-0 playoff win over Centennial, during which he also had two hits, stole two bases and scored a run.
“Jack has been a key contributor to the Atholton Raiders and will be missed in the future,” Dupski said.
Jerras Murray, Howard, senior.
An argument could be made that Murray was the most clutch offensive player in Howard County this season. Overall, his 31 RBI were most among all county players, his .407 batting average was 10th best among public-school players, and he consistently came through with runners in scoring position.
“It seemed like every time he came up to the plate with runners on base he came through with a hit or a productive at-bat,” Lions coach Nick Hoffner said. “He added five sacrifice flies on the season.”
Murray had three triples on the year, two of which came in a 10-0 win over Atholton. He also had a season-high four RBI in the game against the Raiders, though he did register multiple RBI seven times this spring. His best accomplishment might be that he only struck out three times in 70 plate appearances.
Tad Henley, Glenelg, senior.
Henley was a bright spot in what was overall a tough year for the Gladiators.
He did a little bit of everything for them, as he led the team in hits (25), batting average (.391), runs scored (19), RBI (18), OPS (1.106), triples (3), home runs (2) and stolen bases (10). Henley also pitched in every big game for Glenelg, though his 2-5 record doesn’t indicate as much. He had a 1.76 ERA and allowed nine earned runs while striking out 46 in 35.2 innings pitched.
Against Pallotti on April 15, Henley drove in two runs and pitched six innings, allowed two runs — none earned — on four hits while punching out eight.
“Tad had a wonderful year for us. He pitched every big game and competed versus the best teams in the county. Tad was hitting over .400 a majority of the year and had a tremendous year at the plate.”