County teams must aim high to provide sequel to success story of 1995 season Much talent graduated, but pitching strong, led by Westminster, Liberty

Local Sports: High School Baseball Preview

March 19, 1996|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Carroll Baseball 1996 has a tough act to follow.

From Westminster's 20-3 season that included eight one-run, come-from-behind wins in the seventh inning or beyond to South Carroll's incredible run into the state final to just one county team (North Carroll, by .02 of a percentage point) missing the playoffs, the spring of 1995 was something special on the Carroll diamonds.

"We had a lot of good athletes in the county last season, and it made for good baseball all the way around," said Westminster co-coach Carl Rihard. "It got to the point where everybody was rooting for each other, and that's the way it ought to be."

Except when the county teams were going against one another, when some of the best baseball was played. South Carroll and Westminster shared the county title with 4-2 marks.

Westminster started the season with 10 straight wins before losing two 5-4 decisions to Liberty and South Carroll on consecutive days. The Owls ran off 10 more wins before a 4-3, nine-inning loss to Perry Hall in the state semifinals.

"Every game was a test for us," said Rihard. "One of the things we did after getting the ball rolling was learning to believe in ourselves. We felt all we had to do was keep it close, and, as long as we have one out left, we're still alive. A lot of things went right for us, and it was a total team effort. We had the good pitching, fantastic defense and got the timely hitting. We also did a lot of the little things."

While Westminster scratched and clawed its way through the season, it was the South Carroll bats that got most of the attention in Winfield. The Cavaliers got their offense going at the Cardinal Gibbons Tournament in mid-April pounding out 15 hits in a 13-7 win over Spalding in the final and continued all the way through until the Class 3A state final game, when Broadneck's Robert Wakefield baffled them with a nasty curve to lead the Bruins to a 2-1 win.

"It was a great season and great group of guys," said South Carroll second-year coach Bradley Collins. "Many things stand out about that team, but the one big thing was how much they wanted to win. That's one thing we've talked about with this year's team, and something we'll talk about in the future."

Bob Caples enjoyed his finest season coaching at Francis Scott Key before stepping down after seven seasons to take an administrative position at South Carroll. The Eagles went 13-5 in the regular season and advanced to the region playoffs. Bob Reese, who coached the Eagles "B" squad the past three seasons, takes over. He shares a lot of the same philosophies as his predecessor, but look for the Eagles to be a little more aggressive on the bases this season.

Liberty was last year's surprise team, with a young nucleus that came together quicker than anticipated. The Lions finished the year 11-9 with a win over Damascus in the Class 2A West region opener.

North Carroll (9-8) missed out on the Class 2A West region playoffs when Allegany High of Cumberland beat Jefferson County (W.Va.) on the last day of the regular season to take the last spot, something teams won't have to worry about this season with the open format in place.

Twelve of the 15 players on last year's All-County first team graduated, but there still appears to be plenty of talent left to make for another solid season.

Expect to see another season of great pitching, led by Westminster senior Mike Peters, who was named to the 1996 preseason All-State team by the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches. Last spring, Peters went 9-1 with a 1.33 ERA and 81 strikeouts.

How's this for a staff? Liberty coach Steve Insley said he has seven quality pitchers, including four left-handers.This coming after he relied on two pitchers most of the way last season.

The four Carroll teams playing in the Central Maryland Conference also will see some good pitching from Frederick's Kristian Spriggs and Linganore's Jason Harrison.

The offense in the county could be down some this season with a lot of firepower gone, particularly at South Carroll, where Collins has lost four first-teamers to graduation, including Player of the Year Jeremy Hancock, a catcher who hit .532 with 31 RBIs.

Westminster senior Denny Bowers could put together similar numbers after hitting .405 as a junior with four homers, 22 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .676.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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