Batters, not pitchers, look to put new spin on season

March 21, 1995|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,Sun Staff Writer

This season is bound to be remembered for the batted ball -- not the pitched one.

Last season's leading hitter, Curtis Mitchell of Centennial, batted .452. This season, because the county graduated a bumper crop of pitchers, it won't be surprising if Mitchell, or someone else, hits .600 or higher.

Only three of last season's top 11 pitchers are back this season. Six of the seven best are graduated or won't be pitching.

What makes that situation worse is that seven of last season's top nine hitters, including the top four, are back.

For hitters like Howard's Rusty Miller (.446), Atholton's Brandon Eierman (.443) and Glenelg's Sean Lookingbill (.423), the table is set for an even bigger feast. Look for a lot of high-scoring games in this year of the hitter.

Especially conspicuous by his absence this season will be the power pitcher -- the one who can throw it by the hitter at 80 mph plus, the one for whom it is always showtime, the one who creates continual excitement.

Strikeout pitchers like David Hudson (111 in 75 innings), Kurt Weitzel (62 in 56 innings), Joe Mellendick (37 in 22 innings) and Shane Beaver (44 in 41 innings) dotted the county baseball landscape last season. The only power pitcher back is Lookingbill -- unless his teammate, Mike Goldberg, changes his mind and decides to pitch.

Lookingbill (7-3, 1.58 ERA) should be the league's premier pitcher. The left-hander has a 13-4 career record and is a two-time all-county player. He struck out 64 and walked 32 in 57 2/3 innings.

Goldberg (3-0, 0.99 ERA), also a two-time all-county player, was the league's top closer with an 85 mph fastball. However, his pitching time may be non-existent or limited this season because of a back injury. He struck out 60 in 35 1/3 innings and walked 15.

Howard's Miller and Atholton's Dan Keyser are the other two returning pitchers among the county's top 11. Miller (1-3, 2.63 ERA), the all-county shortstop, throws fairly hard but pitched only 18 2/3 innings. Keyser (4-3, 2.17 ) is a control pitcher who struck out only 23 in 51 2/3 innings.

Among this year's returning pitching hopefuls, Mount Hebron's Billy Blair, Oakland Mills' John Sunderdick and Howard's Cailean Leith have the best potential to emerge into stoppers. None throws smoke.

Blair (2-0, 3.00), a crafty left-hander, pitched only 28 innings and must blossom if first-year coach Pat Crouse is to experience much success this season.

Sunderdick (3-4, 3.92) pitched for a team that won only three games. He also lost a three-hit, 1-0 gem to Glenelg. He's a control pitcher with a 76 mph fastball.

Leith (4-2, 3.80) looks to be Howard's top pitcher, as the Lions hope to have their best season in many years. He, too, is a control pitcher who won't strike out many batters.

Most coaches expect the Lions, who return seven starters, to be the top challenger to Glenelg for the county title. The returning pitching staff of Leith, Andy Call and Miller is a key reason.

Howard must overcome last season's 5.35 team ERA, a team defense that made 63 errors and an offense that was outscored, 147-109.

Among eight Howard seniors, however, seven are playing their third varsity season, and the Lions had seven .300 hitters last season.

In a effort at solidarity, the Howard players have shaved their heads.

The No. 1 comment from county coaches this season was: "If my pitching holds up, we'll do well."

Nearly every team lacks proven pitching in quantity.

Centennial, last season's county champion and a state semifinalist, was hardest hit. Its mound corps lost Player of the Year Hudson (9-2, 0.75), Weitzel (8-2, 0.99) and Mellendick (2-0, 1.59).

The Eagles are pinning a lot of their hopes on junior left-hander Adam Chambers, who is up from junior varsity. Pitchers Dan Adler, Nick Langridge and Bill Hawley are also up from junior varsity.

Glenelg will need help from its junior varsity, and has Dennis Pagel and Doug Sinon hoping to fill the second starting spot. If not, it will be Ben Gugliotta, called up to varsity last season to play third and shortstop after third baseman and Player of the Year Brian Boteler was sidelined with a knee injury.

Atholton, which could push the top teams because of its hitting, has high hopes for the arm of sophomore Sean Williams. Jon Edwards is back after throwing hard as a loser last season.

Mount Hebron needs sophomore Brian Picker to come through as the No. 2 pitcher behind Blair. Mark Jordan probably will be the Vikings' closer.

Wilde Lake has senior Chad Whipkey as its No. 1 starter, and is hoping for junior Jason Sturgill to take the next step up after a fine junior varsity season.

Oakland Mills' No. 2 starter will be senior Mike Schmitz, who did not play last season.

Hammond's top returning pitcher is senior Kevin Mack (1-2, 3.74). It has a large cast of other possibles, including Aaron Smith, Matt Nestor, Mike Amaral and Jeremy Miamiller.

"Our pitching is deep, but we don't have a Lookingbill or Weitzel," Bears coach Bob Maxey said.

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