Northeast Named 'Most Wanted' On County Diamonds

SIDELINES

March 22, 1992|By Pat O'Malley

Northeast baseball coach Harry Lentz likes to say that "a kid's moment in the sun is usually very brief."

That's true, but it seems the Anne Arundel sun rises and sets on that little Class 2A school off Duvall Highway in Pasadena.

Between Lentz and Eagle softball coach Lynn Pitonzo you can count10 state championships, seven in softball and three in baseball.

Last spring for the first time, they won state championships togetherin 2A while taking on -- and beating -- the bigger 4A schools. They share a common focus: Continuity and hard work equals excellence.

Northeast has gone from being the third-largest school in the state back in the '70s to one of the smallest at the 2A level within the last decade. But you wouldn't know it by the success of the baseball andsoftball teams.

In 24 years Lentz has led the baseball team to a 312-168 record (.650), and during her 14-year tenure, Pitonzo has coached the softball team to 222-51 (.813).

"The fact that we have kept competing with the bigger schools is a tribute to the hard work ofthe kids and the continuity in the program," said Lentz.

That continuity in the baseball program is a staff of Al Kohlhafer (22 years), Ed Gole and Johnny Barbour (14 years each) with Lentz.

Pitonzo'ssidekick throughout her tenure has been the knowledgeable Earl Dundorf.

"I really think the continuity is the secret to our success," said Lentz.

His Eagles had at least "an hour in the sun" last year, but that was last year. It's a new year for all the baseball teams in a county that many pro scouts say is the best high school league from top to bottom in the mid-Atlantic area, but there is no question where the spotlight will be.

It will shine in Pasadena where the defending mythical national champion Eagles will open their new park.

When a team goes 24-0, becoming the first high school baseball team in Maryland history to accomplish that feat as Northeast did, and you throw in a national championship from Easton Sports and the Collegiate Baseball publication, what does a team do for an encore?

Build a new stadium?

"No, people have asked me if winning the nationalchampionship finally got us a new stadium with lights," laughed Lentz, who is beginning his 25th and possibly his last season at Northeast. "But hell, the stadium has been in the works for 10 years.

"I don't know about going undefeated again, but I think we can go far in the state playoffs again."

Northeast won the 2A state title to capan unprecedented season in which it outscored its opponents, 326-59,and batted a robust .411 as a team. The composite batting average eclipsed the state record of .391 set by the 1989 Old Mill state 4A championship club (20-1).

Third baseman Don Shump, who set county andstate records in career (81) and single-season (45) RBI and whacked six home runs, first baseman Russ Curry (39 RBI) and center fielder Craig Everett (four homers, 30 RBI) were in last year's lineup.

Then there was right-hander Charlie Buckheit (11-0, 2.10 ERA), the county's all-time winningest pitcher: 30-3 in three years.

With playerslike that, not to mention a great supporting cast, you've got a state championship team.

It's not likely Northeast can duplicate the perfect season of '91. What is likely is that the Eagles will be the county's Most Wanted team. Their accomplishments of a year ago will beon the minds of everyone who plays them.

Shump used to say, "it'sjust a matter of time," about the Eagles' ability to come back last season, but that might refer to the opposite this spring. It could be"just a matter of time" before they get knocked off.

Playing Northeast this year will be like Baltimore City schools playing Dunbar inbasketball. Everybody wants to knock off the champ, and when the champ is a mythical national champ, it becomes all the more meaningful.

It won't be any problem for county teams to get up for the Eagles this year. How many times does a player get to say, "we just beat thenational champion" or "I got two hits against the national champ?"

Beating Northeast will make it all worthwhile, despite the fact that this is not the same team that went 24-0.

There will be more pressure on this year's Eagles team than last year's.

What this team will have to overcome are the comparisons that certainly will be drawn by opposing teams and others. The 1992 club has to be its own team and not try and imitate the '91 powerhouse.

It all comes down to attitude, because, unfortunately for this current edition, it will be playing "our toughest schedule yet," according to Lentz.

"The attitude is great on this team," said the Eagle coach.

"We knew we were going to be good just as we were in '90 (22-1, lost in state semis), and everything fell into place for us last year. It would be too much to expect this team to go undefeated especially with this schedule."

The Eagles are playing all the county 4A teams, some of them twice including defending state 4A champion Arundel (20-4). The home-opener is set for Wednesday against North County.

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