Scott Blackwood wasn’t getting through to his players during the early part of his second season as head coach of the Churchill baseball team. The Bulldogs were having chemistry issues and the result was a 0-5 start to the 2011 campaign, during which the team was outscored 31-6.
Churchill eventually won a game, and started to show bright spots here and there. But after winning three of four, the Bulldogs went back to their losing ways, dropping six of seven. Churchill finished the regular season 7-12 and received the No. 13 seed in the 4A West tournament.
While the Bulldogs’ record was hardly ideal, they closed the regular season with three straight wins, outscoring Clarksburg, Kennedy and Northwood 45-6. Things were starting to click.
"We really turned it on at the end of the season and we started working well together," pitcher Kelby Spring said. "In the beginning, we didn’t really have that camaraderie, but then we kind of figured each other out and I think that’s really what carried us at the end of the season. We trusted each other [and] we worked hard for each other."
Saying the Bulldogs "turned it on," is an understatement. Churchill, a team that was once 4-12, upset No. 4 Paint Branch, beat Richard Montgomery and knocked off No. 1 Sherwood in the postseason before falling to Gaithersburg in the region championship game. Ten months later, the Bulldogs enter the 2012 season knowing they’re capable of great things if they put in the work.
"Our guys, they know what it takes," Blackwood said. "They’ve been there; they were on the losing side of it, so they know how it feels. If they have the right mindset of going in and not wanting to feel that again, they know the hard work it takes to get there."
Blackwood said Churchill has three goals: a division title, a region championship and a state crown. The coach said these are common team goals, but he felt members of the Churchill program didn’t necessarily strive for that kind of success before his arrival. Spring said he’s noticed a change in environment under the third-year Bulldog skipper.
"The first couple years were a lot harder on us because it was a lot different than the [previous] culture of this team," Spring said. "But [Blackwood’s] method has definitely worked and I think we’re all starting to subscribe to that, so now the whole team is starting to click together under his leadership."
Senior shortstop Danny Weiss echoed his teammate’s statement.
"Back when I was a … sophomore, it was more like reinventing this program and a new coaching staff [trying] to increase baseball at Churchill," Weiss said, "and now it’s more take it to the next level and winning a state championship is our main goal."
Spring is a senior left-hander and the team’s top pitcher. The crafty hurler throws in the upper 70-mph range and relies on location. He pitched both meetings against Sherwood last season, limiting the high-powered Warriors to three runs in two starts.
Weiss was named one of the state’s top players by ESPN.com. Senior Ian Shemer will play either catcher or third base. Seniors Nick O’Brien and Matt Kogan can both play in the outfield.
"We don’t have clear-cut puzzle pieces," Blackwood said. "We’ve got guys that if this person goes here, this person will go there. It’s a matter of just figuring out the puzzle and making sure all the pieces fit. That’s my job."
Churchill will open the season at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21 at Northwest. The Bulldogs’ first home game is March 23 against Magruder.