Colonels look to dethrone defending state champs
It’s quite the task defending a state championship, but it’s one every high school coach longs to have.
“Oh, it’s real hard to defend a state championship,” said St. Michaels High head baseball coach Brian Femi, whose program earned its fifth state crown last May with a 12-1 rout of Boonsboro in the Class 1A state final. “After all, I’ve only managed to do it once. Even to win one, too many things have to go right. Everybody’s got to stay healthy; everybody’s got to get better. You’ve got a bull’s-eye on your back all season, too.
“I’m not saying it can’t be done, but ever ything has to fall your way,” added Femi, who led the Saints to state titles in 2001, 2008, 2010 and 2011. “We’re talented enough, but we need to stay healthy to do that stuff.”
Another North Bayside team that wears red and black, Colonel Richardson, is also loaded this year, possibly with more firepower on the hill than the supremely talented Saints.
With a 1-2 pitching punch of Division I-bound Jake Zebron and Jamison Covey, the Colonels aim to take the Saints’ place in the dog pile at Ripken Stadium on May 26.
Zebron, who, like Covey and Colonel catcher Garrett Nepert, was a preseason all-state selection, has signed with North Carolina State. But according to Colonel’s 10-year head coach Dan Mangum, the senior right-hander has also drawn interest from the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Detroit Tigers.
“We’ve got the best pitching in, if not the conference, the state,” said Dan Mangum, whose staff also includes his son, Remy Mangum. “We’re pretty loaded up. It’s the game of baseball. Anything can happen. But I think I’ve got three legit guys.
“One’s verbally committed to Ole Miss, one’s gonna get drafted,” Dan Mangum said of Covey and Zebron, respectively. “They’re all six feet or taller, and they all throw hard.”
In Class 2A, several North teams could make deep playoff runs.
Queen Anne’s County, the last 2A from the division to win the region (2016), is hoping to make it back after reaching the regional final last year, missing the state tournament with a 9-3 loss to Fallston.
“It’s a long road there,” said Lions head coach Chris Fitzgerald, who led the team to its first finalfour appearance in 38 years two seasons ago. “We’re hoping not just to get hot come playoff time; we want to be solid throughout the year. And we’ve got great chemistry. I’m really looking forward to this season with this team.”
Easton didn’t lose a player to graduation last year. What’s more, the Warriors upped their team batting average by more than 70 points from 2016 and went from 7-13 — with nine one-run losses — to 11-8, which included handing St. Michaels its only loss.
Easton’s Albert Pritchett, the 2017 Mid-Shore Baseball Coach of the Year, got back several AllMid-Shore stars, including firstteam picks Ryan Farr and Mason Ledford. And “the whole team got that extra year of experience on varsity, which is huge,” Pritchett said.
“Obviously, we made a big leap from ’16 to ’17 in the hitting category,” Pritchett added. “I would expect us to keep up at hitting. We’ve got more experience at the plate.”
Kent Island and North Caroline hope to make some moves in 2A, while 1As in Dorchester and Kent counties aim to move up in the standings.
“I think it’s gonna have to be a toss-up between (Matt) Grogan at St. Michaels, and the guys at Colonel,” said Cambridge-South Dorchester third-year head coach Chad Wolfe. “Zebron’s good. You’ve got Remy Mangum. Covey’s going where, Ole Miss?”
Though the 1A East Region has often consisted of solely Bayside schools over the last 15 years, this year’s realignment brings Harford and Cecil County teams back in the mix (like in 2014 and 2015).
Easton, Kent Island, Queen Anne’s, and St. Michaels are scheduled to start the season within sight of one another on Wednesday at the newly expanded Henry S. Parker complex on Naylor Mill Road in Salisbur y. The openingday event on turf fields will showcase the complex’s expansion – though poor weather may wipe out those plans.
Seven of the North Bayside’s nine teams open on the road against a South opponent on Wednesday. Colonel Richardson opens at home due to a last-minute change.
Here’s how the Mid-Shore’s baseball teams look this season.
Wolfe hopes the squad can show it has rebounded after a rough 2017, and looks to do so with the help of senior pitcher/shortstop Tyler Harding, an All-Mid-Shore first-team selection last spring and three-time All-Bayside coaches’ selection.
