With some key players, including centerfielder Roy Marsh, back from the team that won the state Class 4A championship last year, Perry Hall gets the nod for top billing in The Evening Sun Top 20 baseball rankings this season.
The Gators will get a strong challenge from any of the top five or six, but they should be back at the top of the class in 4A, along with Old Mill and Arundel.
Dundalk and Hammond, unranked a year ago, appear to have improved enough over the offseason to be contenders in Class 3A and 2A, respectively, while Calvert Hall is favored to win its fourth straight Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference championship.
The Top 20, as selected by The Evening Sun with cooperation from area coaches, follows. Last year's records and rankings are listed in parentheses. Statistics throughout are for last season.
1 Perry Hall (20-0, No. 1)
* Along with Marsh, who hit .468 and made the All-Metro first team in centerfield, the Gators return two All-Metro second-teamers: shortstop Donnie Burks (.524) and lefthanded pitcher/outfielder Kevin Loewe (.294). The Gators have some holes to fill, but Gilman transfer Danny Brown, a righthander, will help, as will a handful of reserves plus key performers up from the 12-4 junior varsity. "If our experienced players can carry us for two weeks, we should be OK," said coach Larry Butts. Never one to brag, when the mild-mannered Butts says, "OK," others might say "good," "great," or even "awesome."
2 Old Mill (19-4, No. 3)
* He has had only one losing season since 1979, and coach Mel Montgomery again has enough experience returning to make a run for a state title. Lefthander Doug Stockman (9-2) is back and shortstop Eric Scott (.429) had a 4-1 pitching record last year. He'll get help in the offense from centerfielder William Beverly (.367, 15 steals) and leftfielder Jimmy Simms (.375). Sophomore lefthander Lee Haney, up from the JV, will pitch and see action in the outfield.
3 Calvert Hall (21-3, No. 2)
* Ken Konopacki, who led the MSA A Conference in batting (.500) last season, returns to catch and holdover seniors David Pitts (2B) and Dan Coker (SS) will anchor the infield. Coach Joe Binder is high on sophomores Brian Matz, Larry Marino and Joe Mulherin. The first two will help on the mound and Mulherin will play third base.
4Arundel (16-5, No. 6)
* The Wildcats are loaded with power, as 16 and 19 runs scored in 19 scrimmage innings attests. Scott Young will anchor the infield at shortstop and the senior outfield of Rodney Stevens, Eric Hontz and A.J. Trout is solid. Pitchers Jeff Beard, Zack Collins, Larry Dobson and Chris Tutas return, and sophomore Shawn Cruise, 3-1 for the varsity last season, will be at first base when not pitching. Coach Bernie Walter, ever optimistic, said it should be a fun season.
5Mount St. Joseph (15-7, No. 5)
* Lefthander Ryan Clark (8-3, 1.50 ERA) will carry the Gaels on the mound this season and Brian Dunn, the hardest thrower on the team, will help when not at third base. Knoll Axt (.343) shifts from third base to shortstop and junior Bob Bush (.366) will play leftfield or first base when Clark pitches. Rich Briatsch moves up from the championship JV where he was the top hitter. He will back up Pat Young at catcher and play second or the outfield once coach Dave Norton decides on his lineup.
6 Northeast-AA (22-1, No. 4)
* Coach Harry Lentz has taken the Eagles to the playoffs every season except for 1977 and 1978. They return six starters, led by pitcher Charlie Buckheit (19-3 for his three-year career), so the Eagles should contend again for the state Class 2A championship after reaching the semifinals last year. Don Shump (.459, 36 RBIs) is back at third base. Craig Everett (.320, 20 RBIs) and Shawn Royston (.333, 20 RBIs) return to the outfield. Everett also was 4-0 on the mound last season.
7 Poly (13-8, No. 9)
* Righthander Rob Baker and lefthander Scott Roane return. They accounted for six wins and five saves last year for coach Charlie Sullivan's Engineers. Catcher George Freeberger, excellent defensively, should improve on his .260 batting average. Jelani Rucker (.400) is back in left, as is Lenard Marcus (.250) in center. Marcus, a first-team All-Metro defensive back, has signed with Stanford for football. Matt Holland (.285) is steady at second base and Kevin Crosby, who sat out with a broken wrist in 1990, will play shortstop. Sullivan is high on JV grad Steve Stumpf, a hard-throwing junior righthander.
8 Dundalk (10-7, unranked)
* "If defense and pitching can win, we'll be there at the end," said coach George Schuelen, wondering if the Owls will hit well enough to help the pitching staff that includes Kevin Rexrode (7-1, 70 strikeouts in 55 innings), Chris Toland (3-1), lefty Jeff Burnett and relief specialists Dave Wilson and Richard Keller. Joe Speed, who doubled as a track ace last season, is out full time for baseball and teams in the outfield with centerfielder Chuck Albrecht, who may be faster than Speed in short sprints.