Pitching will dominate county baseball this season. And two of the best arms belong to Atholton's Brian Gick and Bryan Egolf.
With theRaiders' third pitcher, Richard Blankenship, these players will giveAtholton the county's best pitching staff, and they are the main reason the team is favored to win the county title. It would be Atholton's third championship in the last four seasons.
Other teams also have some fine pitchers, however, and will challenge them.
Brian Bickerton (Centennial), Andy Young (Oakland Mills), Mike Miller (Mount Hebron), Tait Arend (Howard) and Kevin Roland (Glenelg) have proven ability, and all should excel.
Hebron, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake each return at least eight players from last year, and should be competitive.
Hammond, Glenelg and Centennial each have a strong returning nucleus.
Here is a closer look at each school.
The Raiders were as good as any team in the league over the second half of last season, winning five of their last six games, including a victory over county champion Hammond.
Sincethat team returns nearly intact, and since last year's top teams alltook heavy graduation losses, Atholton appears to be way ahead of the pack. The Raiders will start seven experienced seniors. Gick is an impressive right-handed pitcher and shortstop. Egolf is an equally impressive left-hander and outfielder. Both throw reasonably hard, havebreaking balls and know how to pitch.
The only returning junior is catcher Kevin Nickey, an excellent defensive player.
Brian Van Deusen, a great defensive player, was an All-County first-team selection two years ago before slumping a bit last season. He led the team with a .292 average.
Atholton (9-11 overall, 7-7 league) did not hit well last year, but look for strong improvement in that category.
"On paper, we look decent," second-year coach Kevin Kelly said. "I anticipate being better."
Atholton's field underwent a transformation since last year. It is now the first high school field equipped with dugouts, thanks to a hard-working boosters club.
The Eagles flew high last year, finishing second to Hammond. But graduation decimated the team, which returns just four players.
Luckily for Centennial (14-10 overall, 10-4 league), one of those is All-County pitcher Brian Bickerton, the only junior to make the first-teamsquad last year. Bickerton went 8-2 with a 1.63 earned run average. He fanned 70 and walked 33 in 60 innings. He also beat powerful MountSt. Joe from Baltimore, 1-0, in last year's opener. His batting average was .388 (19-for-49) with three doubles, three homers and 16 RBI.
Bickerton plays shortstop when not pitching.
Senior third baseman Chris Calamari has some pop in his bat, as does senior outfielderBrian Kujawa.
The Eagles are young. They'll start three sophomores, including first baseman/outfielder David Hudson and second basemanJoe Mellendick.
Centennial's No. 2 pitcher figures to be junior Brent Mertes, who also can hit with power.
"Our pitching and defense figures to be equal to last year, but we'll probably have less offense," second-year coach Ron Martin said. "Last year our lineup was set, but this year we'll be juggling it."
The Gladiators (6-14 overall, 5-9 league) return five starters, including pitcher Kevin Roland (4-2) and second-team All-County shortstop Joe Goldberg, who batted .350.
Matt Drumand looks solid at second base and will lead off. Bri
an Boteler, a sophomore who started last year at third base, returns. And Jason Beall, a junior outfielder who was broughtup at mid-season last year, batted .300.
Junior Jeff Lewis won eight games for the junior varsity and is expected to fill the No. 2 pitching role.
David Buckholtz, a junior first baseman, should hit well.
And Greg Corrick, a senior catcher who hasn't played the pasttwo seasons, fills what could have been a gaping vacancy behind the plate.
Coach Terry Coleman thinks his team can contend for a championship, but he is concerned about scoring enough runs.
"Our strength is defense, and pitching will be an asset," said Coleman.
The defending county champion Bears graduated two All-County pitchers, including Player of the Year Joe Nestor. That's the main reason they appear headed for a tumble back to the middle of the pack.
What might save the Bears is a transfer player from South Carolina,pitcher Mike Kaplan. Coach Bob Maxey already has him penned in as the No. 1 starter.
Then there's 6-foot-4, 210-pound, hard-throwing senior Curtis Barnard, and 6-foot-6, 220-pound senior Richard Williamson.
If those two produce, the Bears could be tough indeed.
One reason for optimism is junior shortstop Matt Cyran. The second-team All-County player batted .380 last season and should be one of the county's top players again.
Josh Zinnamon, a senior first baseman, is6-foot-2 and 200 pounds and can hit with power. And Joe Busick at second base and Joe Brewer in the outfield are solid returning players.