Hopkins on winning streak

Forget, for a moment, the Orioles' woes, and celebrate Baltimore's other baseball Birds.

The team that is riding a 27-game winning streak.

The one that is ranked No. 1 in the country.

The team with its eye on the (College) World Series.

Clearly, the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays are all that the Orioles are not. And none of this is lost on coach Bob Babb's Homewood crew.

"Maybe more of their [Orioles] fans should come to our games," Hopkins' slugger Brian Youchak said, tongue-in-cheek. "Or maybe the teams could switch fields, and we could play at Camden Yards."

The Blue Jays (34-3) host Washington College at 3 p.m. Friday in the first round of the Centennial Conference tournament. It's the first step toward glory for Hopkins, which swept through the league undefeated en route to what it hopes is its first Division III national championship.

"We don't expect to lose another game this year," said Youchak, a second baseman whose .500 batting average leads the team. "Anything short of that would be a disappointment."

Hopkins ranks first in the nation in this week's D3baseball.com poll. It has been a heady run for the team at a school where, for ages, lacrosse has been king, come spring.

"We have created a bit of a buzz on campus," said outfielder Dave Kahn, whose hitting (14 home runs, 58 RBIs, .480 average) earned him Centennial Conference Player of The Year honors. "Professors now wish us luck on game days."

But, for all of the Jays' success — a .388 team batting average and 25 games in which they've scored 10 runs or more — Hopkins still draws paltry crowds of about 100.

"I guess things haven't changed," said Dave Leonhard, 69, a Hopkins alumnus who went on to pitch for the Orioles. "When I was there, the only people who ever saw us play were on their way to lacrosse games."

While Hopkins has sent 14 players to the pros, only Leonhard has made it to the majors, winning 16 games for Baltimore and pitching in two World Series (1969 and 1971). He now lives in Beverly, Mass. where he and his wife own a garden center.

Of the Jays' success, Leonard said, "I'm proud of my alma mater, but worried that they've got so much talent that my claim as the only Hopkins grad to reach the big leagues is in jeopardy."

Leonard's fears may be justified, said Matt Righter, Hopkins' pitching coach.

"We've got a couple of guys who could get [to the majors]," said Righter, including today's starter, Alex Eliopoulos (6-0), a 6-foot-6 sophomore who leads Hopkins in strikeouts. Another sophomore, Sam Eagleson, was named the conference's Pitcher of the Year off a 9-0 mark and 1.67 ERA.

That award came on the heels of Eagleson's success in football. A starting defensive back, he played a big role in Hopkins' Cinderella run to the national quarterfinals last fall.

"That [playoff experience] helps you mentally, no matter what sport," Eagleson said. But he added that while the football team's success surprised many, the baseball team's prowess has not.

"Last fall was magic," he said. "But in baseball, we think we're the best."

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