Wednesday, December 11, 2013 4:45 AM
Published on: Thursday, March 14, 2013
By Holden Wilen
As the weather becomes warmer and the trees begin to blossom, high school baseball teams throughout Montgomery County are preparing for the beginning of baseball season.
Last year’s defending 4A state champion, the Northwest High School Jaguars, have seven returning players from last year’s team. Northwest made a Cinderella run and won the championship as a sixth seed last season, Varesco said, thanks to the players’ hard work and determination. This season Varesco said he and his coaching staff are counting on senior shortstop Scott Ardoin and senior second baseman J.J. Jan, as well as senior catcher Mike Shannon to set an example for their teammates.
“As a program, I think the coaches and I found a formula that works where we know who we want to keep and what type of players we want to keep,” Varesco said. “We’re losing a lot of guys but we’re also building a program in a sense that we know what we’re looking for. We feel that formula we’ve built on is going to be successful. We’re hoping that every single year we’re going to be competitive even if we lose six or seven guys at a clip.”
Last season Ardoin hit .384, scored 23 runs, and had 18 runs batted in. Jan hit .200 last season with eight runs batted in, but drove in the winning run in the championship game.
As a team, Varesco said Northwest fans can expect to watch a fundamentally sound team which doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.
“We do hit well but we play defense extremely effectively,” Varesco said. “Without good defense you don’t usually win a lot of ballgames. We feel that our defense is how we win.”
Northwest will not have an easy road to the championship in 2013. Sherwood High School, which lost to Northwest in the state semifinals last season, returns eight seniors, including three of its top starting pitchers from last season: junior Matt Channin, and seniors Grant Dickey and Patrick Kemper.
“Last year it was a lot of pitching and defense,” Sherwood head coach Sean Davis said. “Our scores were really, really low. Even the games we lost I think the most runs we gave up all year was seven in the game we lost in the semifinals. Play good defense and throw strikes and you’re going to be in a ballgame. That’s kind of what we preach.”
All three pitchers had earned-run averages of two or less last year. When Channin isn’t pitching he’s playing first base, and is one of the team’s top returning offensive players. Last season Channin hit .397 with 17 runs batted in and one home run.
Despite the team’s success the last few seasons, Davis said the coaching staff is telling the players they need to do things right on a daily basis. The team is not going to get back to the state semifinals just because it’s the team from Sherwood, he said.
Another team which should contend for a state title this season is Whitman High School. Coach Joe Cassidy’s team went 17-3 last season before losing to Northwest in the regional finals. This year the team has three senior captains: pitcher/shortstop Patrick Hisle, third baseman Andrew Castagnetti and pitcher Gabe Steinberg.
Last season Hisle hit .327 with 11 runs batted in. Castagnetti hit .361 and drove in 18 runs, and Steinberg pitch more than 20 innings last year with a 1.69 ERA.
Though Cassidy said he doesn’t expect this year’s team to be as dominant as last year’s, the team will have more speed.
“We’ll probably get to a bunch of balls, defensively, that we didn’t get to last year,” Cassidy said, “and then we’ll be able to steal more bases, hit and run a little bit more this year.”
Similar to the philosophy at Sherwood, Cassidy said his team can’t take anything for granted just because it was successful last season.
Other 4A teams which could be successful this season are Quince Orchard, which lost in the regional semifinals to Northwest last season, and Bethesda-Chevy Chase, which lost to Whitman in the regional semifinals. Quince Orchard returns all-division senior third baseman Daniel Fishback, who hit .333 last season. Bethesda-Chevy Chase returns junior centerfield and captain Austin Sapin, who scored 19 runs during his sophomore campaign.
At the 3A level, Rockville High School returns 11 seniors to a team which won 13 games last season and lost in the regional finals. The team’s top returning player, senior pitcher and first baseman Greg Brown, hit .393 last season with two home runs and 17 runs batted in. He also pitched two complete games, struck out 36 batters and had a 2.77 ERA.
As a team, head coach Farron Riggs said the team enjoyed lots of offensive success last season, as well as getting some good results from the pitchers. This year Riggs said the team will need a mix of both good pitching and hitting again, but he particularly expects lots of offensive success.
“We’ve got a lot of guys at the top and middle of the lineup that have experience and have played and can swing the bat,” Riggs said. “We have some younger guys down at the bottom of our lineup who we’re counting on to come through for us this year.”
On the private schools scene, one of the top programs the last several seasons has been Brian Carroccio’s team from The Heights School. The program has won at least 20 games for five consecutive seasons and won Maryland State Private School B titles the last two seasons.
Carroccio said the goals for his team are to win around 20 games, compete for the Old Line Conference championship, and compete for a third consecutive private school championship.
One of the top returning players for the Heights, Carroccio said, is junior shortshop and pitcher Brady Hall. Hall hit over .400 last season and is a guy who works the count by fouling off pitcher after pitch, Carrocio said.
As a team, the Heights has been a power-hitting team the last couple season, Carroccio said, but this season will have to be a little more pitching-oriented. The team’s closer will be senior Will Marvin, who also plays centerfield and hit .443 with two home runs and 40 runs batted in last season.
The team’s leader, however, is senior catcher Griffin Kime. Just as Hunter Pence did in the Major League Baseball playoffs with the San Francisco Giants last season, Carroccio said Kime is a player who the rest of the team rallies around.
“He’s very good at calling game and blocking the plate,” Carroccio said. “He can throw out runners. He will not light up the stat-sheet offensively but he’s solid offensively. He’s a glue guy.”
One thing all teams have in common at this time of year is the hope for winning a championship. Varesco said he is most excited about beginning the chase for a second consecutive state title.
“I’ve talked to a bunch of guys in the county that have won championships before and they said once you’ve done it it’s extremely hard to obtain again,” Varesco said. “The feeling of chasing it, they said you’re going to feel it all season and for the rest of your career. We all want to get back there.”