As Joe Palumbo sat back during the winter months and thought about the upcoming baseball season, the fourth-year coach at Spalding knew he was fortunate in the limited number of unknowns.
There were only two, really.
First, he needed to find out who would fill the positional gaps at second base and left field.
Second, one that Palumbo categorized as a “legitimate concern” on Tuesday after the second-ranked Cavaliers improved to 8-0 with an 11-0 win over DeMatha, was how his talented group of seniors, many of whom are bound for brighter lights, would handle their senior year.
Eight games in, neither is an issue any longer. Fletcher Pack and Evan Fochtman have filled the second base and left field roles, respectively, each bringing a strong defensive presence and a capable bat to the lower half of Spalding’s order.
As for the seniors?
“Our seniors are focused,” Palumbo said. “It’s a very special group. It would be easy for them to all be focused on the schools they are going to, to be excited about that, to be ready to get there. And that was a legitimate concern coming in whether they would be focused. But they’ve been focused, they’ve been on their game, they’ve been good leaders.”
For stars like Maryland commit and southpaw Tyler Blohm (7-1, 2.75 ERA last season) and JMU-bound catcher Carter Sears, the first eight games have been a statement in themselves.
The Cavaliers, twice the defending MIAA A-conference champions, have already beaten ranked opponents in No. 4 St. John’s and No. 6 Riverdale Baptist.
“I wanted to challenge our guys early with the tough schedule,” Palumbo said. “It was for one of two things. Maybe it would humble us a little bit coming off two championship season or maybe it could show how good we can be. And they accepted that challenge, they’ve embraced it, and our guys have been playing well from Day 1.”
P Jake Agnos, Battlefield, Sr. — East Carolina recruit went 7-0 with a 0.65 ERA and 129 strikeouts last season, including a VHSL-record 21 straight in one game.
P Tyler Blohm, Spalding, Sr. — Maryland commit won seven games each of the last two seasons, including a 7-1 mark as a junior, when he totaled 55 strikeouts and a 2.75 ERA.
P John Callahan, Stone Bridge, Sr. — Recorded a .419 batting average and a school-record 10 doubles to lead the Bulldogs to the Virginia 5A state crown. Committed to George Mason.
OF Jack Cunningham, Paul VI, Sr. — Batted .510 in WCAC play and .438 overall during an All-Met junior campaign that earned him a scholarship to Boston College.
P Anthony Felitti, Gaithersburg, Sr. – George Mason signee and first-team All-Met went 10-0 with a 0.85 ERA in 49.2 innings pitched for the defending Maryland 4A state champs.
SS Pete Nielsen, Madison, Sr. — Batted .410 with 11 doubles, 26 RBIs and two home runs and earned the win in relief during the Virginia 6A state championship.
SS Joe Rizzo, Oakton, Sr. — Hit .606 with seven home runs to earn first-team All-Met and Virginia 6A player of the year honors.
OF/P Rafi Vazquez, O’Connell, Sr. – Committed to Big South powerhouse Coastal Carolina after striking out 13 in a two-hit complete game last season.
March 30: Stone Bridge at Loudoun Valley — Following a week layoff for spring break, the Vikings jump back into their tough out-of-conference schedule with a tilt against defending Virginia 5A state champ Stone Bridge.
April 2: Oakton at Madison — Two of the state’s top shortstop prospects in Oakton’s Joe Rizzo and Madison’s Pete Nielsen lead their teams into what should be a competitive Saturday matinee matchup.
April 5: Paul VI at St. John’s — The first game for each team after they return from out-of-state trips — Paul VI is headed to South Carolina and St. John’s to Florida — figures to be a big one in the WCAC.
April 20: Quince Orchard at Gaithersburg — The two Montgomery County squads are poised for a strong season after successful 2015 campaigns and look to be the premier public schools in Maryland 4A heading into the spring.
April 25: Chantilly at Battlefield — The two biggest threats to dethrone Madison as Virginia 6A state champ square off on the diamond.
Madison, the defending Virginia 6A state champion, is ranked in the top 20 in multiple national polls. . . . Defending Maryland 4A state champ Gaithersburg returns two of the state’s top players in seniors Anthony Felitti and Nick Pantos. . . . Battlefield’s Jake Agnos opened the season with a 17-strikeout no-hitter in a win against Hylton. . . . Riverdale Baptist avenged one of its two losses by shutting out Gilman, 6-0, on Tuesday to run its record to 10-2. . . . Loudoun Valley blew past Titan-Bulldog tournament champ Broad Run, 17-1, to start the year. . . . Paul VI is off to a perfect start after holding off Gonzaga in Tuesday’s 13-inning thriller.
1. Madison (23-5) Last ranked: 1
2. Spalding (24-3) LR: 3
3. Gaithersburg (22-2) LR: 2
4. St. John’s (25-6) LR: 5
5. Battlefield (16-8) LR: NR
6. Riverdale Baptist (30-7) LR: 7
7. Loudoun Valley (23-3) LR: 8
8. Paul VI (16-10) LR: NR
9. Quince Orchard (18-4) LR: NR
10. Chantilly (21-7) LR: 9
On the bubble: Severna Park (17-5), Oakton (17-6), Lake Braddock (17-6)
Final 2015 records.