After Frederick High baseball standout Corie O'Bryan's two-out, run-scoring triple to deep right-center field gave the Cadets a 5-2 lead at South Carroll last Friday, Cavaliers head coach George Richardson faced an intriguing dilemma.
Malcolm Smith (L) is one member of the Frederick High baseball team who benefits from the effort of solid sluggers Corie O'Bryan, John Tsikerdanos and Travis Hebron.
With O'Bryan representing an even bigger deficit for South Carroll 90 feet away, it appeared that Cavaliers starting pitcher Bo Sauter would have to face the final two members of Frederick's "Murderer's Row"-- sophomore slugger Travis Hebron and power-hitting senior John Tsikerdanos.
But as the duo waited anxiously on deck, Richardson and the left-handed Sauter settled on perhaps an unlikely solution to the problem, issuing back-to-back intentional walks rather than getting burned by the heavy hitters.
The resolution panned out, albeit just by the skin of its teeth, when Brian Anderson's ensuing 400-foot fly ball was run down by Cavaliers' center fielder Eric Laverick. But Richardson knew pitching to Anderson was a much safer bet than toying with either Hebron or Tsikerdanos.
"Those are three outstanding hitters, and three of the best you'll see in the [Central Maryland Conference] or anywhere else in the state," Richardson said of the hard-hitting trio. "O'Bryan had already launched a ball to right field, so with the other two coming up I went out and talked to Bo. We decided what made the most sense was to walk them both and take our chances with Anderson. Coming into the game we said we weren't going to let those three beat us. If their other guys beat us, so be it."
South Carroll rallied behind Laverick's game-saving play to score five runs of its own in the last of the fifth inning. Bryan Lowry then drove home Jimmy Dahlgren in the seventh to give the Cavaliers an 8-7 victory. But the predicament that faced Richardson concerning Frederick's tenacious threesome is a quandary shared by all of the Cadets' opponents.
A year ago, Frederick rode the bats of Hebron, who posted team-highs in batting average (.400), home runs (5), and runs batted in (34) as a freshman, and Tsikerdanos (.394, .732 slugging, 5 HR, 21 RBI) deep into the postseason. Frederick advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals after compiling only a 9-11 record in the regular season.
With that production back, along with the return of O'Bryan, who missed all of his junior campaign with torn knee ligaments after leading Frederick with a .358 average as a sophomore, the Cadets entered this season with high hopes of returning to Joe Cannon Stadium in May and perhaps taking the next step on the way to their first state championship.
"There's no question the expectations for this team are high," said Tsikerdanos, who had a two-run single against South Carroll. "The three of us have certainly shown in the past that we can produce and we have other guys on this team who are good hitters as well. If we [the team] play like we're capable of, I don't know if there's anyone in the state who can beat us."
The chill of the wet spring weather has somewhat frosted the normally red hot bats of Tsikerdanos (.250, 1 HR, 6 RBI) and Hebron (.231, 1 HR, 3 RBI), but the Cadets have still managed to produce offensively as a team.
Much like last year, though, Frederick has taken some early-season lumps. Hampered by an inexperienced pitching staff and some defensive inconsistency, the Cadets have limped out to a 4-4 start, including a 3-4 mark in the CMC.
"Right now we're just not playing good team baseball," said O'Bryan, who has helped pick up the slack for his slumping mates with his team leading .571 batting average, 4 home runs and 13 RBI. "Baseball is a team game, and we win or lose as a team. Obviously we need John and Travis, and I think once we get them going we'll win more consistently. But other guys are hitting the ball in their place, so scoring hasn't been a problem. We just need to tighten things up defensively."
"We [Hebron and Tsikerdanos] just haven't been hitting the ball well at all," Hebron said. "It's still early, though, and the weather is still chilly. Hopefully as it get warmer, we'll get warmer. But we're just not getting the job done."
In his attempt to carry the load, O'Bryan has been helped by some lesser-known hitters in Frederick's lineup. Senior first baseman Kyle Knott, who is hitting at a .500 clip with seven RBI, Anderson (.308) and leadoff hitter Malcolm Smith (.280, 1 HR, 5 stolen bases) have gotten off to stellar starts by taking advantage of the attention put on the big three.
"Everybody's attention is consumed by [O'Bryan, Tsikerdanos and Hebron] and that's helped those other guys out," Cadets head coach Phil Rhodes said. "You have to pitch to somebody, and those guys are getting good pitches to hit and taking advantage of it. Kyle Knott is hitting the snot out of the ball right now and Brian and Malcolm have taken advantage as well. We [coaches] told them in the preseason that people were going to be concerned with the big three and because of that they'd have a great opportunity to have some great years. They're stepping up and doing just that."
"I think we're just a good overall hitting team," said Knott, who was 3-for-4 with a two-run double last Friday. "If [pitchers] slack off on anybody, they're going to get hurt. It's a very tough lineup to face. Right now we might not be running on all cylinders, but if Travis and John get going and we start to play defensively like we did at the end of the season last year, we'll have the opportunity to make a run at the state championship again."