As pools of talent go, pitching coach Larry Schillenberg is in waterup to his neck. But under the circumstances, the Anne Arundel Community College assistant baseball coach couldn't be happier.
"We go eight deep in guys who are strictly pitchers and then we've got two infielders who can also pitch," said Schillenberg.
In their first three games, the Pioneers (2-1) have gone with a different starter in sophomore Rick Forney (1-0) and freshmen Mike Shockley (1-0) and Jim Durick (0-1). As for the others -- the closers, the long and short relievers -- who are they?
"We don't know yet. It's a challenge because I'll have to work a little harder than last year to find out who will be starting or relieving," said Schillenberg, who will take his time -- and full advantage of the 40-game schedule -- to establish his pitching hierarchy.
"We think we've got a handle on whose going to develop, but there could be some surprises."
A year ago the Pioneers built their pitching staff around starters Brian Toronto, a Broadneck graduate now at the University of Texas, and Mike Hebb, a former Glen Burnie hurler who recently signed with the Orioles.
This year's rotation consists of three new starters anda host of reserves with relatively undefined roles.
"We have moredepth than last year, but it's just not the same quality of depth. And it's just a matter of which of the others can rise to the top," said third-year head coach Clayton Jacobson. "We expect good things from all of them."
Although the Pioneers lost several key starters tograduation, they also gained 16 newcomers, including 13 freshmen.
Forney, a closer last year and an Annapolis High graduate, is the only veteran hurler returning. Last year he had a 2-0 record and registered 10 saves while playing behind Toronto (8-1 record, 0.68 ERA), Hebb (6-2, 2.03) and Ed Luers (5-2, 3.08).
Although Forney, Shockley and Durick (Chesapeake) have emerged as the top guns, Jacobson can count on help from several others, including freshman relievers Jason Smith (Annapolis), Andy Young (Meade), a 6-foot-6 190-pounder, and Dwayne Hoit (Broadneck).
The Pioneers' rotation should be tested next week when they play five games in five days, beginning Monday.
AACC will play host to Holyoke, Catonsville and Housatonic on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, respectively. On Tuesday and Thursday, the Pioneers have road games against the Community College of Baltimore and Harford Community College, respectively.
"I'm looking forward to starting this season, but with the talent wehave, I'm sure I'll play some relief in a few games," said Forney, a 6-4, 210-pound power-pitching right-hander.
"We each kind of have our own styles. Shockley'sa (6-4, 190-pound) left-hander with power and some good off-speed pitches. Jimmy's going to keep you off-balance -- one inning he's throwing the hard stuff and the next he's throwing curves."
In a double-header last Saturday the Pioneers renewed their rivalry against Allegany, a team that defeated them in 10 innings for last year's Region XX title as Arundel finished as a runner-up for the second straight year.
The Pioneers split with the Trojans -- the nation's sixth-ranked team this year -- losing the first game, 7-2, and winning the second, 8-1.
"I think we were happy with the split," said Forney, whowent the distance, allowing three hits with five strikeouts. "After losing the first game, we were a little down, but they had already played three games and that was our first game coming in."
In addition to Forney, six veterans -- three of whom are on the starting roster -- return from last year's Eastern Conference champion squad that compiled a 15-4 division record and went 32-7 overall.
Hitting won't be a problem for the Pioneers, who are batting a combined .385 after bombing Cecil Community College, 24-6, Tuesday.
Third baseman Jim McNally (Old Mill) and right fielder Jay Schline (Chesapeake) are back, and each is batting at a .500 clip. Schline has a solo homer.
Newcomer second baseman Mike Kirkpatrick (.636) already has seven hits, two homers and nine RBI, and by season's end could threaten McNally's team-leading 37 RBI of a year ago. Leadoff hitter Frank Billings (.556), another rookie, has the team's second-best average.
"There are indications that we have some real power at the plate," said Jacobson. "Our hitting and defense are much better."
Returning sophomore catcher Rick Stang (Northeast) leads a strong defensive unit, which includes newcomer sophomore Jeff Martin (Old Mill), a first baseman, and rookie shortstop Andy Srebroski (Northeast).
Freshmen Scott McClelland (Old Mill) and Chuck Reid (Glen Burnie) also will see action in the outfield, as will catcher Pat Kahl (Arundel), who playedthis summer for the American Legion national champion Mayo Post.
Srebroski, the Anne Arundel County Sun's 1990 Baseball Player of the Year, set several school records during his senior season at Northeast, including batting average (.553, also a county record), single-season homers (five) and career homers (eight). Still, the college game is an adjustment.
"This year's team has an overall better hitting ability than what my whole high school team did. Even the reserves --it's unbelievable," said Srebroski, who is batting .250 for the Pioneers. "We've had seven home runs in the last two games -- I mean the whole lineup has a big stick. It proves that we can hit homers no matter who we play."