Crucial playoff pick: Who starts opener?


May 20, 1994|By PAT O'MALLEY

Choosing the right pitcher for the first game will be crucial for the six Anne Arundel County teams in the state baseball playoffs today.

Let's explore those crucial decisions that will remain secret until 3:45 p.m. today.

Region semifinals will be played all over the state today, and Anne Arundel County will definitely have a team from the 4A East Region advance to the state final four.

All four teams in the East are from Anne Arundel in top seed Arundel (18-2), No. 2 seed Old Mill (15-5), No. 3 Severna Park (12-6) and No. 4 North County (13-7).

Top-ranked Arundel plays host to 15th-ranked North County while fourth-ranked Old Mill entertains No. 10 Severna Park in Millersville.

Broadneck (14-6) is the lone county team in the 3A East as the No. 3 seed, while Southern of Harwood (9-8) is the only county team in the 2A East and is seeded No. 2.

The No. 12 Bruins visit No. 9-ranked Centennial (16-2) in Howard County. Southern plays host to No. 3 seed Cambridge-South Dorchester (11-7) and is the only team not from the Eastern Shore in the region. Wicomico (13-5) is top seed and Parkside (10-8) is the fourth seed.

The ancient and proven baseball philosophy is to always go with the ace in the first game of any tournament or playoff, but there are sometimes wise exceptions to the rule.

Bernie Walter, coach of defending state 4A champion Arundel, can give the ball to ace Brandon Agamennone (7-2) or go with Wade Rolocut (4-0) or Jamie Stoddard (5-0) to save Agamennone for an expected region title game.

The last two seasons, Walter has saved his ace for the second game and gotten away with it. Last year, Tim Giles, who was somewhat of a co-ace considering that he went 9-1 while Agamennone was 8-0, won the first game, 1-0, over Chesapeake and Jason White.

Agamennone then pitched the Wildcats to the region final over Old Mill and subsequently an unprecedented sixth state title.

In '92 Agamennone pitched the first game as a sophomore (5-2) and beat Old Mill while Walter saved ace Brian Rolocut (11-1) for the region final with then nationally ranked Severna Park expected to be the opponent.

Severna Park coach Jim Pitt also saved his ace, Rob McCandless (8-0), for the final, but the move backfired when the Falcons were upset by Jeff Vincent (4-2) and fourth seed Broadneck, 5-4, in the semifinals.

North County is unquestionably the underdog going into Arundel today, but Knights ace Mike Wooden (4-2), who is expected to get the call from coach Don Usewick, stopped Arundel, 4-1, earlier this season. Wooden has not pitched since May 2 when he lost, 6-2, at Arundel.

That game was his first after his 2-0 perfect game over Old Mill on April 28. Wooden strained a muscle in his back in the fifth or sixth inning of the perfect game, but was determined to finish.

The junior right-hander didn't feel right warming up at Arundel four days later, but he tried anyway. Wooden was gone after two innings and hasn't pitched or played third base since. He has been taking ultrasound treatments under the guidance of Doc Bartlinski and his son, Joe Jr., and feels great.

Old Mill coach Mel Montgomery has the luxury of choosing a starter among Ken Pumphrey (6-2), Mike Bussey (4-2) and Jeff Haynie (3-1) to go against underdog Severna Park. Pumphrey is considered the ace, Bussey has been consistent and has the lowest ERA at 1.22, while Haynie owns a win over the Falcons.

The Falcons hit a school-record .382 this season, and scored in double digits a school-record nine times.

One of those double-digit games was a 13-1 rout of Old Mill in which the Falcons knocked out Pumphrey early and also did a number on Haynie in relief, finishing with 21 hits. Haynie rebounded to six-hit the Falcons, 6-5, on May 9.

Pitt, whose Falcons lost to Old Mill in last year's region semis, doesn't feel his choice is that big of a deal because "we pitch by committee."

Junior right-hander Bill Erskine (4-0), who scattered seven hits in going the distance in the 13-1 romp over Old Mill, could be Pitt's pick.

Despite the fact that No. 18-ranked City (18-1) of Baltimore is top seed in the 3A East, second-seeded Centennial with its outstanding, one-two pitching punch of David Hudson (8-1) and Kurt Weitzel (6-1) has to be the favorite.

Broadneck gets a break by playing the best team in the first game, leaving no doubt who coach Mark Stover will pitch. Sean Ryan (8-3) will be on the hill for the Bruins.

Southern coach Chuck Crandell has little choice. It's got to be Troy O'Connor (9-3), who has all the Southern wins and provides the best chance in what is the Dawgs' first playoff appearance since 1977.

I= The Cambridge ace is sophomore fireballer Ryan Fleetwood.

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