The Reston Raiders are at their familiar position atop the standings of the Clark Griffith baseball league.
Having won the first two rounds of the three-part schedule, the Raiders are on their way toward a sweep of the schedule and a fourth straight league championship.
The league's 20-year-old age limit compounded with the loss of five players to professional baseball forcing Reston Manager Chuck Faris to rebuild his squad this year.
"Ideally, I would like to have a team of the best local players," Faris said. "If I can't find enough good ballplayers there, I look at the entire D.C. area. Finally, I supplement those guys with players from outside of this area."
With the help of Steve Hamilton, baseball coach at Morehead State University in Kentucky, Faris set out to carefully recruit his club. Because of the outstanding reputation of the league and the tremendous success his teams have had in recent years, Faris had little trouble finding players.
The result is a team Faris says "might be about as good as I've ever had. We think we're pretty well balanced. We have guys that hit for average and five or six guys that can hit it out of the park. We also have enough speed to put pressure on the other teams and create opportunities."
Led by Mark Leavitt of Princeton, Randy Roush of Old Dominion, Matt and Mark Lepnew of Georgetown and Brian Staley of Morehead State, the Raiders dominate the league statistics.
Leavitt, playing for a team in a New Brunswick league last summer, faced the Raiders in the national tournament in Johnstown, Pa. After he got six hits against Reston, Leavitt recalled with a laugh, "Chuck mentioned something about if I was ever interested in playing for him to let him know."
Deciding he would like to play in a more competitive league, he joined the Raiders.
Faris gives thanks for that decision. Leavitt is hitting around .340 and has "pro hands," according to his coach.
"He is without a doubt the best defensive infielder in the league," said Faris. With leadoff hitter Randy Roush, the Raiders have an outstanding one-two combination.
Although Roush and Leavitt usually get things started, it is often the Lepnew brothers who finish things off. Among the league's top 10 in every offensive category except stolen bases and home runs, Mark has put together the "most outstanding year offensively of anyone in the league," said Faris.
And Matt is hitting over .330, is tied for the home run lead with five and is competing for the league lead in several other categories.
Staley, whom Faris calls "the best hitter and catcher in the league," has hit well over .400 all season and is tied with Mark Lepnew for the league's home run lead. However, his biggest contribution may be behind the plate, where he worked with a pitching staff that includes Morehead State classmates Tom Morrison, Mike Pancake and Aca Ramey.
Along with Greg Ireland of Old Dominion, the Morehead trio stepped in to revive a pitching staff that was decimated by injuries to three players Faris had counted on to do much of the work on the mound.
Ireland leads the league in wins and strikeouts and is among the leaders in ERA, innings pitched and batting average allowed. His fastball and sharp breaking pitch have held opposing hitters to an average under .200 and has made Ireland "the No. 1 pitcher in the league," according to Falls Church Rebels Coach George Rumore.
If the Raiders win the third round of the regular season, there will be no league playoffs. And although Faris is trying to keep his club's concentration on the third round, even he can't help looking ahead to the regional tournament in Altoona, Pa., and a possible berth in the All-American Amateur Baseball Association's national tournament in Johnstown, Pa.