Seniors Max Presley and Eric Shorter, and left-hander Ryan Cartright will also see time on the mound, as will underclassmen Khalik Beasley, who transferred back to C-SD after two years at Delmar (Del.), and sophomore Logan Middleton.
Sophomore Noah Presley, Max’s younger brother, is at catcher, while Middleton plays second when not pitching. Tyler Stewart will handle third base, with junior Shamar Young in left field, senior Clint Meekins, who’ll also pitch, in right. Beasley takes over center field, while juniors Tommy Crain (IF) and Ethan Bloodwsorth (OF) join freshman John Henry in reserve.
The Vikings, who’ve dropped their junior varsity this season, are scheduled to open Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Pocomoke.
Col. Richardson (16-4)
Zebron will play center field when not pitching. His brother Jackie, a sophomore, who missed most of last year due to injury, will play center or right. Covey will play right field or first base if not on the bump, with Remy Mangum at first if he doesn’t have the ball.
Nepert, an All-Mid-Shore selection head for North Carolina Central, is the only senior in the infield. He’ll return to his spot behind the plate, with juniors Tyler Stanley at second, Ty Scott at short, and Nathan Roth at third. Junior Ryan Stanton will roam left field. Covey plays right when Jake Zebron pitches.
First baseman and designated hitter Mark Cranfield is also available. Twins Brandon and Matthew Elmore may see time in the outfield. Colonel is slated to host Snow Hill on Wednesday, at 4 p.m. Snow Hill was set to originally host, but the pitcher’s mound on its recently renovated field needs work, resulting in a change of fields.
The Warriors has everybody back from last year.
“I didn’t have a senior day,” Pritchett said. “I’ve never had that happen in a season before.”
Ledford, who has recovered from a broken leg suffered early last football season, went 7-1 last year, and anchors the rotation, which includes Jaden Cassell, a junior who’ll share time at first with Ledford, and Farr, a senior shortstop and preseason all-state pick.
Junior Alek Riedel plays second and classmate Logan Baillif is at third. Jacob Book, Trent Weems, and Keegan Bentz are the outfielders, from left to right.
Josh Tull catches, with backup from Haiden Rhodes. Juniors Brandon Latham and Dante Hall will also pitch from time to time. Rounding out the roster are utilityman Brandon Booze, pitcher Alex Stecher-Scott, and outfielder Grant Foster.
Kent County (8-10)
Senior pitcher and shortstop Tyson Johnson, an All-Mid-Shore first-team selection last year, tops the rotation. Sophomore lefty Peyton Taylor, the team’s No. 3 last year, will chew up innings again, along with classmate Buddy Welsh. Junior southpaw Collin Turner will also get signs from junior starting catcher Donnie Forgan.
Junior Mitch Debnam, at 6-foot-6, will see time at first base along with freshman Noah Iseman, younger brother of 2017 graduate Josh Iseman.
Seniors Brian Usilton and John Moore will work together at second. Johnson will be joined at short by sophomore Kenny Fowler, who’ll play third when Johnson’s not pitching. Senior Brian Blackburn will also see some time at third.
Taylor, freshman Ian Walters, and junior Dylan Hill look to be in the outfield, with Wayne Morris, a junior, to back up Forgan behind the plate.
The Trojans are slated to open Wednesday at Washington.
Kent Island (7-11)
Second-year head coach Brendan Schulte lost AllMid-Shore pitcher Ian Schools, who moved to Florida, but returns several other arms, including junior southpaw Ryan Ryder, and right-handers Jared Pezzano, a McDaniel Collegebound four-year varsity starter; senior Dylan Tvelia, who’s going to Wilson (Pa.) College; sophomore Hunter Griebel, junior Jeremy Dodge, and sophomore J.D. Blevins.
Senior backstop Brody Taylor is joined in the infield by sophomore first baseman Ray Anderson, Dodge at second, Tvelia at third, and Pezzano at short, a position he’s held throughout high school.
In the outfield will be Ryder, sophomore Cooper Fulton, junior Tre’Quan Thomas, a transfer from Easton, and 2019 classmate Brandon Austin.
Senior Jake Hipps will be available to catch or play first, with junior outfielder Paul Lafferty, sophomore infielder/ pitcher Jimmy Kacmarek, infielder Austin Horney, and catcher Tyler McMullen providing depth. North Caroline (10-9) Second-year head coach Joe Bildstein’s crew is scheduled to open on Thursday at Stephen Decatur.
