Harford County

Baseball

March 21, 2001|By MARK HOEFLICH

The Fallston baseball team can hear the whispers. The Cougars must replace seven starters, and the word is that they won't live up to the billing of last season's state finalist team. Then again, a junior class that went a combined 33-3 over the past two seasons wants to have something to say about that.

Surely, Fallston will have a tough time replacing All-Metro pitchers Phil Akens and Justin Collins, but coach Rob Limpert has a deeper rotation and several versatile hitters among upcoming juniors, who only need varsity experience.

"The question is whether they [junior class] can make the transition to the higher level," said Limpert, whose team lost to Damascus (3-2) last season in the state Class 3A final and finished ranked No. 1 in by The Sun for the first time in school history.

Still, the Cougars can expect a stiff challenge from their two biggest rivals, Bel Air and C. Milton Wright. As usual, the Bobcats, who lost to Fallston in the regional final last season, are sound defensively, especially with senior middle infielders Shane Justis (shortstop) and Brian Lipsky (second baseman), a slick double-play combination. Justis batted .509 with 24 RBIs last season, while Lipsky batted .493 and has committed only three errors over the previous three seasons.

C. Milton Wright has shed the youth label of a year ago, and coach Joe Oswald anticipates his team will remain in the hunt for the county title. Junior Kyle Jefferson assumes the top spot in the rotation with Mark Miller and Kyle O'Hare, who combined for 10 wins at JV last season, and Todd Berkley, a transfer from Curley, to follow. The infield remains nearly intact, anchored by senior shortstop Jesse Schoendienst. Senior Chad Eberly (.444, 27 stolen bases) leads off a strong lineup.

North Harford coach Tim Larrimore said this season's squad reminds him of 1998, when a young but talented team was the surprise of the league. Despite the graduation of their top two pitchers, Scott Phillips and Jason Kuhn, the Hawks, two-time defending Class 2A East Regional champions, have more options on the mound, backed by steady closer in senior shortstop Patrick Starleper (.350, 25 RBIs). Expect the Hawks to stay aggressive on the bases. As a team, they totaled 127 stolen bases in 2000.

Edgewood and Aberdeen are two teams looking for a higher level of play this season. The Rams' new coach, George Anthony, brings better discipline and a new approach to a squad with all nine returning starters. Junior right-hander Keith Tiederman, who throws in the 90s and possesses a sharp curveball, leads a group of seven pitchers.

Edgewood's defense has few holes, but the offense needs some time to develop.

Aberdeen hopes its new ballpark, Cal Ripken Sr. Field, with larger dimensions, helps lower the Eagles' collective ERA. Senior pitcher Sean Bradley tops the rotation, while senior Mike Miller (.509) anchors the middle of lineup.

Both Joppatowne and Havre de Grace are thin on pitching and lack a real threat on offense. With his team a year older, Mariners coach Tony Blackburn, who fielded six sophomores last season, is counting on his team being better late than early.

Harford Tech looks to build on last season's finish, when they won four of their last eight games. Seven starters return but a low turnout leaves the Cobras with few reserves. New coach Tony Belcastro needs bigger contributions from pitchers Steve Taylor and Brent Gebhardt.

John Carroll started last season with three wins in its first four games, but fizzled to a 6-10 finish. However, coach George Cooper has noticed considerable improvement at the plate, and that could be the difference in the always strong Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference. Top pitcher Kevin Eldreth had four wins a year ago.

Harford Christian fields one of its largest squads - 16 players - in several years. Mike Funk leads a group of five pitchers who should get better support from infield defense.

Players to watch

Chad Eberly

(C.M. Wright, senior, center fielder)

Team Maryland selection has tremendous speed and a strong arm.

Shane Justis

(Bel Air, senior, shortstop)

Sure-handed fielder is also a threat on the bases.

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