The faces and names change from year to year in the Metro Conference baseball league. Players and even coaches come and go.

But two things are constant -- DeMatha and O'Connell high schools, in no particular order, always are on top of the standings by playoff time.

DeMatha lost three league games last year and won the Metro title. Even with a new head coach, Charlie Sullivan, the Stags appear strong this year.

So does O'Connell. McNamara has a young team but it is blessed with talented, quick ball players. Good Counsel has a solid offense down to the seventh hitter, and St. John's is one of the strongest teams up the middle.

In other words, it looks like another typical Metro Conference season.

The Stags won three games before leaving on a road trip to North Carolina. They have possibly the league's best all-around player in senior shortstop Darin Campbell. The stocky, four-year letterman batted over .400 last year and was among the team leaders in home runs, RBI and stolen bases. Defensively, he already has excellent range and a powerful arm.

Joining Campbell in the infield is first baseman Gary Pyne, a good power hitter. The outfield returns Chris Chick and Booby Powell, both .300 hitters last season.

The pitching will be anchored by senior Pat Moylan, the son of the school principal and a three-sport athlete. He also played basketball and golf.

Good Counsel won three games last year but should surpass that total by the second week of the season. The Falcons already have one victory, a 12-3 rout of Carroll last Monday.

Third baseman Brian Duvall is temporarily ineligible because of academic problems, but Good Counsel Coach Brian O'Neill said Duvall could rejoin the team within two weeks.

If so, he will join an already potent, veteran infield. First baseman John Ostrowski, second baseman Mark McVicker and catcher Pat Ansaldi could form one of the tightest defenses in the league.

"There aren't too many teams that have everybody like that back," O'Neill said. "They're all potential all-Met players, too. I hope they just live up to half their potential; we'll be fantastic."

Ansaldi batted .450 for his summer league team last year and O'Neill called him "one of the premier power hitters in the state.

"The guy is a college hitter right now," O'Neill said. "This is his fourth year of varsity and he's going to be a big plus for us this year. He's got a great arm, too. I don't see too many people trying to run on us."

O'Neill predicts plenty of production from the top six spots in the lineup.

"We've got a lot of good, basic role players in there," O'Neill said. "Our 1 and 2 men have good speed and bat control and get on base; 3 and 4 are the power hitters and 5 and 6 are good RBI men in the clutch. I'll put that up against a lot of teams we'll be facing."

The Falcons only return two experienced pitchers, seniors Dan Bradley and Mike DiNenna.

Gonzaga also scheduled a road trip during spring break, going to Tampa, Fla., to play Tampa Jesuit, the top-ranked team in Florida. The Eagles lost both games, but only by scores of 9-8 and 8-4. They led in the first game, 8-5, then yielded four runs in the last two innings. They opened the season with a 10-2 victory over St. Stephens.

"That's what's going to happen to us at first because of our inexperience," Gonzaga Coach Ken Lake said. "But the games were good for us; we learned a lot about ourselves."

Junior left-hander Mike Miller, senior shortstop Matt Seiler and senior catcher Greg August, a .350 hitter, are the only returning veterans.

St. John's (2-1) has very few returning players. Junior right-hander Kevin Nalepka is back, along with catcher Eric Ellis, who batted .400 last year and led the team with 18 RBI.

Mike O'Neill is doing well at first base, and the Cadets are hitting the ball well.

"We've cut down on the number of errors we thought we'd be making," Coach Branson Ferry said. "We could be a very good defensive team."Next: IAC