Severna Park seeks winning formula Youth, injuries threaten chances American Legion baseball

June 23, 1993|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff Writer

Last summer, the Severna Park Post 175 baseball team had its season end in an agonizing way, when Francis Scott Key Post 11 took a 5-4, 10-inning victory in the American Legion state tournament in Hagerstown.

The game had been suspended the previous night with the score tied, 4-4, in the top of the 10th inning because fog hampered visibility at Municipal Stadium. Severna Park loaded the bases without scoring, and Francis Scott Key needed about 15 minutes the next day to send Post 175 home.

"We were disappointed that we didn't go further," said manager Charlie Becker. "We thought, with the talent that we had, that we should have made it through the state tournament. And we still feel that way."

A new season has raised some old questions.

Will Severna Park be able to win the county league, holding off the expected strong challenge from Mayo Post 226, among others? Is there enough hitting on this ballclub to complement a strong pitching staff?

"I would be disappointed if we weren't challenging right at the end," said Becker, whose team went 40-18 last year, including 20-4 in the league, and split four games in the double-elimination state tournament. Severna Park was 16-10 overall and 6-2 in the league going into last night's game at Severn Post 276.

"When we play to our ability, go in there and play defense and get the pitching, we're going to be in every game. We can compete with anybody in the legion."

The squad that is considered the favorite to detour Severna Park's coveted trip to Frederick -- the site of this year's state playoffs -- is Mayo Post 226. The Wildcats won three consecutive state tournaments before being supplanted by Post 175, and were crowned national champions in 1990.

Their roster is filled with players from Arundel and Old Mill high schools, including first baseman Tim Giles, The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro Player of the Year. They seem to have it all -- pitching, hitting, defense and depth.

So far, neither side has gained a decided advantage over the other.They've split their two games, with Mayo winning, 4-2, in the first meeting, and Severna Park taking the rematch, 6-4.

"Mayo's an excellent team, but we feel we're a very good team," Becker said. "We're young, though, and when you're young, sometimes you make mistakes that teams that are a little bit older don't make. As long as we don't make those mistakes that come with a young team, we can stay close with anybody. And if we hit, we're going to give some people a challenge."

With just six players returning from last season -- Chris Sutch, Brad Ruffell, Byron Druzgal, Alan Baker, John Ritter and Sean Miller -- Becker and assistant coach Jim McCandless are fielding a team with a much different look. And if that isn't enough of an adjustment, injuries have shaken up the roster.

Druzgal is to have surgery on his right hand next week and will be lost for the season. A third baseman and pitcher, he was leading Severna Park in batting with a .476 average.

Outfielder Mike Fleming had arthroscopic surgery on his knee last week, and is "nowhere near ready to run," Becker said. Outfielder Scott Neuberger initially was diagnosed as having a stress fracture in his back, but a second opinion revealed a muscular problem that requires a series of stretching exercises and makes his status day-to-day.

Sutch, the team's leader in saves last year with six, also is experiencing back problems and has missed some games. Pitcher/infielder Brad Tippin had a throat infection that caused him to lose 15 pounds. Miller, a valuable utility man, aggravated a knee injury and "has been hobbling around the last week or so," Becker said.

"Every time we turn around, it seems like somebody is either sick or has pulled a muscle."

While Severna Park's offense was inconsistent through much of last summer, its pitching remained superb, posting a 2.90 ERA through the regular season. And though the staff has undergone a drastic change, the results have been similar.

The leader is 6-foot-7 right-hander Sean Ryan, who has won his first four starts and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against Mayo.

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