At the outset of the American Legion baseball season, Chaney Coach Ed Glaeser wondered if his team of only 15 players could maintain a high level of play through the summer's dog days. His concerns were quickly assuaged, however, by strong pitching and surprising production at the plate.
Those two elements helped Chaney repeat as Frank Riley League champion with a 24-10 overall record (18-6 league). The team now is preparing for the Maryland state tournament, which begins July 29 in Salisbury at Perdue Stadium, home of the Delmarva Shorebirds, a Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.
Chaney, made up of players from Thomas Stone, McDonough and Westlake, went 1-2 in the double-elimination tournament last year. Glaeser has tempered expectations this time around.
"We're not going in as one of the favorites," Glaeser said. "You have to have pitching. That's the key. I think we have enough pitching right now. Our weakness is obviously offense."
Justin Armiger, a 2004 Thomas Stone graduate, is one of Chaney's best players at the plate and on the mound. He finished the regular season batting .391 with 24 RBI. As a pitcher, he is 2-3 with a 2.23 ERA after starting against several of Chaney's toughest opponents.
"To get to states with this team is pretty good," Armiger said. "We kind of scrapped our way to win this league. It's a big accomplishment for this team because we didn't have a lot of power. We kind of were scrapping games out and pulling games out. It's definitely something that was our goal at the beginning of the season."
Playing on such a grand stage is nothing new to Armiger. In addition to helping Chaney to last year's state tournament, he was a key player for Chesapeake College as a freshman last spring, when the Skipjacks made their first National Junior College Athletic Association World Series appearance. As a third baseman, Armiger set school records for runs (65), RBI (57) and hits (77), and he was named to the World Series all-tournament team.
Along with Armiger, Ben Sobocinski, a recent McDonough graduate, has helped fuel Chaney's lineup. The All-Extra shortstop is hitting .420 this summer with a .460 on-base percentage, one home run and 17 RBI. Although he went 5-1 with a 1.07 ERA for McDonough last spring, he has pitched only 19 innings for Chaney. He anticipates pitching more during the state tournament, though, partly because the games are nine innings instead of seven.
"More than likely, I'll be in some relief roles," Sobocinski said. "Maybe a start. It's a nine-inning game down there, and pitching will be key. We have good pitching, so we should be okay."
Sobocinski missed a few of Chaney's games this summer while traveling to Oklahoma to play for Team Maryland, a select team made up of some of the state's best high school juniors and seniors. With Team Maryland, Sobocinski played against all-star teams from several other states, including California and Texas. He said the experience helped him "become more patient at the plate."
Glaeser entered the season counting on Armiger and Sobocinski to produce offensively, but he attributes much of the team's success to their supporting cast. Specifically, outfielder Averill Butler has batted .361 in the cleanup spot, with 26 RBI and a .639 slugging percentage.
"We got some key production from some people we didn't know we were going to get it from," Glaeser said. "When you have performances like that unexpected, things turn out pretty well."
Chaney's main strength is its pitching. Aside from Armiger and Sobocinski, Greg Rhoades and John Goudie have carried much of the load. Rhoades is 5-1 with a 3.54 ERA, and Goudie is 4-1 with a 1.52 ERA. In relief, Robert Beauregard and Paul Vogt have helped quell opposing rallies.
"Pitching and defense win games," Armiger said. "When you can put together a few runs with some pitching and defense, you're going to come away with a few wins."
Chaney is hoping to rely on that tested formula of pitching and timely hitting to excel at the state tournament.
"I think we can do some damage down there," Armiger said, "if we play right and don't make mistakes."