The biggest challenge still lies ahead for the Dundalk Community College baseball team -- this weekend's Division II Junior College World Series -- but the Lions already know the value of perseverance.
Before the season even started, they had to get through "Camp Opp," coach Elliott Oppenheim's daily 6 a.m. workouts beginning in January that included swimming, weight training and running, lasting up to two hours.
"If the guys can make it through those two weeks, they can handle anything," said Oppenheim.
They went on to show they can handle plenty -- integrating five new players into the lineup, opening the season with a nine-day road trip to Florida that left them 2-6 and straightening out a pitching staff that suffered injury and illness.
The Lions rebounded to finish 34-17. They set a single-season school record for wins, and, after April 17, Dundalk never lost consecutive games. Dundalk qualified for the World Series by winning the Region XX Tournament and has won 15 of its past 20 games.
They open the Series, a double-elimination tournament, against the University of Connecticut-Avery Point tomorrow at 7: 30 p.m. This is the Lions' third trip to the Series in Millington, Tenn., in four years.
"Winning that first game can be huge for us," said Larry Reaves, a graduate of Parkville High and the Lions' top pitcher. "We're a type of team that's hard to stop after a big win."
Since mid-April, Dundalk has been getting contributions from every corner of its lineup and defense.
The offense has shown an attack mentality for much of the season; three of the Lions' top five hitters batted more than .364. Leadoff man Guillermo Romero, from Alexandria, Va., is hitting .453 with 32 RBIs and set a school record with 35 stolen bases. Dundalk's No. 3 hitter, Chuck Freeman (Fairfax, Va.), has a .421 average and a school-record 16 doubles, and Brad Bush (Curley) leads the team in home runs (five) and is third in RBIs (28).
Said Oppenheim: "We are an aggressive team. I let the guys swing at 3-0 and give them the green light anytime they're on base."
"We're at a high point right now," Bush said. "If Guillermo gets off to a hot start, it just gets the rest of us going."
But what may define this team is the middle infield of shortstop Michael Ey (Calvert Hall) and second baseman Doug Basnight. They are the team's smallest players, both 5 feet 7. They don't hit for a high average and aren't the fastest runners. Yet Ey and Basnight often find themselves in the middle of the rallies.
Mostly though, the gritty play of Ey and Basnight in the field is the essence of Dundalk's defense.
"I don't think the team expected the two of us to play this well," said Ey.
He and Basnight have combined for only 19 errors this season.
The biggest break could be that the starting rotation has solidified.
Reaves (8-3) lost his first two starts and his command while fighting the flu during Dundalk's season-opening road trip, but has lost just once since mid-April and allowed fewer than three runs in each of his past three starts. And Kevin Wholey, Dundalk's No. 3 starter, has gone deeper into games since recovering from an early-season arm injury. He has won five of six starts, including a four-hit shutout against Charles Community College in the title game of the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference tournament.
"Early on, I couldn't throw my fastball for strikes," Reaves said, "but now I have good command of it and once I get ahead in the count, I can throw my off-speed pitches for strikes."
Pub Date: 5/28/99