Given time to grow, Franklin players develop into winners

May 16, 1994|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,Special to the Sun

Most managers pride themselves on knowing when to push the right strategic buttons, and Franklin's Chick Vrany in no different.

Except for one notable exception.

It's the move he didn't make last year that's now paying the biggest dividends.

When Vrany chose to keep a talented group of underclassmen on the junior varsity last season, his depleted varsity suffered the consequences en route to a 5-13 record.

But in the meantime, the young players learned how to win, sharpened their skills and made it all the way to the county J.V. championship game.

Now, those same players are responsible for turning the Indians varsity into a winner. With just two regular-season games left, the 11-5 team has earned a spot in next week's Class 3A state playoffs.

Last year's gamble has turned into this year's bonanza.

"I took a chance," said Vrany. "I left this group on the J.V. to learn how to win, and they did that. I feel it's paying off, but coaching is a lot easier when the kids are this talented."

Leading the talent pool is the team's only sophomore, pitcher Mike Trott.

The right-hander has gone 3-2 with a save -- losing only to No. 5 Perry Hall and defending Class 3A state champion Lansdowne. He also has a 2.39 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 42 innings.

For him, the difference this year has been attitude.

"I think everybody came in with high aspirations since the J.V. was so good," said Trott, who is one of 10 underclassmen on the team. "We thought we could come in and take the team to the playoffs this year."

And they are doing just that.

The fundamentally-sound Indians, who pride themselves on good defense and pitching, have been the surprise of Baltimore County's Class 3A-4A League.

Four of their five losses have come against Dundalk, Perry Hall, Lansdowne and Randallstown -- teams that have graced the The Baltimore Sun Top 20 virtually all season.

"None of our losses have been really bad," said Vrany, whose team's last three losses were by a total of six runs. "We feel like we can play with just about anyone."

The Indians showed that with a pair of victories against defending Baltimore County 1A-2A champion Patapsco, and left a lasting impressing on Patriots coach Dave Ingle.

"Of the teams we've played this year, Franklin looks like the kind of team that just never gives up," said Ingle. "They're an all-around good team. They play good defense, and they have pitchers that will throw

the ball hard and pitchers that will throw off your timing."

Tom Hercek and Julio Scheufele join Trott to make up a formidable mound trio. While Trott uses his live arm to overpower hitters, Hercek and Scheufele have been successful relying on good location and changing speeds.

jTC But the team also has plenty of punch at the plate.

Centerfielder Nick Hienz (.450 batting average, three home runs, three doubles), right fielder Tim Angell (.385, two HRs) and catcher Jordan Wolff (seven extra-base hits), all juniors, lead the offense, while other threats include first baseman Tim Zittle (three triples) and Hercek (.400).

Trott said the young players never had any doubt they could win on the varsity level.

"We knew we were young, but we knew we could do it," he said. "I don't think a lot of teams expected us to do as well as we have. Now, we know we're good enough."

The Indians now go into their two remaining games knowing that they've secured their spot in the postseason tournament.

Franklin's last playoff appearance came in 1992. That year, Vrany's first with the team, the senior-laden Indians went 13-5 and advanced to the regional finals.

Vrany says it's hard to compare the two teams because of the obvious difference in experience, though this year's version gets the nod in power and speed.

"Overall, this team is more talented though it still lacks some maturity," said Vrany, who will lose only two starters to graduation and get back Chris Demitrakis, one of the team's all-around best players who sat out this season with a knee injury.

"The future looks bright. They're getting a lot of experience this year, which will make them really tough to beat next year.

"And we can't wait for next year."

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