When a defending state 4A baseball champion returns only three starters, it might expect to trip over the foul lines instead of earning a trip to the playoffs.
But when the three are seniors the caliber of No. 3-ranked Perry Hall's Roy Marsh, Kevin Loewe and Donny Burks, the Gators' 7-1 start isn't such a shock.
Marsh, a first-team Evening Sun All-Metro outfielder last year, and second-team selections Loewe (at pitcher) and Burks (infield) have blended with younger, less experienced players to lead Perry Hall to a .380 team batting average and a 0.74 earned run average.
But there have been surprises for coach Larry Butts. "Two surprises," he said. "How well we're hitting the ball, and how poorly we're playing defense. Mainly it's been mental mistakes that result in physical errors. It should have cost us some games we won."
But defense did cost them the only game they lost. In a 7-6, nine-inning loss to Dulaney, Perry Hall pitchers allowed only one earned run.
Not that the Perry Hall attack hasn't benefited from some sloppy fielding, too. The Gators, averaging 11.5 runs, have won games by 20-3, 20-0 (a no-hitter by Loewe) and 21-4. Butts wants it known that he wasn't running up scores. "It's a combination," he said. "We're hitting the ball and other teams are making quite a few errors and bases on balls."
One player opponents don't want to walk is Marsh, hitting .367. Also an indoor track star with a best time of 6.26 seconds for 55 meters, the centerfielder already has stolen 12 bases and scored 18 runs. Despite his athletic talents (he's also a second-team All-Metro running back), Marsh is not a prima donna. In fact, his teammates voted him, with Loewe, co-captain this season, and he returns the compliment.
"We've got a lot of young players, but they're real talented," Marsh said. "This team hasn't played together that long. Last year we had great team chemistry, but we're coming together now."
On April 10, Marsh signed a letter of intent with Ohio State for baseball, but that hasn't kept the pro scouts away. "I've seen more scouts at our games this year than any other," said Butts. The Orioles, White Sox, Dodgers and Mariners have been in touch with Marsh.
Will he be tempted to sign if he's drafted?
"I'm going to college, definitely," he said. "I'm not going to miss the college experience."
Baseball experience is something Marsh already has accumulated. He and Loewe also played last summer for Putty Hill's national champion 16-18 team. "They're ready for anything," said Butts. "They have a lot of confidence. Not too many things come up they haven't had experience with."
"You become a better player because the competition is so stiff," Marsh said. "And you play day in and day out."
Even Butts can still be surprised by Marsh's skills. "He does some things that amaze you," he said. "[At Dulaney] he ran down a ball in the gap that I didn't think anyone could get to. He has a tremendous desire to excel. He loves to win."
So, come playoff time, it will only be a real surprise if the Gators aren't there again.