Brack, Gro­gan, Led­ford, Fitzger­ald hon­ored

Record Observer - - Sports -

Chris Fitzger­ald knew com­ing into the 2017 sea­son he’d have a bit of work to do.

“We lost six starters, last year, so it’s a whole new ball­club,” Queen Anne’s County High’s head base­ball coach said. “We needed a catcher, some pitch­ing, a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing.”

The goal, how­ever, was the same as in 2016, when the Lions won their first Class 2A East Re­gional ti­tle in nearly 40 years.

“Ev­ery year, I’d say ev­ery coach has the same goal — to make a deep play­off run,” Fitzger­ald said. “I wouldn’t say there was any stress; ev­ery team’s dif­fer­ent . ... But I’ll be hon­est with you: ev­ery year, I tell the team I want us to be per­fect.

“And deep down, you know how hard that is,” Fitzger­ald said. “It takes so much for you to win games, much less win all of them. Even with teams like Colonel [Richard­son] a cou­ple years ago, and St. Michaels this year, they each still lost one game . ... But teams have the ca­pa­bil­ity of win­ning ev­ery time they take the field, and the kids need to re­mem­ber that . ... There’s no stress there, just the hope to play good base­ball and be there at the end.”

The Lions gave their coach a lot in the spring, he said. Ju­nior Kole Gun­ther, who had never caught be­fore, took over be­hind the plate, while Aaron Rovenolt and Chase Porter chewed up in­nings and picked up nine wins be­tween them.

Hit­ters like Trey Pin­der, who bat­ted .380, and An­drew Mar­coni (.344), helped power the Lions in tight con­tests, as they beat first Easton, and then top-seeded Park­side to take the Sec­tion II ti­tle.

“We... took ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties we were given,” Fitzger­ald said. “That’s the big­gest thing. And be­ing able to do that, that’s just huge . ... I hope we can cap­i­tal­ize on things like that again next year. We lose five se­niors this year, but we have 10 ju­niors who’ll all be back with ex­pe­ri­ence.”

For his ef­forts lead­ing Queen Anne’s to a re­gional fi­nal in what some might have called a re­build­ing sea­son, North Bay­side coaches se­lected Fitzger­ald as the di­vi­sion’s Coach of the Year.

“It’s hum­bling; it’s a huge honor,” Fitzger­ald said. “To get that kind of re­spect from the coaches in this di­vi­sion — it’s just such a great honor.”

A ju­nior right-han­der helped lead Easton from a 6-12 sea­son in 2016 to a five-game im­prove­ment, and the high­est seeded po­si­tion among 2As in the North.

Ma­son Led­ford, who went 7-1 with an earned-run aver­age of 1.23, racked up the in­nings all sea­son, pitch­ing seven com­plete games at one stretch. By com­par­i­son, Easton’s win­ningest pitcher in 2016 had just two vic­to­ries to his credit.

“I think the most im­pres­sive part of what Ma­son did this year was that he pitched not just so many com­plete games,” Easton head coach Al­bert Pritch­ett said, “but that he ac­tu­ally fin­ished a cou­ple of those games with 75 or fewer pitches — and he’s al­lowed 105.

“I think it was a com­bi­na­tion of things that al­lowed him to have the suc­cess he had,” Pritch­ett said. “Pro­gress­ing from a sopho­more to a ju­nior, he ma­tured, but also, as you know, Ma­son’s the quar­ter­back on our foot­ball team, so he’s used to pres­sure sit­u­a­tions.”

Led­ford’s ac­com­plish­ments this year, in­clud­ing a WHIP of 0.89, an op­pos­ing bat­ting mark of .192, and a WAR (wins above re­place­ment) of 2.7 — the last num­ber all the more im­pres­sive, con­sid­er­ing he played in just an 18-game sea­son, and would thus be worth 24.3 more wins than a league-aver­age re­place­ment in a 162-game sea­son — helped garner him the coaches’ lau­rel as North Bay­side Pitcher of the Year.

County ri­val St. Michaels fea­tured a two-headed beast on the mound and in the lineup, in the form of Noah Brack and Matt Gro­gan.

Be­fore the sea­son, Saints head coach Brian Femi was op­ti­mistic about the chances his team had with two such tal­ented play­ers avail­able.

“Noah and Matt could hit — heck, our whole team hit so well,” Femi said. “The best way I could de­scribe our stats, was that it was al­most like a video game, how well they hit, how well they pitched.

“In our last 83 in­nings, our pitch­ers gave up eight runs,” Femi added. “The whole team hit .416. We were suc­cess­ful steal­ing 91 of 99 bases . ... Our big­gest con­cern wasn’t coach­ing; it was over­coach­ing. Our mantra as the year went on was, ‘Don’t get in their way, and just let them play the game.’ I didn’t give signs. I just gave green lights. If they felt they could hit in a cer­tain count, or steal a base, I told them to go ahead.

“It was such a lux­ury to have Noah, Matt, and you have to add C.J. Chansler into the mix as a pitcher, too,” Femi said. “Re­ally, this is the first time since I had Kyle [McKelvey] and Adam [Parks, both 2011 grad­u­ates and Di­vi­sion I play­ers], that we had two guys like them, and re­ally, it was three, count­ing C.J.”

South­paw Brack, 8-0 on the mound with an ERA of 0.86, hit .492 from the left side, with 20 runs scored, 23 RBIs, nine dou­bles, an

CO-PLAYER OF THE YEAR NOAH BRACK St. Michaels

CO-PLAYER OF THE YEAR MATT GRO­GAN St. Michaels

PITCHER OF THE YEAR MA­SON LED­FORD Easton

COACH OF THE YEAR CHRIS FITZGER­ALD Queen Anne’s County

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