Brack, Grogan, Ledford, Fitzgerald honored
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