Last year at this time, Taneytown Cardinals Manager Steve Bosley wasconfident his baseball club had the right ingredients to overtake Littlestown's 12-year reign as South Penn League champs.
He was right.
The Cardinals ended Littlestown's dynasty last summer by defeating them, three games to one, in the championship series, which now presents them with the unfamiliar task of defending the South Penn League crown -- as opposed to challenging for it.
With the Cardinals' season opener slated for Sunday at home against New Oxford, Bosley is equally confident his team can repeat as champions.
"We have the best talent compiled this year that we've ever had," Bosley said, "Nowthat we've won the playoffs, the monkey's off our backs and we will play more relaxed, with nothing to prove. With the talent we have, weshould be able to repeat, and I wouldn't be satisfied with anything short of that."
The Cardinals have much of the nucleus back from last year's title team -- with some added pitching and offensive punch.
Bosley again will rely on the strong pitching staff led by the one-two punch of Bryan Harman (league Pitcher of the Year last year with a 5-1 regular season record and 0.98 earned run average) and Ron Sell (6-3, 2.27 ERA).
Former Liberty standout Scott Sharp adds depth to a staff that includes Chris Grove and Bosley.
"Our success depends on pitching, as usual," Bosley said.
The only starter gone from last year's club is catcher Randy Matthews, who retired after notmissing a game in the Cardinals' six-year history. Although the teamwill miss his leadership, Bosley is confident that newcomer Bruce Rupp, who played with the Westminster Elks last season, will provide more offensive punch.
"Bruce adds a great dimension to the team: He will provide a lot more offensive production and is capable of hitting some home runs," Bosley said.
Defensively, the Cardinals' strength is up the middle, where Ken Keith (second base) and Brian Walsh (shortstop) anchor the infield and David Crouse takes charge in center field.
The Westminster Elks will try to improve on a pair of .500 seasons and Manager Walt Von Bussenius Sr. believes he has the right mix of returning players and newcomers to surprise some teams.
"Things are looking pretty good," he said, "We had a heck of a turnout, with around 35 to 40 players showing up, and if the new guys can comein and do what I think they can we can surprise a few people."
The Elks' strength will be in pitching, where they have a lot of strong, young arms. Returnees Brad Beck and Wayne Willis will lead the team, along with newcomers Rick Reaver, a former North Carroll standout; South Carroll grad Dave Downs; Brandon Twenty; and Jim Black and JackPardoe, a pair of Catonsville Community College players.
Offensively, the Elks will look to Mike Murphey to get on base at the top of the order, while catcher Andy Bradshaw, designated hitter/catcher John May and first baseman Walt Von Bussenius Jr. will provide the powerin the middle of the lineup.
Infielder Denny Snyder returns to the lineup after a knee injury sidelined him for most of last season. Prior to the injury, he was batting about .500.
Third baseman Al Becker, second baseman Tony Sneska and outfielders Eddie DeVincent, Jeff Story and Brian Kelbaugh also return, while three newcomers, infielder/outfielder Rick Folio, outfielder David Carpenter and Doug Weeks,will try to crack the starting lineup.
"We have a very versatile team with a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things. It's just a matter of finding the right lineup," assistant manager/player Snyder said.
The Elks will open the season Sunday at Littlestown.
"Our strengths will be our pitching and solid defense and having played in the league for the third year now," Von Bussenius Sr. said. "Ithink our bats will be more confident."