By Tully Ervin
GAITHERSBURG, Md – It is not hard to say that the nature of living in the DMV area has prevented The Avalon School’s baseball team to prepare outdoors for their tough upcoming 2015 schedule.
Because of the cold weather, many snow days, and rain, Avalon has had to replace Kelly Park with school’s “Great Hall,” the gym at Bohrer Park, Dig In Baseball’s indoor facility, and the school’s black top parking lot.
Coach Patrick Duffy has already cancelled all three scrimmages and postponed a few other games such as the team’s annual road trip to North Carolina, where they usually play two games.
Still, Duffy thinks this is a strong Avalon team, and feels they should compete for both the conference and state championships.
An array of tough teams from the area’s top conferences fill the regular season schedule. The season starts Saturday with a game against Washington Catholic Athletic Conference power Bishop McNamara. McNamara is just a couple of years removed from winning the prestigious WCAC championship.
The month of March also includes games against IAC team Landon School, a squad with three potential NCAA D1 prospects, and a tough slate of games in the Riverdale Baptist March Classic. The Riverdale tournament features Woodrow Wilson High School, Gilman School, and of course the host team, Riverdale Baptist. The month ends with tilts against Old Baseball Conference foes The Heights and St. Maria Goretti High School.
The schedule really heats up in April when the team plays three teams from the state’s most iconic league, the MIAA. Games against Loyola Blakefield, McDonogh, and Gilman will challenge Avalon’s depth.
Locally, the team will play Montgomery Public School teams Walter Johnson, and Gaithersburg, in the month of April.
The Black Knights lost five players to graduation a year ago, with three moving on to play college baseball. OLBC MVP shortstop/pitcher Billy Lenox (Frederick CC) and Maryland State B Tournament MVP pitcher Tommy Sanchez (Towson) were All-OLBC First Team a year ago, MSABC regional All-Star and All-Gazette selections as well. Pitcher Michael Brunvoll (Nyack) is playing at the NCAA D2 level with former Avalon graduates Josh Brunvoll and Mike Smith.
Avalon welcomes back five starters, including juniors Dan Searles, Brian Shaw, 2014 All-OLBC 2nd Team selection Paul Jackson, and seniors Conor Sloan (All-OLBC 2nd Team), and Mark Searles.
The Black Knights pick several transfer players such as infielder/pitcher KJ Curry (Riverdale Baptist), pitcher Erik Janss (Damascus), infielder Ian Heffley (Einstein), and infielder/pitcher Will Statchura (Seneca Valley/St. John’s).
With the loss of Sanchez and Lennox, who combined for 10 of Avalon’s 15 wins a year ago, the team will look to a slew of arms to step up.
Most notably is Janss, a tall right-handed pitcher throwing in the mid-80’s. Janss, considered a top prospect, has received interest from schools such as Penn State, Michigan, Maryland, and Bucknell.
Left-hand pitchers Jackson and Sloan also figure into the mix. Jackson appeared in five games, and started four in 2014. He won four and lost only one of his decisions, in 17 innings pitched, with 17 strikeouts. Sloan did not pitch in the 2014 season because of a torn labrum in the left shoulder sustained during basketball season. As a sophomore in 2013, he finished the season with four wins and no losses in six appearances. He’s received interest from NCAA D2 schools, but has not made a decision.
Also look for righty Daniel Davis to see work both as a starter and reliever, while righties Ryo Fabre, Shaw, and Daniel Searles figure to be middle relief arms.
To close games, right-handed pitchers Curry and Stachura will get the call.
A year ago, Avalon batted .299 as a team, and scored 142 runs. Both are above the national average, according to Maxpreps.com. However, they must account for the loss of Lennox, the school’s all-time leader in hits and batting average.
The Knights seem pretty confident they can do so, despite the fact there is not a single power hitter in the group. Still, the line up looks deep from top to bottom.
Expect infielder Curry to leadoff, as he brings a good combination of pop and speed. The number two through six spots are interchangeable, but Stachura should nail down the second spot in the line up. Heffley could be the team’s most consistent bat, and will battle Dan Searles for the three-hole spot.
Senior Mark Searles, who batted .304 a year ago, showed gap-to-gap strength in the fall and figures to bat clean up. Meanwhile, Jackson leads all returning players with the best 2014 batting average (.381). A season ago he was called on in a variety of situations to show off his knack for the small ball game. Whether bunting for a hit, excluding a fake bunt-slash play, or driving the ball to the opposite field, look for Jackson to produce.
Other players who figure into the line up are Davis, who starts the season as the designated hitter, Sloan, who came on offensively late in the season, and the speedy Shaw.
Even though the Black Knights rely heavily on their pitching staff, its the defense that could turn heads this season.
Behind the dish is Dan Searles, who caught Sanchez’s upper 80’s fastball last season. Searles looks to take more of a leadership role this season, and should handle the pitching staff well. He is backed up by Davis and Shaw, both came on strong at the end of the fall season.
The infield is the team’s strength with several options coach Duffy can shift around. Sloan, who made 2nd team All-OLBC for his defense last year, will use his 6’5″ frame at first base. Curry and Heffley show highlight reel talent, and Stachura is as steady as they come. All three can play anywhere on the infield. Also look for sophomore Fabre to see action at second and third, as he takes on a bigger role in this second season. The wild card is sophomore Paul Owens, who could see time at second, third, and first bases.
Four-year starter Mark Searles will anchor an outfield that should cover a lot of ground. The Hood College commit shows range and a strong arm in centerfield, but it’s his fearlessness that captures his teammates respect. He’ll be flanked by Jackson, the team’s most polished outfielder, and Shaw, who moves from third base. Sophomore Michael McPherson will push for playing time when one of the three starting outfielders sees time on the mound. Also look for senior athlete Miles Laboy to challenge for time in the outfield.