Coaches adjusting playoff thinking Open system won't force options or pitchers

Local Sports: High School Baseball Preview

March 19, 1996|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Like it or hate it, it's here to stay.

Baseball joins the crowd and enters the era of open state playoffs this spring.

Acceptance of the new system is divided sharply, mostly along lines of haves and have-nots.

Coaches of perpetual have teams, such as Glenelg, Centennial and Atholton, are critical of a system that lacks a seeding process.

Glenelg coach Ed Ashwell, whose defending county and state Class 2A champion Gladiators (21-3) figure to be one of the top county teams again, is blunt about his disapproval.

"I don't like open playoffs. An 0-20 team can go somewhere," he said. "People will be saving arms, and the regular season will have no meaning. I think they at least need to seed teams."

Glenelg is a team that has qualified for the playoffs almost every year under the old system that awarded points for wins.

Atholton coach Kevin Kelly, whose Raiders (14-8) finished second in the county and lost to Glenelg in the regional championship game, echoed Ashwell's sentiments.

"There has to be a ranking procedure. No other tournament does it this way. Our basketball team shouldn't have had to play Dunbar in its first playoff game. That's really my only gripe about the system," Kelly said.

Atholton consistently made the playoffs under the old system.

Centennial coach Ron Martin, whose Eagles should give Glenelg its toughest competition in the county race this season, is certain that the new system will change the way coaches think and act. But he thinks most of the changes will be for the better.

"I like the new system. You'll be able to experiment more, and try double steals and suicide squeezes that you might not have tried because you were so worried about having to win every game."

Centennial went 13-7 last season and failed to make the playoffs by two-tenths of a point, so Martin's appreciation for the new system is one forged from a still stinging disappointment.

But he also sees negatives.

"Under the new system, out-of-county games mean nothing, and it will become especially important to get a first-round bye," Martin said.

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's system for creating playoff brackets is to select teams by random drawing. Home games also are not awarded based on performance.

Some schools will be awarded first-round byes regardless of their record.

"The draw becomes especially important in baseball, because no one will want to play that first round and have to use up their No. 1 pitcher," Martin said.

One of the most astute county baseball minds, Hammond coach Bob Maxey, who thinks his Bears may be a year away from a return to the kind of county baseball prominence it enjoyed in 1991, thinks the new system will be "lots of laughs."

"We have 11 teams in our region and five will get first-round byes. How fair is that?"

"Two strong teams could play each other in the first game and have to use up their No. 1 pitchers, and then in the second round, the winner might play another strong team that can start its No. 1 pitcher."

"And we play Monday and Tuesday the final week of the regular season. Who is going to want to use up their No. 1 pitcher in those games? They'll want to save him for the playoffs that start on Friday."

State rules limit pitchers to throwing 14 innings in a seven-day period.

For Howard coach Matt Forsyth, who has some heavy hitters back from last season, but whose team has no proven pitching, Maxey's last scenario would pose no problem.

"Our main goal would be to win the county title. That is very important to us. I have mixed emotions about the new system. We'd probably qualify under the old rules this season, but the new system does allow you to play more guys and takes the pressure off. But there should be a seeding system," Forsyth said.

For first-year coach Don Storr, whose Wildecats won just five games last season, two by forfeit, the new system is a godsend.

"For Wilde Lake, it is wonderful," Storr said. "It gives us a taste of what it is like to get involved in that type of competition."

But whatever happens in the playoffs, the county championship always comes down to pitching, and the two teams with the most proven pitching are Glenelg and Centennial.

With Dennis Pagel (7-0, 1.49 ERA), Ben Gugliotta (4-3, 3.86) and Doug Sinon (2-0) all back, Glenelg has the winning pitchers in 13 of its 21 victories returning.

Pagel threw a no-hitter against Hammond and defeated runner-up Atholton three times.

Centennial returns Denny Chapman (3-1, 0.72), Adam Chambers (2-2, 3.31), Dan Adler (3-1, 1.63) and Bill Howley (4-3, 3.83), representing 12 of its 13 wins last season.

Chapman is a hard thrower and is expected to be one of the top pitchers in the league.

Oakland Mills has one excellent starter, John Sunderdick, but the hard thrower is surrounded by a young team.

Atholton's top pitcher last season, Sean Williams (6-4, 3.28), returns, but is not expected to pitch much until the end of the season.

Atholton's Doug Airel, a sophomore, throws hard and may surprise teams.

Howard has one hard thrower in junior left-hander Jason Redmond, who was injured last season.

And Mount Hebron is hoping that Brian Picker consistently can show the kind of stuff that allowed him to beat Glenelg, 1-0, on a two-hitter.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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