Wednesday, May 14, 2008

MC-Germantown ’08: Diamond in the rough

Baseball program stays solid despite graduations

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After graduating one of the program’s most accomplished and talented sophomores classes ever, and losing top returnee Kevin Keith for the season to rest his surgically repaired arm, the Montgomery College-Germantown baseball program expected to take a step back in head coach Dan Rascher’s third season.

That departed group of sophomores includes current University of Maryland standout Jensen Pupa (Northwest graduate) and Aaron Sofield, an accomplished one-two punch at the plate and on the mound.

Instead of dropping back, the Gryphons (35-10) are experiencing one of the program’s best seasons to date, including a third-straight Region XX championship last weekend in Pennsylvania. That means a trip to next weekend’s National Junior College Athletic Association Division III World Series in Tyler, Texas. Germantown is ranked ninth in the latest Ringor NJCAA Division III baseball poll.

‘‘These guys surprise me every day,” Rascher said. ‘‘Our youngsters are doing a great job.”

Specifically speaking, a trio of freshman pitchers — Kevin Story (Damascus), John Bergwall (Wheaton) and Jose Sanchez — has combined for a 20-3 record and four saves with 124 strikeouts in 170 innings. Story and Sanchez, two of the team’s top three starters, have compiled respective records of 6-2 and 7-1, with earned run averages of 2.63 and 2.22. Bergwall, the team’s top reliever, has produced a 7-0 record with two saves and a 3.08 ERA.

Those three have combined with sophomore Nick Franceski (Gaithersburg) to form a stingy pitching staff that has allowed roughly three runs per game. Franceski’s record stands at 9-3 and he has a 1.95 ERA in 68 1⁄3 innings. Dan Liscinsky (4-3, 5.36 ERA) was also a key member of the staff before taking a line drive off his head in last April. Rascher said Liscinsky was knocked unconscious on the play and spent two days in intensive care, but he is progressing well.

‘‘They’ve done a great job,” Rascher said. ‘‘They’ve kept us in every game. That’s really how we’ve done it. We haven’t blown anybody out. We stay close and they find ways to win.”

Like the team’s pitching staff, the Gryphons have several contributors on the offensive end, including Mike Bokman (.411, 18 extra-base hits, 38 RBI), Shane Ittenbach (.378, 31 RBI), Ryan Kesecker (.318, 42 RBI), Kenny Voigt (.326, 51 runs, 32 RBI), Ross Sweeney (.292, four home runs, 26 RBI) and Daniel Martinez (.318, 27 RBI).

‘‘It’s not been just one guy,” Rascher said. ‘‘We’ve spread it out.”

Montgomery College had everything working during the recent Region XX tournament, as Germantown swept its three opponents, Westmoreland County (Pa.) Community College, Montgomery College-Rockville and CCAC-South (Pa.) by scores of 3-2, 10-0 and 12-6, respectively. The Gryphons now hope to improve on their recent World Series appearances, which included going 1-2 a year ago.

‘‘We just want to make a little noise,” Rascher said. ‘‘We have to get through the first two games to get into the championship round. Nothing would surprise me.”