County's Division I is up for grabs
Mar. 15, 2000
James Peters
Staff Writer




Montgomery County's Division I is the most competitive of the three divisions as it is loaded with 4A teams and lots of talented players such as Gaithersburg's Danny Root, Magruder's Colin Loehr, Quince Orchard's Gary Yeisley, Sherwood's Griffin Gloff, Watkins Mill's Brian McKenna and Wootton's Joe Pichler.

Watkins Mill won the Division I title a year ago but Quince Orchard, under then-first year coach John Lubenetski, reached the 4A West Region final. Gaithersburg was one of the county's best programs during the 1990s.

Blair, Magruder, Sherwood and Springbrook are hoping to bounce back from subpar seasons a year ago.

Here's a look at how the teams stack up:

 

Quince Orchard

Coach: John Lubenetski, 2nd year

Last year's record: 17-4

State classification: 4A

Last state playoff appearance: None

Last state title: None

Season outlook: Under 1999 Gazette Coach of the Year John Lubenetski, the Cougars reached the 4A West Region final for the first time. Quince Orchard lost to Fredrick, 6-4, in the regional title game.

The Gaithersburg school lost ace pitcher J.D. Lubenetski and second baseman Kevin Low, but the Cougars return a lot of talented, experienced players such as seniors Gary Yeisley, Eric Fisher, Mike Johnson and Joe Barrett.

Yeisley is a large target at first base and a hard-throwing pitcher on the mound. Fisher also pitches and he is the team's shortstop. Johnson was the team's top catcher a year ago but he'll be one of the squad's best pitchers this year. He'll also play some first base and catch. Barrett is a utility infielder.

Fisher, Johnson and Yeisley played a big part in Gaithersburg Post 295's run to the American Legion state final last summer. As did junior pitcher Jason Thibeault.

"We're looking for four seniors to lead us," Lubenetski said. "They've been on varsity for three years and they've seen a lot of games in high school and American Legion. We're looking for our pitching staff to carry us in certain games."

Other key personnel are junior outfielder Chris Connolly and sophomores Scott Blackwood, Kevin Conley and Brady O'Neal. The catching duties will fall to senior Ian O'Neal and junior Chris Copenhaver.

Junior Tommy Schauppner and sophomore Greg Fisher are two more pitchers Lubenetski will use. Schauppner was the Most Valuable Player of the junior-varsity team last year, the Cougars coach said.

 

Watkins Mill

Coach: Ken Brace, 3rd year

Last year's record: 14-4

State classification: 4A

Last state playoff appearance: 1994

Last state title: None

Season outlook: The Wolverines won the Division I title last season. For their efforts, the random lottery playoff machine gave Watkins Mill one of the toughest playoff draws in the 4A West Region.

Watkins Mill downed a tough Gaithersburg team before losing to regional finalist Quince Orchard in the quarterfinals.

The Ken Brace-led squad is poised for another run at the division title and its first trip to the state playoffs since 1994. The Wolverines return seven starters, including All-Gazette selection Brian McKenna.

McKenna, a soft-handed senior shortstop, compiled a .375 batting average with a home run, nine doubles, one triple and 19 runs batted in. He was a huge force over the summer for Gaithersburg Post 295, leading the American Legion squad to the state final.

Other returning field players are senior catcher Jeff Haeder, one of the team's leaders, senior second baseman Tommy Kramer and senior outfielders Nick Aragon and Christian Segura. Senior Steve Hannegan and junior Ryan Morgan will be the team's top two hurlers.

Junior first baseman Brad Epstein and senior outfielder Steve Sutherland played sparingly last year but they will see significant time this spring.

Watkins Mill's top newcomers are freshman pitcher/shortstop Matt Montgomery and junior-varsity call-ups Mike Coleman (catcher), Brandon Dean (third base), Blake Corland (lefty pitcher) and Kyle Stewart (outfield). Those four players are all juniors.

"I think we'll play very solid defense [and] I have high hopes for hitting," Brace said. "Our pitching is adequate. I hope it comes along during the year. I think we'll be a contender."

 

Gaithersburg

Coach: Paul Kane, 12th year

Last year's record: 12-7

State classification: 4A

Last state playoff appearance: 1998

Last state title: None

Season outlook: The Trojans failed to reach the state playoffs for only the fifth time in the 1990s, losing to Division I champion Watkins Mill in the 4A West Region first round. Gaithersburg has reached the state tournament six times since 1988, reaching the final three times (1992, '93, '97).

This year's squad, which includes five returning starters and a host of quality junior-varsity call-ups, has enough talent to make that number rise to seven at the conclusion of the 2000 season.

Senior left-handed first baseman/pitcher Danny Root will be one of the team's key members. Other returnees include senior outfielder Brian Jacobs, senior catcher/outfielder Jack Nill, senior pitcher/third baseman Chris Holt and senior utility infielder Joel Vitale.

