The question in the northern division of the Maryland Semi-Pro baseball league this season isn't who will take the division title, but whether anyone can beat Crouse Construction.
Led by coach Johnny Hughes, Crouse is on a winning streak this season and Monday night once again showed its dominance in a league game against Bel Air Athletic Club.
"Let's score on these guys fast and furious . . . don't disappoint me," Hughes told his players before the game.
By the end of the first inning, they weren't disappointing Hughes in the least. The team had jumped to a 5-0 lead with three runs scored on a bases-loaded triple by first baseman Ron Wilson. Crouse went on to win, 9-1, completing a sweep of a four-game series against B.A.A.C.
With such fast-paced scoring, Crouse Construction has developed an enviable reputation in the league. Said B.A.A.C. head coach Joe Williams, "They basically have no weaknesses. They're deep, they have exceptional speed, they always get timely hits . . . If you don't have you're best game, you don't have a very good chance of beating them."
The victory Monday night moved Crouse (27-3) into the lead of the northern division. Perennial contender Johnnies (26-3) of Cecil County is in second place.
Crouse and Johnnies are scheduled to begin a three-game series Monday, July 15. (Players from the northern and southern divisions will play in an All-Star game this Thursday, July 4 at Thomas Run Field at Harford Community College.)
Hughes is bullish on his team this season: "We have strong starting pitching with bullpen resiliency,coupled with an excellent defensive club. Our hitting has always been good. There is no reason we can't put a winning season on the record books."
A secret to the team's success, say players, is Hughes' ability to promote a positive attitude.
"Coach Hughes just lets usloose, he's a real relaxed guy," said Tom Schmidt, a 1990 Loyola High graduate leading the team with a .533 average. He has five homers and 27 RBI's.
Said Rick Lester, who leads the team with seven home runs. "He'll just give you one piece of advice and it makes you thinkso much . . . he pinpoints."
Two recent games went into extra innings. Last Monday night, Hughes, who has been coaching for 22 years, did not want that to happen again.
"They're such a good comeback club, I didn't feel comfortable with a five or six-run lead," he said.
B.A.A.C. knocked Crouse out of the semifinals last year when it scored 10 runs in the last inning to win, 12-11. Hughes says that was the result of weak pitching -- an area that isn't likely to be a problem this season, he says.
Crouse pitcher Len Skrivanek (4-1) went the distance in Monday's win, striking out five and giving up just two hits.
The team has been working with a strong core of players since its first season five years ago, but has picked up two promising 1990 C. Milton Wright high school graduates, Kenny Batten and Jay Witasick. Both are considered major league prospects by Hughes.
Witasick, a pitcher, has a fast ball clocked in the low 90s. As a freshmanat Brevard Community College in Florida, he was drafted by the Houston Astros. He has decided to stay in college a few more years before making a decision. Batten plays outfield.