After coming within a victory of a PIAA Class AAA state baseball title and returning seven regulars from that squad, Upper Moreland entered this year with a fair amount of confidence.
"We pretty much brought everybody back," said Charlie Hooker, a senior outfielder and pitcher. "We had the chemistry part down, too."
Despite the imposing lineup, the Golden Bears struggled out of the gate. Monday's 3-0 loss to Cheltenham dropped them to 3-3 overall and 2-3 in the Suburban One League American Conference.
"We have a target on our back, and teams are coming at us as hard as they can," Hooker said. "We have to be ready every game."
The 6-foot-1, 197-pound Hooker is a spark plug for Upper Moreland, which bounced back Wednesday with a 7-4 win over conference rival Springfield (Montco), as a leftfielder and hurler.
Before Wednesday, the four-year varsity contributor was batting .412 with four RBIs from the No. 3 hole. He was 0-1 on the mound, but had allowed only one run in 14 innings.
Last season, in helping lead the Golden Bears to a 21-5 mark and the American crown, Hooker batted .527 with 27 RBIs and 24 runs.
As a pitcher, Hooker mixes a fastball clocked in the mid-80-m.p.h. range, curveball, change-up, and knuckleball.
"I just try to hit my spots, pitch to contact," the 18-year-old said.
Hooker and fellow senior righthander Eddie Decker make up a solid one-two punch. Decker last season went 7-0 with a 0.87 ERA. Tommy Robinson and Dennis Long round out the rotation.
A lack of production played a part in Upper Moreland's slow start.
"I fully expect us to erupt at some point," Golden Bears coach Ernie Rehr said.
Two of the losses came against Division I-bound starting pitchers: Plymouth Whitemarsh's Jon Fisher (James Madison) and Upper Dublin's Dan Jacobson (Rhode Island).
Hooker, who quarterbacked the school's football team, said the offensive void left by the graduation of outfielders Matt Kohn and Robert Knox needs to be filled. "Those guys got on base a lot," Hooker said.
Hooker spent the first eight years of his life in Wellington, Fla. An avid hunter and fisherman, he will continue his baseball career at Alderson Broaddus, a Division II program in Philippi, W. Va.
"They stayed in regular contact with me, made me feel like I was part of the program even before committing to them," he said.
Rehr can picture Hooker in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
"He's a real country boy at heart," the coach said.
Extra bases. Penn Charter senior righthander T.J. Pagan has committed to play at Delaware. . . . La Salle has been led on offense by Nick Dermo (.500), Dom Cuoci (.500), Ryan Coonahan (.486), and Brad Schneider (.457). The Explorers' John Scheffey, a senior lefthander, is 4-0 with a 2.74 ERA and 22 Ks in 231/3 innings. . . . Germantown Academy's Ryan Elefante and John Aiello are batting .429 and .400, respectively.
Cardinal O'Hara has three .400-plus hitters: Will Latcham (.455), Dan Dwyer (.435), and John Banes (.433). . . . Downingtown East shortstop Nick Amicon is batting .452 with eight RBIs. . . . Neshaminy's Cole Creighton, a Stony Brook recruit, was batting .688 with seven runs and six RBIs entering Wednesday's action. . . . North Penn's Jared Melone was hitting .522 with seven RBIs. Teammates Mason Nadeau and Brandon Heggan each were batting .400.