5's a crowd at Chesapeake

Baseball: Ranked No. 1 for the first time, Lake Shore team can call on any one of five starting pitchers, three of them left-handers.

High Schools

April 16, 2004|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

While most high school baseball coaches worry about having enough pitching, Chesapeake coach Jim Simms has a rare but pleasant problem.

Simms worries about getting his staff enough work.

The Sun's top-ranked Cougars (7-0), ranked No. 5 in the East Region by USA Today, have four returning pitchers this season - senior left-handers Tom Schlein and Brandon Fleig and junior right-handers Charlie Gordon and Tim Merritt.

Add left-handed transfer Jake Shibilsky from Granite Baptist to the mix, and Chesapeake has five quality pitchers, including a unique trio of left-handers.

"It's definitely the deepest staff we've had since our state champion team [1997]," said veteran coach Jim Simms, who is also the Lake Shore school's football coach.

"Our biggest problem is to get them all enough work. I've never had three left-handers, and who does? You're usually lucky to have one. To have three is a real luxury. All five can pitch, and we have confidence in all of them."

Shibilsky and Schlein are off to 3-0 starts, and Gordon has the other win. The Cougars are averaging 10.5 strikeouts a game, a statistic that can only make a defense better because it means fielders need make only 11 of the 21 outs in a seven-inning game.

"Right now, Tom and Jake are our top two, but Tim or Charlie could start anywhere else, " said Simms. "And we haven't used Brandon yet. He pitched really well in the playoffs last year. They all had good summers."

Schlein, Gordon and Merritt led the Pasadena Saints American Legion Post 277 to the Anne Arundel County championship last summer, ending Severna Park's nine-year reign. Schlein was the ace at 8-2, including three wins over Severna Park that was loaded with players from its Class 3A state champion high school team. Gordon and Merritt were each 5-2.

The legion team was coached by Vic Ostrowski, an assistant to Simms. Eight members of Chesapeake's team, including junior catcher Josh Ries, played on the legion team that advanced to the state tournament.

"Having the nucleus together like that in the summertime can only make your team better," said Simms, who in 14 years of coaching had not seen his Cougars be No. 1 in baseball until this spring. The 1997 state champion was 19-5 and ranked No. 4.

Ries says it's an easy staff to catch "except for some mean curveballs and hard fastballs that move."

"I call the pitches unless it's a close game and then the coaches give me a heads-up on what pitches they want," said Ries, a two-year starter. "I think we can win the states with this staff and team."

Consistent pitching by the Cougars is needed now more than ever with the loss of senior shortstop Josh Schreiner, the team's leading hitter (.571) for four to six weeks.

In the second inning of the first game of last weekend's C. Milton Wright Tournament in Harford County won by the Cougars, Schreiner's right kneecap was fractured.

"Josh was running to first when he felt something pop. So, it's back to pitching and defense with the loss of his bat," said Simms, who got the bad news Sunday. "It's a big loss, because he was our best hitter, and we need for our pitchers to really do the job now."

Shibilsky's transfer has bolstered what already was a strong staff.

"I had never seen him pitch, but a lot of the kids had in summer ball and they said he could pitch," said Simms. "And he can hit, too. He has fit right in and been quite an addition."

Ries has caught Shibilsky in the summer with the Maryland Orioles since they were 10 years old and was one of those who told the coach about him. Shibilsky transferred from Granite Baptist in Glen Burnie to Chesapeake to study Russian. The junior also plays first base, rotating with Schlein, and has added offensive punch.

"Thinking I was probably going to come here [Chesapeake], I came to a few of their games last year, " said Shibilsky. "The competition is way better than what I faced at Granite, and the guys here are great. I met a lot of the guys in summer tournaments, and we just connected."

Shibilsky and Schlein each notched their third wins over two Howard County teams last Saturday to win the Wright tournament.

A four-hitter by Shibilsky gave the Cougars a 12-2 victory over Glenelg, the defending tournament champion then ranked No. 11. Schlein then two-hit Atholton in the final for an 8-2 win.

"We're not competing with each other. Everybody wants to do what is best for the team," said Schlein, who was 3-2 last spring on a team that was 12-11 overall and bats cleanup with a .455 average. "We're playing awesome right now and need to keep it up. Being ranked No. 1, we know everybody is going to be really after us."

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