The Favorite

After a midseason swoon when it lost four of five, Leonardtown ended the season with three straight victories and is making a push for its first Maryland 3A tournament appearance since 1999. The Raiders have depth in both their pitching staff (2.17 team earned run average) and lineup (.328 team batting average), unlike any other team in the 3A South Region.

The Dark Horse

Northern is following Patuxent's script from last year when the Panthers went 6-12 in the regular season before advancing to the 3A final. Northern overcame losing eight of nine in midseason and heads into the playoffs on a five-game winning streak. The difference with Northern is pitching; when the Patriots allow fewer than five runs, they are 7-1; when they allow at least five, they are 2-10.

Toughest Draw

Even though it ended the regular season with 10 straight victories to win its first SMAC title, Patuxent is far from the leader of the 4A East Region. While the Panthers drew the fourth seed and a first-round bye, they host North County. The winner likely will face top seed and seventh-ranked Chesapeake. Sitting on the opposite side of the bracket is the No. 2 seed, 10th-ranked Old Mill, the defending 4A champion.

Players to Watch

Billy Maddox, McDonough, senior, outfielder: Batted .383 and played an errorless center field to spark the Rams to the top seed in the 3A South Region as they vie for their first state tournament appearance.

Greg Rhoades, Thomas Stone, senior, pitcher: While the Cougars have struggled hitting, Rhoades (1.35 ERA, 3 walks in 30 innings) has been the highlight of a deep, dependable pitching staff that does not overwhelm batters but could surprise Anne Arundel County foes.

Ian Schwalenberg, Calvert, sophomore, pitcher-shortstop: Calvert's leading hitter at .380 also pitched a complete-game two-hitter last Friday in a 2-1 loss to Northern.

Brandon Short, Chopticon, sophomore, outfielder: Perhaps the most dynamic bat in the SMAC, Short hit .444 with 3 home runs, 28 RBIs and seven extra-base hits.

Bobby Smoot, Lackey, junior, first baseman: Was the leading hitter -- .345 with 20 runs batted in - for the Chargers, who had their best regular season (9-11 overall, 8-8 SMAC) in Coach Matt Loyd's five years at the school.

-- Alan Goldenbach

Chopticon's Brandon Short, shown waiting during a pitching change last month, batted .444 in the regular season, with 3 home runs and 28 RBIs.