New year, same story for QO

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Like a major league franchise that benefits from a great farm system, the Quince Orchard High baseball team seems to reload each year, regardless of the loss of key personnel in any given year.

This year has certainly been no exception. Quince Orchard, led by a mix of newcomers and veteran holdovers, boasted a 3-0 record after Saturday’s 10-6 win over host Wootton despite having to replace two of Montgomery County’s most prolific pitchers last year, left-handers Joe Mattes and Brett Fox.

The two All-Gazette first-team selections combined for a 15-1 record while leading Quince Orchard to a 19-2 record and its first state title. Mattes and Fox stepped in, along with Mike Celenza, Kevin Collins and others, to fill the various holes left by an array of top-notch seniors from the 2003 season, when the Cougars made their first state tournament appearance.

‘‘We have a great JV program and all of our players are baseball guys,” second-year Cougars coach Jason Gasaway. ‘‘They play summer ball in the county’s various leagues. They’re working year-round. It’s great. All of them have good baseball knowledge. That allows us to focus on the little things. We can work on things at a higher level that some programs can’t do.”

This year’s crop of budding stars include senior pitcher Andy Moldawer, sophomore left fielder Kevin Johnson and junior shortstop⁄pitcher Kyle Judson, who all contributed in Saturday’s victory over the Patriots (1-2 through Monday).

Moldawer saw just 12 innings on the mound last year, but the Cougars’ new ace has already recorded two wins in two starts this season, including allowing two runs in 5 1⁄3 innings of work against a potent Wootton lineup.

‘‘I’m excited about the opportunity,” said Moldawer, who opened the season with a 7-0 blanking of Wheaton last week. ‘‘We’re really pumped. We have so many players returning and players stepping up.”

Gasaway added: ‘‘He’s going to be our workhorse. We knew very early on that he’d be our ace.”

Gasaway and his staff liked what they saw of Johnson last year on the junior varsity but thought he would stay there one more season. Instead, the heavy-hitting outfielder impressed his coaches so much that he’s now a key starter and the team’s clean-up hitter.

On Saturday, Johnson went 2 for 4 with four runs batted in, including a two-run homer in the third inning to break open a 1-1 tie.

‘‘He’s swinging a nice bat,” Gasaway said.

Judson forms a solid middle infield combination with fellow newcomer Alex Mennie, who handled all six of their combined chances in the field flawlessly. Judson also worked the last 1 2⁄3 innings on the mound with three strikeouts, although he did give up a seventh-inning grand slam to Alex Bastow to account for the final margin of victory.

Mainstays Celenza (1 for 3, RBI), Collins (2 for 5, double, RBI), and Matt O’Keefe (double, three runs, RBI) contributed offensively to the Quince Orchard onslaught, in which the Cougars scored three runs in the third, two in the fourth and four in the sixth to open up a 10-2 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning.

While the Cougars are still flying high, the Patriots have stumbled out the gate, largely because of a lack of depth on the mound. Senior Bobby Kim (5-1 last year) did not return to the team this spring for personal reasons, according to Wootton coach Joe Cassidy.

After upending Bethesda-Chevy Chase, 5-4, in the season opener, the Patriots surrendered 29 runs in back-to-back losses to Magruder (19-7 score) and Quince Orchard.

Starting pitcher Matt Allred surrendered four runs in three innings of work. Relievers Michael Campos and Michael Rudin were reached for the other six runs on six hits, including three doubles, in four innings.

‘‘We’re still trying to come together,” Wootton senior catcher Dennis Schoonmaker said. ‘‘It hurts [losing Kim], but we have to deal with it. We’re trying to make out who can pitch. We ran out of pitching [Saturday].”

If the Patriots can clear up their problems on the mound, they could be dangerous. Their lineup includes Peter Barrett, who went 2 for 3 with a home run Saturday, Schoonmaker (2 for 3) and Bastow, who sent his grand slam over the center-field fence.

Notes: Former Watkins Mill and Towson University shortstop Brian McKenna has joined Gasaway’s staff. McKenna played independent minor league baseball after graduating from Towson in 2004.