Numerous membership changes over the past two years mean that the East Coast Conference basketball champion won't be going to the NCAA tournament. The ECC will remain in good standing with the NCAA baseball committee through June, however, and Towson State and UMBC can be excused if they begin the season with visions of postseason play.
The Tigers won the ECC tournament and went to the NCAAs in 1988 and '91. Coach Mike Gottlieb brought back six regulars and two of his best starting pitchers from last year's team, which was eliminated by Maine in the Northeast Regional.
"We'll be decent," said Gottlieb, who never goes overboard with praise.
The Tigers weren't an overwhelming force last regular season, one reason Erik Sheetz, a senior first baseman from Havre de Grace who hit .355 with school records of 17 home runs and 60 RBIs, wasn't even named to the ECC all-star team. Second baseman Jacen Martinez (Rock Academy) and outfielders Tom Coleman (Old Mill), Steve Farling and Jay Logwood (Randallstown) are also back, along with starting pitchers Rob Lynch (South Carroll) and Brad Stinar.
The new shortstop is Eric Wagner, who led Allegany Community College to the Junior College World Series last year. He and Joe Hughes, a Calvert Hall product who spent last season at Davis & Elkins, add to the pitching depth.
Despite Towson State's experience, UMBC was made the preseason favorite by Collegiate Baseball. Bob Mumma, a junior catcher from Rising Sun, was the Most Valuable Player in the ECC in 1991, when he hit .395 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI.
Shortstop John Burns (Owings Mills), third baseman Andy Coleman (Seneca Valley), left fielder Greg Deares (Archbishop Curley), center fielder Greg Elliott (Calvert Hall) and right fielder Brian Loewe (Perry Hall) are also part of a solid junior class.
Elliott and Deares were ECC all-stars last season, when the pitching came up lame. Juniors Kevin Alarie (Annapolis) and Steve Koennel (DeMatha) are trying to come back from injuries, and Jay Witasick (C. Milton Wright), a hard-throwing transfer from Brevard (Fla.) Community College, will also make for a different staff.
UMBC can get career win No. 300 for coach John Jancuska this weekend in a three-game series at Old Dominion. Towson State opens with a double-header at Burdick Field tomorrow (1 p.m.) against Delaware State.
They'll move together next year to the Big South Conference.
"I think UMBC and us will boost the Big South's power rating," Gottlieb said. "Whether or not that's enough to get the Big South an automatic bid, I don't know. It could be easier to get into the NCAA tournament next year anyway, because there's talk of it expanding [from 48] to 64 teams."
* The state's Division I wrestlers will spend the weekend trying to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Morgan State will host an Eastern Regional for 13 unaffiliated teams, starting at 10 a.m. tomorrow and finishing Saturday. Navy is among the favorites in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association tournament tomorrow and Saturday at the Palestra in Philadelphia. Maryland will be at the 39th annual ACC tournament at North Carolina State Saturday and Sunday.
* After three titles in four years in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Navy women's swim team is now beating up on the Patriot League.
In their first Patriot championship meet, coach Dick Purdy's team was as dominant as ever, as it scored 745 points to runner-up Bucknell's 539 1/2 . Stacia Johnson, a senior from Gainesville, Fla., won both diving events. She was the NCAA three-meter champion in 1991, the Mids' last season in Division II.
* The New Community College of Baltimore women and the Allegany men are still alive in National Junior College Athletic Association basketball tournaments.
In region play last week, NCCB advanced to the Division II nationals, and Allegany whipped Hagerstown 96-71 to stay alive in Division I. Allegany has to win at top-ranked Vincennes tomorrow to return to the men's nationals. In the regional Division III championship for men, Montgomery-Germantown beat Howard.
* Several locals are at the NJCAA indoor track and field championships at Kansas State today through Saturday.
Catonsville sent two sprinters, California native Lorenzo Hathorne and Robbie Johnson, a sophomore out of North Carroll High who originally played football at Western Maryland. Essex has a quality shot-putter in Demark Thompson, a freshman from Friendly High in Prince George's County, and a quick 1,600.