The Annapolis Area Christian School baseball team has begun defense of its Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference championship in strong form, posting a 6-3 overall record and a 3-0 mark in conference as of April 8.
On March 20, Eagles pitcher Kasey Gast put AACS’s goal of a repeat on course, striking out 13 batters and allowing only two hits in a 10-0, mercy-rule battering of visiting Friends. Nick Watkins went 4-4 with two doubles and three RBIs, while hits, RBIs and runs by Gast, Watkins, Jack Hanratty, Albert Taylor, Peyton Hudlow, Clayton Belcher and Austin Spintman allowed the Eagles to coast to the win.
Gast struck out at least two Friends batters in each frame and walked only one in his first conference start.
“After a while you get in a groove,” said Gast of his rhythm on the mound against Friends. “I felt really comfortable coming in. After about the third inning, I just focused in and was completely unaware of things going on around me.”
After dropping games to tough county opponents Northeast and Old Mill in late March, the Eagles rebounded with dominant victories over conference opponents Park and Mount Carmel the week of April 1. Against 2011 conference champion Mount Carmel on April 3, Watkins tripled, scored twice, and drove in two runs while Belcher smacked two hits and Hanratty, Hudlow, Taylor and John Hilton all had base hits in a 6-0 Eagle win. Gast was again dominant on the mound, allowing no runs on only two hits and striking out nine to get the W.
Against Park, the 2010 MIAA B champion, on April 5, AACS got superb pitching and pounded out 12 runs on 12 hits to run-rule the Bruins, 12-0. Ray Hauf led the Eagles at the plate, going 3-4 with two runs scored, while Gast, Hudlow and Watkins all went 2-4 with two RBIs. Taylor pitched superbly, allowing only one hit and striking out four in four scoreless innings to get the win.
The Eagles’ strong start to 2013 comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed baseball in the area over the past several years. In addition to winning the MIAA B title last year – the program’s first – the Eagles have made the championship game in three straight seasons and are 39-6 in conference play since 2010, never losing more than two conference games in any one season.
It wasn’t too long ago that Annapolis Area Christian School baseball was a fledgling program in a county and state stacked with quality teams, and fifth-year Head Coach Talbot Watkins says the team’s ascent is the result of the dedication the players and coaches have shown to constantly improve.
“It’s kind of been building the last four years,” said Watkins following the win over Friends. “Great coaching from the assistant coaches. Super hard work by the guys. We’ve been in the championship game three times. It’s just hard work. I hate to sound corny, but our motto is, ‘Gold medals aren’t made out of gold, they’re made out of hard work, determination and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.’ And that’s what these kids have done.”
The challenges will get tougher as the weather warms. Conference rival and county neighbor Severn School has started the season 10-0 overall and figures to be a tough out come tournament time, and 2012 conference runner-up St. Vincent Pallotti will surely have revenge in mind should the teams meet again in the playoffs.
But, as visitors to the Eagles’ home field at Joe Cannon Stadium can attest, AACS is a team with a loud dugout, a bounce in its step, strength in all three facets of the game and an exuberant confidence in its pursuit of another title.
“It’s just fun to be out there,” said Hanratty, shortstop and a team captain. “The coaches say, ‘Baseball’s a game, so you want to go out there and have fun.’ We have fun by getting hits and making plays, and we just want to keep making plays and getting everybody up.”
Perhaps no team has surprised more at the start of this baseball season than the Severn Admirals, who stand at 10-0 to lead the two-division MIAA B Conference with a 4-0 conference record.
On April 5, the Admirals jumped all over Friends School early and coasted to 15-5 win for their fourth MIAA B Conference win.
An RBI single by Justin Hampton, a two-run single by Keenan Schlegel and an RBI triple by Ben Priddy in the first inning gave the Admirals a 4-0 lead. Jack Elstner led off the second with a double to the gap. A two-run single by Hampton, a sacrifice fly by Schlegel, and a three-run double by Ricky Treanor during the second inning helped the Admirals put six more runs on the board early.
David Jaklitsch got on base three times in the game for Admirals, singling in the first and third innings and twice stealing second base. Schlegel was 2-2 with four RBIs on the day, and Hampton was 2-4 with three RBIs and a stolen base. Treanor was 1-2 with a bases-clearing double for three RBIs.
Zach Domenech started on the mound and got the win for Admirals, allowing four runs over 2.1 innings and striking out five. Elstner shut the door on Friends, pitching the last two innings.
With Severn (4-0 in conference) looking as though they might run away with the five-team MIAA B Conference Red Division, and Annapolis Area Christian School (3-0 in conference) tied for first place in the five-team MIAA B Conference Black Division, the two schools could be on a collision course in a potential all-Anne Arundel County final come playoff time.
On April 5, Archbishop Spalding got back into the win column after losing two-consecutive MIAA A Conference games with a 5-2 victory over Gilman. Joey Benitez pitched for the Cavaliers, allowing three hits and striking out eight Greyhounds while going the distance, while Blake Saathoff, Aaron Barclay and River Laskey all drove in runs in the win.
Previously the Cavs had dropped consecutive decisions to John Carroll and St. Paul’s, but the solid win over Gilman puts them right back into the MIAA A Conference conversation at 3-3 in league play (6-6 overall).
On March 19, Laskey smacked two RBI doubles, Jordan Carr pitched a five-inning complete game, and the Spalding baseball team notched its first MIAA A Conference win of the season with a 12-2 mark on McDonogh. Benitez, Buddy Manley, John Lane, Kevin Heiss and Ryan Hunt all had hits, runs and RBIs to push the Cavaliers to victory.
Spalding got another stellar pitching performance on March 27, as Benitez struck out 11 Archbishop Curley batters and allowed only two hits in a 5-0 Cavaliers win over the Friars.
As a very young team (there are only three seniors on the roster), the Cavaliers will surely face their share of challenges this season, but first-year manager Joe Palumbo is confident his team has the quality pitching depth and solid hitting it will need to make a playoff push and perhaps a deep tournament run.
“Our pitching is definitely going to be our strength this year,” said Palumbo. “It’s going to keep us in most games. We’ve got some speed in the lineup and some good bats as well. So we’ve got a little bit of everything, but I think the pitching is what’s going to make or break us this year.”
Laskey knows how competitive the MIAA A Conference is, but he says his team is heading in the right direction.
“We’re still going to come out here and work as hard as we can every day, stay motivated, keep building on everything, and get better,” said Laskey.