It looks like the year of the Bear in county baseball.
With above-average pitching, hitting, defense and speed, the Bears of Hammond High will be bad news to the rest of the county teams.
Oakland Mills has six returning starters from a 12-8 season, and that includes two good pitchers. The Scorpions will provide Hammond with some intense competition.
Centennial, under new coach Ron Martin, has two new and promising hurlers and could become a contender ifthat pitching produces.
Mount Hebron won only five games last year but played every one close, and the Vikings return seven players. If they hit, they should win a lot of games.
Atholton and Glenelg, two teams that finished first and second respectively the past two seasons, are both young and rebuilding.
Wilde Lake returns seven starting players from a 10-10 team, but faces a shortage of pitching.
And Howard has one outstanding pitcher, but is inexperienced defensively.
Here's a school-by-school view of what the 1991 season holds:
The two-time defending county champions, who posted a 34-9 overall record and 24-4 county mark during the last two years, will have trouble repeating this year.
The Raiders gained a lot of talent from a championship junior varsity team that went 18-2, but they have only three returning players.
They also have a new coach, Kevin Kelly. The team's coach for the past 12 years, Don Van Deusen, gave up coaching baseball to become athletic director. Kelly has coached Atholton's junior varsity since 1980, winning four county titles.
"Pitching and defense will be critical for this team, and it wouldhelp if we could win a few early games to build confidence," Kelly said.
Heading the defense will be first-team All-County returnee Brian Van Deusen at second base. Van Deusen, a junior, handled 57 playswithout making an error last year, and he batted .283 with 16 sacrifice bunts. He's not flashy and lacks speed but is fundamentally sound.
Other returnees are right-fielder Frank Coulson and catcher Tom Ecker.
Counting Van Deusen, the Raiders will have four guys named Brian and one named Bryan on the starting team this year. Brian Gick,Bryan Egolf and Brian Smith will share the pitching, shortstop and center-field positions.
Gick, who batted .355 for the junior varsity, will pitch and play short, Egolf will pitch and play center and Smith will play short or center.
The team's fourth Brian, Brian Hannah, will play first base. He batted .339 for the junior varsity. BothGick and Hannah have speed on the bases.
Billy Mills will play third base. He led the junior varsity with a .409 batting average.
Another talented player up from JV is Marc Trecannelli, an outfielder.
"We don't have any hard throwers, so we won't be striking people out and will need a good defense," Kelly said. "A .500 season would be successful."
For the Eagles to fly this year two new pitchers, Justin Thomas and Brian Bickerton, must produce.
Thomas,a senior, is a hard-throwing senior transfer from Oregon who figuresto be the team's top hurler.
Bickerton, a junior, is up from junior varsity with good reviews.
"It's just too early to say if our pitching will be adequate, so I can't tell how we'll do overall," first-year coach Ron Martin said.
The Eagles return six starters, including a fine shortstop, Brent McGraw, and a talented 6-foot, 210-pound catcher, Jon Loden.
Austin Groves (1B), Sam Yurko (2B) and Sean Barth (3B) complete a returning infield.
"With all the players coming up from junior varsity, we'll have two adequate players at each infield position," Martin said.
Martin thinks the outfield defense will be adequate, and the team's hitting better than adequate.
TheEagles won only five games last year. The 40-year old Martin, a mathteacher, hopes that that low number improves significantly this year.
The Gladiators return four starters, including senior pitcher Ricky Miller and senior outfielder Juan Dorsey.
They come from a team that finished second behind Atholton with a 14-7 record, and that lost to eventual state Class 2A champion Allegany in the regional semifinals last year.
But for the first time in many years, Glenelg can't be considered a strong contender to win a county title.
They simply have too much youth.
And one returning starter, MikeD'Andrea, a pitcher and first baseman, has a broken bone in his pitching hand and will miss the first part of the season.
Players up from junior varsity who should help are pitcher Kevin Roland, second-baseman Matt Drummond and shortstop Joe Goldberg, the JV's leading hitter.
"We're down a little in talent and in numbers," Glenelg coachTerry Coleman said. "Lack of experience will be a problem."
The Bears have failed to even make the playoffs the past three years, and have never won a county title.
But they are itching to make up for past deficiencies in a big way this year.
Hammond is a good bet to win not only a county title, but a state title this season.