Two summers ago, Rick Price fielded a Gaithersburg Post 295 team with a core of talented youngsters who he believed could compete for the Montgomery County title. That team surpassed its veteran coach's expectations by winning the first of two straight state titles.
The bulk of that squad is back for one final summer with Post 295. The now-seasoned Gaithersburg team, featuring many college players, completed the regular season with a 35-2 record -- 28-1 against county opponents -- and this week begins its quest for a third state title.
Top-seeded Post 295 opened the Montgomery County tournament on Tuesday against fourth-seed Damascus Post 171 (the game ended too late to be included in this edition). The winner will meet the Gaithersburg 104-Cissel Saxon winner today at Quince Orchard, and the tournament concludes on Saturday and Sunday at Damascus Regional Park. The winner advances to the Maryland state tournament with the champion going on to the Mid-Atlantic regional tournament.
Price said the explanation of this team's success this season is simple.
"They've won the state championship a couple of times in a row and now they are a year older with some college experience," said Price, who has coached the Post 295 team since its inaugural season in 1984. "We thought we'd have a good season, but whether we can do the same things in the playoffs, we'll have to wait and see."
Good hardly describes how well the Gaithersburg team has played this summer. It won its first 15 games before falling to Gaithersburg Post 104, 4-3, on June 30. The only other loss came against Frederick.
"If they can win the county and state title, I think they have an opportunity to win the region," said Post 104 Coach Jason Woodward, whose team (24-5) finished second in the county in the regular season. "They have the pitching to get through the region tournament. They understand the pressure [of the playoffs]. They've been playing together since they were little kids. They don't have to worry about gelling."
Indeed, playing for Post 295 is a reunion of sorts for many of the players. The bulk of the team grew up playing together on a local Little League team and then at Quince Orchard, at which they advanced to the state and region finals in consecutive seasons. The team also includes players from Quince Orchard's state championship team last spring.
Post 295 has been guided by current college players Matt Collins, Brian Conley and Chris Maloney. Standouts from this past spring have also played key roles, including Kevin Collins, Joe Mattes, Jensen Pupa and Brady Stouffer.
"They are having the best time," Price said. "They are having the time of their life. I enjoy going to park and watching them have fun and play. They do everything as a group and that's what you like to see in a team. It's been this way for these guys for the four years they've been together. They've grown up together and played baseball together their whole lives."
Post 295 has ended each of the past two seasons by going 2-2 at the region tournament. Price said the players have bigger goals this summer.
"They really want to give it another shot," Price said.