The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state baseball playoffs begin Friday with three unbeaten teams among the 16 No. 1 seeds.
Only one of them, 15-0 W.E.B. DuBois in Class 1A South, is from the greater Baltimore area.
"This is the first time for me as a coach and for my seniors to be in this No. 1 position," said W.E.B. DuBois coach James Drew. "We've not had anything handed to us all season, but we've had great support from our school and our athletic director, Linda Mitchell-Holmes. She's made sure our fields have been ready to play and helped me monitor my players' work in the classroom so we didn't lose anyone from our roster all season."
Led by catcher Que Bethea (.325), pitcher Ervin Woods (8-0, 3.00 ERA) and Harold Gilchrist, who leads the team with three home runs, the Panthers will take to their field Monday against the winner of the Northwestern-Forest Park game.
"We have solid defense and great camaraderie," Drew said. "We watch each other's back. We live on the motto: When we mess up, we make up. No excuses."
Eleanor Roosevelt, 17-0 in 4A South, and J.M. Bennett, 16-0 in 3A East, are the only other undefeated teams going into the MPSSAA tournament.
Bennett's perfect run pushed 18-1 Reservoir into the No. 2 seed, a position that did not surprise the Gators.
"We know about J.M. Bennett," Reservoir coach Adam Leader said. "A similar thing happened last year. We're just going to do the best we can."
The Gators will face a familiar foe Monday when they host the winner of Friday's game between Howard County rivals Howard and Atholton.
"They're both very strong," Leader said. "But we have the District V game Thursday against Old Mill, and that will get us ready to face tough competition."
Reservoir goes into the tournament with a strong pitching lineup in Lee Lawler (7-0), Cody Morris (6-1) and Bryan Davidson (6-0).
"As long as they pitch well and our bats come alive and our defense is solid we'll be fine -- but that's a lot of stuff that has to happen," Leader said.
No. 1 seeds among area teams are: Old Mill (17-2) in 4A East; Poly (13-2) in 4A North; Digital Harbor (14-2) in 3A North; Liberty (13-4) in 2A West; Lansdowne (14-2) in 2A North; and Manchester Valley (11-4) in 1A West.
Coaches contacted said many of the same things: They need their teams to play their best, on the mound, at the plate and in the field.
"First of all, being the No. 1 seed doesn't guarantee us any victories," Liberty coach Erik Barnes said. "There are some exceptional teams in 2A West. But the fortunate thing is that the other teams have to come to us and we get the last at bat -- that's very important."
Among the teams Liberty could possibly face is Williamsport, which plays Wheaton on Saturday. Barnes doesn't know much about either team, except Williamsport suffered an emotional loss Saturday when one of its pitchers, Brendon Colliflower, was killed in a car crash that also killed another student at the school, volleyball and tennis player Samantha Kelly.
"It's a very sad and difficult situation," Barnes said. "And you don't know how that will impact them. It could be inspirational or it could be overwhelming."
A year ago Lansdowne won the 2A North Regional title, surprising many. This season, its goal was to be the No. 1 seed and repeat as the regional champion. They're 50 percent of the way there.
"We're pretty confident," Lansdowne coach Matthew Kohel said. "Our team earned run average is 2.20. As long as we can continue to play that way, we have a good chance."
Lansdowne will look to Sam Warfield (4-1, 1.71 ERA) and first baseman Brad Childress to lead the way.
At Old Mill, coach Jeff Martin likes that his players are being rewarded for an excellent season, but doesn't pretend to know what's going to happen when the umpire says, "Play ball!"
"As usual, there are not a lot of easy games in this region," Martin said. "It is going to be very difficult for anybody to get out of this region."
Martin is fortunate to have two strong pitchers in Josh Hader (9-0) and Guy Wharton (4-2).
Asked who will start, Martin said, "We may have to use both of them, because you have to win the first one to advance."
At Poly, coach Cory Goodwin said simply, his team will show up and play its best.
"Being the No. 1 seed is new for us," he said. "There are a lot of teams in our bracket that we've never seen before. We know the other teams' records, but that doesn't mean anything because you don't know the caliber of competition they've been playing."
The Engineers will rely on three senior pitchers, Jordan Garrison (3-1, 2.67 ERA), Joseph Weinstein-Avery (5-0, 1.46) and Joe Uhden (2-2, 4.98), and their leading hitter, Martin Costes (.473 with 32 RBI and 4 home runs).
For full MPSSAA brackets, click here.