The Pallotti baseball team finished the season 24-0, the first team from the Laurel private school to go an entire season without losing. It won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association's B Conference championship last Thursday with a 4-3 victory over Friends School at Cal Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md.

The Panthers outscored opponents, 270-45, had a team batting of .396 and a team earned run average of 1.47. In short, they were dominant.

However, the same question that has been lingering all season remains, even after Pallotti rolled through the double-elimination conference tournament without a loss.

Just how good are the Panthers?

"It's one of those things people still are going to be debating, if we play this or that, but they can't take away from us that we did our job, finishing 24-0," Pallotti Coach Pat Courtemanche said.

Pallotti was rarely threatened during the regular season, routinely beating opponents in games shortened to five or six innings because of the 10-run mercy rule. However, the Panthers' non-league schedule was relatively light, the highlights being a 14-4, six-inning victory over Good Counsel on March 22 and 12-3 victory over Bishop McNamara on March 19.

Courtemanche said he tried to schedule games against Eleanor Roosevelt and Bowie, two of the county's top public school teams, but those schools were unable to play because of scheduling limitations. Games against Hammond, which had a losing record, and Carroll, which was last in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, were rained out.

That left the Panthers with their league schedule to roll through, which they did. Pitchers Joe Murray and Steve Henry, transfers from Laurel High, combined with junior Travis Stewart to give the Panthers an impressive pitching staff. The three combined to throw all but 12 innings this season and lead a rotation that had nearly twice as many strikeouts (224) as its opponents had base runners, allowing 81 hits and 44 walks.

"Steve held Good Counsel to four runs on six hits," Courtemanche said, noting that the Falcons lost by one run to MIAA A Conference champion Calvert Hall and beat top-ranked St. John's. "Everyone is going to question how good we are. I'm going to stand up. My kids are good ballplayers. We deserve it. We're 24-0."

It is a memory that will remain with the players forever, Courtemanche said. In his pregame talk before last Thursday's 4-3 victory over Friends in the B Conference title game, Courtemanche said he told his players it is unlikely they could ever again go undefeated in a season in any sport they play.

Still, the lack of games against top opponents hangs like a cloud over the Panthers. After Pallotti defeated Friends, Pallotti Athletic Director Steve Walker was interested in seeing if Calvert Hall would play the Panthers in a scrimmage; with the season complete, the teams could not play an official game. However, with final exams scheduled and school ending, Courtemanche thought it was unlikely the teams would meet.

"Everyone is curious," Courtemanche said. "I'd love to do it if we could. We're at a point where if the opportunity presents itself, why not? I'm not going to step down" from the challenge.

Courtemanche said he needs to schedule better non-league games next season, but he also knows that most of this season's team graduates, including Murray, Henry and Kevin Olive, whose three-run triple was the winning hit against Friends. Only Stewart and shortstop-designated hitter Brian Nalley return.

"Our kids were confident going into every game this season," Courtemanche said. "We believed we could win every game. The questions always are going to rise [about how good this team was], but looking back at the season, I'm very grateful we went undefeated."

Pallotti's Joe Murray and the rest of the Panthers' pitching staff had nearly twice as many strikeouts as base runners allowed this season.