The St. Albans High School varsity baseball team, under Coach Bob Brown, has won the last eight Interstate Athletic Conference titles, and indications point toward a ninth in the making this season.

At the start of the week, St. Albans led the IAC with a 4-0 conference record (8-3 overall) after convincing wins of 13-0 over Landon, 9-3 over St. Stephen's, 10-5 over Episcopal and 7-0 over Georgetown Prep. Not bad for a team that claims its biggest weakness has been hitting.

"We've been getting good pitching and fielding, but we were only hitting in the .225 range," said senior first baseman Steve Bayles. "We rely more on hitting people around the bases. We got off to a slow start [in nonleague games]."

The improvement once the league schedule began is attributed by many players to the team's spring training trip to Florida in March. Every spring since 1975, Brown has flown the Bulldogs to Fort Lauderdale. From there, they bussed to various nooks and crannies in the state to play exhibition games against the local high schools. The St. Albans players say the competition in Florida is tough, as evidenced by the Bulldogs' two victories in 11 games.

"This was our longest trip," said senior Peter Woelfleine, a center fielder. "Two weeks . . . playing baseball for [virtually] 14 straight days . . . from Venice to Naples to Okeechobee and then to Fort Lauderdale to fly out. But it wasn't as bad as in the past as far as the heat."

The Bulldogs' talented upperclassmen have provided a firm backbone to a team that starts two sophomores and one freshman. Last year, 12 seniors dominated field time and produced a 20-4 championship squad. This year's core of junior shortstop Mladen Baudrand and seniors Bayles, Woelfleine, second baseman Kevin Scheid and right-handed pitcher Ian McDonald, have taken charge.

"They're a loose, hard-working bunch of guys," Brown said. "Everybody has a good sense of humor."

"[We] know how to joke when it's time to joke," Baudrand said. "And we know how and when to get serious."

McDonald is serious. Entering this week, he was 6-0, including five wins as a starter. McDonald, who also played football and basketball at St. Albans, said he prefers baseball, which he plans to play collegiately at either Princeton or North Carolina.

The curveball is McDonald's best pitch, but the side-armer is working on a slider for the next level. "They'll hit out a curveball and fastball pretty easy in college," McDonald said.

Batting .320, Woelfleine is the Bulldogs' leading hitter in average, RBI, and home runs. His two home runs tie the St. Albans single-season record for one player. He has driven in 12 runs.

Baudrand shows a lot of potential. He has good fielding range and, according to McDonald, probably is the team's best hitter in terms of raw talent. He has shown his ability with a recent spurt of .400 batting.

Bayles plays solid first base and Scheid brought a big smile to Brown's face last week in practice when the second baseman belly-flopped to make a catch during an infield fly drill.

Since Brown started taking his teams to Florida each March, other IAC teams, such as Sidwell Friends this year, also have begun heading south for spring break. So far, however, the others' travels have been unable to knock St. Albans from its usual trip in May to the top of the IAC.