Holt was one of the team's better relief pitchers a year ago. Gaithersburg coach Paul Kane isn't sure if Holt will be a starter this year or remain in last year's role plus close some games.

Kane will rely on four junior-varsity call-ups to solidify the starting lineup -- sophomore infielder Justin Rowe, junior second baseman Ryan Paugh, junior outfielder Rodney Theodore and junior left-handed pitcher/first baseman Jeff Hoffman.

"We're still shaping up," Kane said. "We've got some work to do in all phases of our game. This is a talented team. Once we start pulling together and sharpening up, we'll be a pretty tough team to beat. We've got some good sticks in the lineup and our defense, I think, will be pretty good. We're poised for a good year."

 

Magruder

Coach: Andy Sidorick, 22nd

Last year's record: 8-10

State classification: 4A

Last state playoff appearance: None

Last state title: None

Season outlook: The Colonels followed an impressive 15-3 season two years ago with a sub.-500 8-10 during the 1999 campaign. Magruder could regain its form this year with the return of several starters, including top pitcher Colin Loehr, a senior who also plays outfield.

Loehr, who battled injury last season, won the bulk of his team's games.

He'll be aided by No. 2 pitcher James Lynagh, who saw some action on the mound a year ago. Lynagh will also play the outfield when he's not pitching.

Other returnees are senior first baseman/pitcher Justin Perryman, a lefty, senior second baseman Alex Orloff, senior third baseman/pitcher David Schean, junior shortstop Scott Carlson, senior relief pitcher/outfielder Trent Hughes and senior catcher/pitcher Nick D'Agostino.

Players who will see a larger role this year are sophomore catcher Matt Pfleiger, sophomore pitcher/utility infielder Greg Parnell, sophomore pitcher/outfielder Jim Davenjay and junior outfielders Chad Brandon, Ian Giles and Gene Burnett.

"I think defense-wise, we'll be pretty good," said Magruder coach Andy Sidorick. "Pitching, we'll do it by a committee, 2-3 innings apiece. Hitting-wise, we'll be OK. Speed-wise, we're lacking for team speed. That's a major deficit. We're hoping to improve on our overall record and advance in the playoffs."

 

Wootton

Coach: Rhett Ross, 21st year

Last year's record: 12-5

State classification: 4A

Last state playoff appearance: 1996

Last state title: 1996

Season outlook: The Patriots were good last year and they should certainly be a division and playoff contender again this spring. The reasons are clear.

First, Rhett Ross, a highly successful coach, returns to the helm for his 21st campaign. He led Wootton to its only state crown in 1996.

Second, the Patriots return a solid lineup that includes All-Gazette performer Joe Pichler.

The senior ace pitcher/first baseman hit .500 (25 for 50) with four home runs and 20 RBI. He also earned three saves on the mound. Pichler will be one of the team's top hurlers again this year.

As will junior Kevin Johnson, the team's No. 2 starter. When not pitching, the talented ballplayer will play shortstop. Both he and Pichler are the team's top two hitters as well.

Juniors Josh Shaw (.320 BA) and Javier Gonzalez return to the outfield, while senior Madden Meiners resumes his spot at third base. Junior Brett Friedman will be Pichler and Johnson's battery mate and sophomore Derek Wight will pitch and play shortstop.

Top newcomers are sophomores Ben Dean and Danny Romanoff who will play the infield for Ross, giving the coach some much-needed depth.

"A lot of those kids started playing as freshmen," Ross said. "Pichler and Johnson have pitched together the last two years. They have been fairly successful."

Wootton, which lost to Magruder, 5-4, in the first round of the playoffs, will not play at home this spring with its field under construction.

 

Springbrook

Coach: Bob Cilento, 16th year

Last year's record: 6-12

State classification: 4A

Last state playoff appearance: 1990

Last state title: None

Season outlook: The Blue Devils sported one of the county's youngest teams last year. Despite that and a rough regular season, Springbrook reached the 4A West Region semifinals before losing to Quince Orchard.

This year's squad may actually be younger but certainly more talented. Not to mention, the Blue Devils do return some seasoned veterans, such as senior center fielder Jeff Godbout, who Springbrook coach Bob Cilento said would be "one of the top [outfielders] in the county."

The team's top two pitchers, junior ace Mike van Wagenen and No. 2 Russell Durfee, will resume their roles this spring. The middle infield will consist of shortstop/pitcher Justin Riggs and second baseman Mike Massino.

Freshman first baseman Jay Riggs and freshman outfielder Edmond Bushnell are two of the team's top newcomers as is sophomore third baseman John Hinkle. Hinkle is battling senior Tony Bernardo for the starting third baseman's job.

Senior Elliot Rule will be the team's catcher and junior Paul Young is a utility fielder.

"We're getting younger," Cilento said. "This year we have three freshmen and three sophomores. The first couple of scrimmages we looked good. We'll make some noise. I don't know how much. We have some experience and some good young players."

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