Seniors Nathan Myers and Morgan Loetz are the Bulldogs’ “1A and 1B guys” on the mound, according to Coach Bildstein. Juniors Casey Byrd and Chase Conner, and senior Seth Layton are expected to rotate at catcher.
Conner, or freshman Matt Herring, will lock down first base, with Loetz at second when not pitching. Sophomore J.B. Brown plays second as well, while Will Manship, who may also pitch, is at short. Myers, Lee Byrd, and Cam Brown share time at third base.
In the outfield, Joey Bildstein, the coach’s son, is joined by Jacob Brown, Tucker Stevens, and possibly Cam Brown and Byrd.
Rounding out the roster are utilityman Dakota Towers, pitcher Johnny Gerris, and outfielder Jacob Newell.
North Dorchester (5-14)
The Eagles, under thirdyear head coach Steve Lieske, are scheduled to open at Crisfield at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
With top thrower Tyler Windsor nursing an injury, fellow senior Michael Nossick fronts the rotation.
Juniors J.B. Lewis and Ben Johnson will also get the ball a good deal, and so will Lucas Thorpe, Ryan Cheesman, and freshman pitcher/ utilityman Caleb Justice.
Tanner Warrell and Chessman will both see time at first and designated hitter. Lieske said he has “several platoons, with a number of players who can handle several positions. Sophomore Adam Freeman plays second when not pitching, with Johnson at short. Lewis will play third and catch, as will Freeman.
Senior Drew Walker plays left field, with sophomore David Johnson bouncing from the mound to third, second, and the outfield.
Speedy sophomore Jaheim Copper joins the outfield, along with junior left Reed Jones, who might also pitch. Brandt Swann, a senior who didn’t play last year due to injury, will be second or the outfield.
Queen Anne’s (12-9)
Two of the Lions top pitchers — All-Mid-Shore firstteamer Aaron Rovenolt, and sophomore Chance Porter — will rotate at third. Darin Rosebrock, a senior like Rovenolt, will also pitch when he’s not at first or in the outfield.
Junior Noah Skinner, who’ll see time at first, and starting shortstop Luke Weddell, a senior, will also chew up innings.
Senior Cole Gunther is at catcher, with classmate Jordan Bennett looking to play first base at times. Senior Anthony Marconi starts at second, though junior Dalton Robbins could also be there.
Seniors Chris Crow and Jacob Naylor platoon in left field. Classmate Trey Pinder plays center, with junior Sam Bishop, a transfer from St. Mary’s High, in right field.
Outfielder William Usilton and junior catchers Aydin Yardim and Ryan Grimes are in reserve.
St. Michaels (24-1)
No. 1 hurler Matt Grogan, a preseason all-state selection and a first-team All-MidShore pick last year, will play in the outfield when not on the hill.
Sophomore catcher Jock Luthy, who spent his freshman year at C-SD, will call the pitches. At first will be a split-time arrangement between Grant LaBelle (a sophomore transfer from Colonel) and senior Brodie Steen. Senior Trent Saunders starts at second, senior Andrew Risher is at short, while sophomores Nolan Swataski and Josh Risher sharing duties at third.
In the outfield, Femi will look to Grogan, fellow senior Nathan Howeth (another returning All-MidShore first-teamer), as well as junior Nick Newnam and sophomore Ryan Smith.
Saints Peter and Paul (13-7)
For the second year in a row, the Sabres made the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association’s C Conference semifinals in 2017. Despite losing a couple of key starters, head coach Chris Thompson returns a lot of talent, including All-Mid-Shore firstteam first baseman and DH Sam Weisman, who drove in 36 runs – an astounding average of 1.8 RBIs per game.
Sophomore hurler Aubrey Perry and junior Connor Quade anchor the rotation. Sophomore Brooks Hoffman will play second, with Quade at third when not on the hill. Perry will also spend time at short and catcher.
Others on the roster include juniors Henry Shindler, Ryan Freeman, Wesley Stallings (a transfer from St. Mary’s), Sam Warpinski; sophomore Joey Greaney; and freshmen Evan LaPointe, Cole Mister, Audrey Perez, and Nate Haschen.
SSPP began the season with a loss Friday against B-Conference opponent Annapolis Area Christian, and stands 0-1, with a game scheduled at Hog Neck Park today against St. Frances.