Finally, there's joy at Oakland Mills

High schools: A 61-game stretch of misery ended for the Scorpions baseball team yesterday when it recorded its first victory in more than three years.

High Schools

April 03, 2003|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

So many losses. So many mistakes. So much frustration.

A seemingly endless stream of heartache and hard times for Oakland Mills' baseball team came to a jubilant end yesterday on its home field in Columbia.

After 61 straight losses, the Scorpions finally won a game, beating Centennial, 5-4.

The Scorpions also had lost 86 of their previous 87 games. Their last victory came against Atholton on March 30, 2000.

Danny Oleynik, yesterday's winning pitcher who hit the game-winning home run in the third inning, was the only player on this year's team to play in that 2000 victory. As the only four-year varsity player, he's experienced the most disappointment.

Yesterday, he experienced the most joy.

"I felt it coming the night before," said the beaming 6-foot-1, 180-pound left-hander, who gave up a triple and a two-run double in a 30-pitch first inning before settling down.

He left the mound after six innings, having allowed seven hits and four runs.

"I battled the jitters early, but finally found my groove," said Oleynik, who threw 106 pitches. "I appreciated my defensive support. Now, I guess my hair is coming off."

Oleynik promised his teammates he'd shave his head when the streak finally ended.

His decisive two-run home run, following Phil Grove's two-out RBI double in the third inning, sailed high over the right-field fence and was his first hit of the season.

"This really feels good," said Grove, a third-year varsity player who never caught a game until last season and whose memories include some interminably long innings.

"Sometimes, I was behind the plate for 45 straight minutes last season," he said. "Half our games were decided by 10-run slaughter rules. We did a lot of things to try and break the streak, including switching our bench to the first-base side."

"I think a lot of the losing has been mental," Grove said. "We're almost the same team as last year. We graduated only one senior starter. We played summer ball, worked out over the winter, and everyone is more confident this year. Tyler Price [a transfer from Colorado] has filled a big hole at shortstop and pitching for us."

The game that ended the streak was filled with great pitching, great fielding and great hitting.

Centennial (1-3 overall, 1-2 league) loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the seventh inning against Price, who had taken over for Oleynik. The old Scorpions (1-2, 1-2) would have folded.

Instead, Price struck out Jeff Miller, and Scott Swinson lined into a double play started by second baseman Brian Beegle.

"My ride home will be a little better tonight," said fifth-year Scorpions coach Rick Ewart, who played for Oakland Mills and graduated in 1986.

"Our parents have invested their heart, soul and money in this team," Ewart said. "Wins and losses aside, these kids always come to play. I'm a competitive person and the kids are, too. It's been frustrating not seeing the fruition of hard work.

"But baseball's a game of mistakes and is unforgiving. It all comes down to the ability to execute. I can't count the number of kids who contributed today."

At a school noted for its athletic programs, with state championship banners in football, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, wrestling and track, and a successful boys lacrosse program, many have questioned the reasons for Oakland Mills' run of futility in baseball.

The baseball team has made it to the state semifinals only once and won one county title in 1988.

"Part of it is the small size of our school," said football coach and athletic director Ken Hovet. "As a 1A school, we just don't have enough kids to support three teams in the spring. You need a lot more skills to play baseball than you do to play lacrosse or run track. So baseball hasn't attracted a lot of our best athletes."

Hovet also said the baseball program's long losing reputation has played a role in keeping it a second-class sport at the school.

Last spring was Oakland Mills' first losing season in lacrosse.

"Losing seems to breed on itself," said Ed O'Neill, the father of sophomore first baseman Tyler O'Neill, who hit a two-run homer in the first inning to rally the Scorpions from a 2-0 deficit.

"It's a game of chemistry and confidence and repetition - of being aware of situations and being able to react to them. We don't have many kids coming out of travel leagues where they play 100 games a year."

Larry Thompson, who for 12 years managed the Columbia Reds 17-18 age group team, Howard County's premier travel team, said Oakland Mills' failures haven't been for lack of effort.

"The kids play hard and want to be better. But soccer has been a big sport in Columbia, and eight out of 10 young kids would rather play soccer than baseball because there's more movement," Thompson said.

Thompson also said the quality of the playing surface at Oakland Mills is subpar, a comment supported by a play in the first inning of yesterday's game when a single to right field by Centennial bounced in front of and then over the outfielder's head for a triple.

"It's been psychologically hard," said Oleynik, who picked off 11 batters his freshman season and one yesterday. "But things are looking better. We are turning it around. I`ve stayed with it because I just have a fire inside - a love of the game. I've just tried to stay mentally balanced and focused on the task at hand."

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