Holcomb adds hope, wins at Gibbons

Baseball: The Crusaders, 4-12 also-rans last spring, are turning heads this season with upsets and renewed competitive spirit under a new coach who starred at Old Mill and Maryland.

April 11, 1999|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

As a roommate of Lou Holcomb 10 years ago at the University of Maryland, Drew Johnson can use "several anecdotal tidbits" to describe the Cardinal Gibbons coach's competitive spirit.

"One that sticks out most, though, was against Clemson, one of the few times I saw Holcomb strike out," recalled Johnson, now baseball coach at Bethesda's Landon School. "He came back to the dugout all fired up. Between innings, he ran up in the pitcher's face and screamed, `You will never do that to me again.' "

"The thing about Lou is, when he says something, he means it," Johnson said. "If anyone can get the most of kids as a coach, it's Lou."

In his first season at struggling Cardinal Gibbons, Holcomb is accomplishing the mission of turning a 4-12 team a year ago into a winner at 6-5 overall, 1-0 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association's B Conference.

And the Crusaders' opponents represent some of the region's best names, including Gonzaga, St. John's and Georgetown Prep of the Washington area.

Holcomb scheduled Mount St. Joseph, last season's MIAA A Conference runner-up and this spring's No. 2 preseason pick, as well as Calvert Hall and Archbishop Curley, both highly ranked before the season.

"I was pretty ambitious. I wanted a tough schedule with the idea of getting better," said Holcomb, 31. "Sometimes we took it on the chin, but I felt that was what it was going to take to prepare for our league."

The eye-opener came quickly: Keyed by first baseman Mark Meyer's grand slam, the Crusaders upset Calvert Hall in the season-opener, 12-9. The Cardinals are three-time defending MIAA A Conference champions.

"It was a big win, but I wanted to keep it in perspective," said Holcomb. "I didn't want to make it our entire season, and I didn't want us to just pack it in. I wanted our kids to absorb the moment and continue to play."

That the Crusaders have, subsequently defeating Curley -- which later beat both Calvert Hall and Severna Park -- and handing Glen Burnie its second straight loss after a 3-0 start.

Gibbons was runner-up to host Mount St. Joseph in the latter's tournament.

"I give a lot of credit to the kids for not being intimidated against some of those teams," said Holcomb, whose assistant is Ed Foster. "We've issued a challenge to the kids, and they've responded."

Nine players on Holcomb's 13-man roster are underclassmen, perhaps the best being No. 3 batter Craig King, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound sophomore who can pitch, catch and play shortstop.

King is batting .500 with five doubles and already has attracted interest from colleges such as Michigan for football and baseball, Holcomb said.

Justin King, Craig's older brother, is the Crusaders' pitching ace at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds; he is 4-1 with 24 strikeouts in 26 innings. Justin was on the mound for the wins over Calvert Hall and Curley.

Holcomb called senior catcher Nick Hoffman the team leader with 17 RBIs and, as a closer, three saves.

Hoffman had a grand slam against Gonzaga, and "has good enough arm strength to make him a Division I pitcher," Holcomb said. "He throws 91 mph, and he's a total prospect."

Holcomb should know.

A three-time All-Metro selection as a pitcher-outfielder at Old Mill, Holcomb earned All-Metro Player of the Year honors as a senior in 1985. He still holds Old Mill records for strikeouts in a season (116), batting average (.554) and hits for a career (97 over three seasons).

Holcomb batted .350 over his four-year career at Maryland, where his 55 hits in his first season remain the most there by a freshman. He was chosen Maryland's outstanding senior before signing as a pitcher with the Texas Rangers; he was in the Rangers' minor-league system for three seasons.

"Lou always hit the ball hard and was always a really tough out," said Johnson, whose Bears play host to the Crusaders on May 15. "Lou's one of the fiercest competitors I've ever been around."

Pub Date: 4/11/99

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