In the past, opponents have feasted on local college pitching staffs, whose earned run averages have crept close to double digits.

But area teams traditionally have hit well, and this year should be no exception, as George Washington and American will have two of the top hitters in the country returning.

Senior Paul Grzyb, American's center fielder who was fifth nationally in batting (.470) and had a .718 slugging percentage, did as much as he could for a team with a 10.99 ERA. He led the Eagles (6-25-1) in almost every offensive category and made the all-Eastern Region team.

George Washington senior Kevin Fitzgerald was third-team all-America, hitting .430 with a school-record 13 homers. The Colonials hit .340, but poor pitching (7.07 ERA) and fielding kept them from challenging for a postseason playoff spot.

George Washington, 18-20-2 last year, has another superb player, center fielder/pitcher Greg Ritchie, who hit .406 and struck out 36 batters in 44 innings.

Teams with good pitching staffs last year, Virginia and George Mason, went to the NCAA playoffs before losing in the regionals. It was the first postseason appearance for the Patriots (38-23), whose return will depend on two transfer pitchers and a batting order that is starting slowly.

"Basically, we have to rebuild our pitching staff," said Coach Bill Brown. "But the starting pitchers have been good for this time of year. Right now, we're not hitting the ball a lick. Our hitting is a question mark, which is totally out of the ordinary."

Three players who aren't question marks are catcher Barry Durham, first baseman Carlin Hart and outfielder David White. Durham has the best returning average (.341), and hit 12 homers and drove in 45 runs last year. Hart had 10 homers and 42 RBI, and White drove in 32 runs and had five homers and 13 doubles.

The best pitchers for George Mason are relievers Steve Kann (5-0, 2.84 ERA) and Mike Ginn (6-1, 3.77). If junior college transfers J.R. Perdew and Fred Kramer can't shore up the starting rotation, middle relievers will be important.

Virginia is losing five starters and four top pitchers from last season's 23rd-ranked team. But the Cavaliers do have one of the best shortstops in the country, Bill Narleski, to lead an experienced infield. Narleski, who hit .376 with a .590 slugging percentage, was rated one of the top 11 shortstops this preseason by Baseball America.

The Cavaliers have a good double-play man in Keith Kowalski at second and a good hitter in first baseman Kent Savedge (.394, 13 doubles). Pitcher Bob Malloy, who was drafted in 1985 by the Oakland A's, may have to carry the staff.

Maryland, which might start five freshmen, has some of the best hitters in the area but has inexperienced pitchers. Second baseman Chris Stark, first baseman Paul Schager, designated hitter Scott Patterson and third baseman Jeff Bengtson lead a team that averaged eight runs a game and was eighth in the nation in home runs per game last year.

Stark led the Atlantic Coast Conference in runs scored per game with 70 in 50 games. Schager hit 14 home runs and slugged .840.

It will be interesting to see how Georgetown plays this season, under its first full-time coach, Larry Geracioti, and minus all-America Steve Iannini. In the fall season, the Hoyas were 18-0.

"We got good pitching, excellent hitting and great speed in the fall," said Geracioti. "But we played a little more loosely because we were more interested in looking at players."

Geracioti, who took New York University to the 1969 College World Series, inherits a team that led the NCAA in stolen bases the last two years. Outfielder Joe Gervais was third in the country with 50 steals and hit .359. Third baseman Mike Moss, all-Big East as a freshman, batted .370 and stole 26 bases.

Navy, with 12 lettermen returning, has the offense and defense to equal last year's 25-7-1 record. A pitching staff with Drew Tanner (9-0, 1.73), David Landwehr (7-3, 3.09) and Steve Weiman (3-1, 2.87) could be the best in the area.

The Midshipmen's offense, which scored almost nine runs a game, has its primary contributors back. Outfielder Marius Jones has power and speed, scoring 41 runs and hitting five homers last year. Shortstop Mike Leeney, third baseman John Young, center fielder Mark Bayly and designated hitter Craig Snyder all batted over .300.

Howard, with six starters returning, has good hitting but lacks pitching depth. Junior shortstop James Baynes (.356, 12 homers, 56 RBI) and sophomore catcher Eric Nelson (.342, five homers) are leaders offensively. When David White (7-3, 3.24) pitches, the Bison are in good shape.