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Happy Post 211 has many returns

May 21, 2005|by CHRIS CARTER /Staff Correspondent

Funkstown Legion baseball coach Darryl Powell is optimistic that this year's team will be one of the best in recent memory.

A big reason for that is a rule change that extends the age of eligibilty from 18 years old to 19, allowing Powell to utilize the abundance of Washington County players that will return to the team after a year of playing college baseball.

"I feel a lot more comfortable than in years past as far as the number of quality players," Powell said. "The big thing is the returning college players. The experience they got from playing on the next level improved them a lot and it will improve the team too."

Funkstown returns 11 players with a year of college under their belts, eight of whom saw live action this spring. Kyle Robinson, Andy Taylor and Jeremy McAfee return after a year of playing at Hagerstown Community College, while Josh Bowers and Phillip Powell each return after a year at Shepherd University. Also coming back are Jay Love (Northwest Shoals Community College), Drew Crawford (Shenandoah University) and Craig Henson (Mount St. Mary's). Nathan Steelman, David Miner and Daniel Lynn did not play in the spring, but all are expected to contribute.

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"I've already seen a change with the guys coming back from playing college ball," Powell said. "The leadership and work ethic is there and there have already been differences in the practices. You can see these aren't regular old legion practices."

Powell will have a wide variety of players to work with, as he also welcomes back top tier high school players from around the area like the St. Maria Goretti trio of Tim Kellinger, Trevor Cobb and Kevin Brashears, North Hagerstown's Matt Ridenour and Matt Murray, Williamsport's David Warrenfeltz and Tyler Beard, Boonsboro's Branden Painter and Matt Byers and South Hagerstown's David Richards.

"I think some of these high school guys will be impacted from the (college) guys coming back," Powell said. "A lot of them are going to be looking to move to the next level, so they'll want to try harder to compete with them."

The area that might benefit the most from the improved talent level is the pitching staff. Funkstown has about 10 players capable of toeing the mound, but Powell plans to develop a more conventional approach.

"We're going to try to focus on a starting three or four with some middle relievers and a closer so we don't tire anyone out," he said. "If someone in the rotation struggles, we can move them to the bullpen and do some different things."

Henson, Taylor, Bowers and McAfee appear to be the early frontrunners for rotation spots, but Powell won't hesitate to switch things up depending on the game and situation.

"We have a good mixture of power pitchers and guys with off-speed stuff," Powell said. "If we see a team that can hit the fastball, then we can go to one of the guys who can slow it down a little; then if we see a team that hits the off-speed stuff, we can go to our power guys."

Powell will have to mix things up if he hopes to keep Western Maryland District foes Mt. Airy and Frederick guessing. Funkstown, the defending district champion, plays each team eight times during the regular season.

"Every year I say the same thing: this district is the toughest in the state of Maryland. We've seen them enough to know it's a battle every time out," Powell said. "I hope to repeat as champion, but in this district anything can happen."

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