After having two games cancelled due to snow, the Maryland Terrapins baseball team got to open their home season in a weather shortened series with the Bryant Bulldogs. The Terps looked impressive in sweeping the series against last season's Northeast Conference champions. And the pitching particularly so.
Facing Bryant, a team Maryland coach John Szefc believes will make a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, was a good early season test for the Terrapins. Though they excelled in some areas, there is certainly room for improvement in others.
Let's start with where they excelled. This can be summarized in two words: pitching and defense. Or, as I like to think of them, two thirds of Earl Weaver's troika. Defensively, the Terps made the plays they needed to and limited their errors.
Pitching and Defense
As for the pitching, following his solid first start at Florida, Maryland's Friday night starter Jake Stinnett had the outing of his career. The California senior retired the first seventeen batters he faced before the Bulldogs had their first batter reach base on a third strike wild pitch. He lost his no hitter with one out in the seventh on a line drive that trickled off shortstop Blake Schmit's glove into centerfield. In his eight innings of work, he struck out a career high eleven - including five of the first nine hitters he faced - and walked none. Baltimorean Ben Brewster picked up his first save of the season with a perfect ninth.
"Pretty much everything was working for me," Stinnett said. "My breaking ball was working well and I was able to move my fastball in and out and my defense was great behind me. I had confidence in every pitch and when you know your defense is going to pick you up that makes things a lot easier."
The play in the second game wasn't quite on a par with the first. The defense was charged with two errors - one coming on a pickoff attempt by starter Mike Shawayrn and the other a ninth inning bobble by Schmit that made things tense for the fans and interesting for stopper Kevin Mooney. However, both pitchers got out of the jams with no damage on the scoreboard.
Shawayrn, a freshman from New Jersey picked up his second win in as many collegiate starts. He tossed six shutout innings giving up four hits while striking out three and walking one. Three of the four hits against Shawaryn came leading off an inning. In each case, the freshman bore down and escaped unscathed. Of his freshman starter Szefc said, "We knew a lot about his makeup before he ever got here. He pitched in a lot of tight situations. As a high school kid he won four state championships, was the MVP of the American Legion World Series last year. He's used to pitching in pressure-packed situations. You don't normally see freshmen do that kind of stuff consistently, but he's not your typical freshman. He almost pitches better when there's pressure on him, but he's been used to doing it for a while."
Freshman Taylor Stiles and sophomore Alex Robinson each registered perfect three up three down innings in relief. Closer Kevin Mooney came on to start the ninth and retired the first two batters he faced. When Bryant's John Mullen reached on an error and Mooney walked the next two batters to load the bases, the ninth turned tense as Bryant brought the possible go ahead run to the plate. But, as he has so often done in the past, the right hander settled down and got the final out on a called third strike that absolutely froze Bryant pinch hitter Matt Zanotta. The back to back shutouts were the first for Maryland in nearly two years.
Sunday's game had a bit more offense but Jared Price bounced back from getting roughed up by the Gators to give the Terps six strong innings. Like the Terps' two previous starters, he had excellent control yielding only a single walk. He picked up five strikeouts in his six innings.Scefc recognized the importance of this, "Getting a start like that from Jared Price, which really wasn't surprising, but it was a really good bounce-back start from his first time out and that's really, really big for our program, having that guy be able to bounce back like that. Whether it's a bounce-back game or a bounce-back start, that's really important for us."
Bobby Ruse struggled a bit in his two thirds of an inning but Brewster and Robinson picked up where they had left off and shut the door on the Bulldogs. The Maryland coach had high praise for both, "The other really big thing is [Alex] Robinson this weekend was tremendous. He's starting to get more and more comfortable at that role. He was always used to being a starter. Like [Jake] Stinnett was used to being a reliever and now he sees what it's like being a starter and I think maybe it's just the exact opposite with Alex. When you can bring guys like him and [Ben] Brewster and [Tayler] Stiles out of the bullpen from the left side, you can kind of see what it does."
For the weekend, the Terps gave up three runs in three games, walked only four, and made only three errors. As Szefc said, "It's hard to beat a team when they're not walking people and not committing errors." And that was certainly true for Maryland this past weekend. But then there's the...
At the plate it was a bit of a different matter. The expectation coming into the series was that Bryant would bring strong pitching. Despite losing their number one starter from last season, they returned an experienced staff that finished tenth in the NCAA in earned run average last season. And it showed. For the weekend Maryland batted a paltry .158 with just twelve hits over the three games. On a positive note, Maryland drew seven walks on Sunday contributing to the offensive explosion. Maryland had several men reach base when they were hit by pitches as well. Szefc said he was more concerned with on base percentages than with batting averages. As they did last season the Terps ran the bases well getting six stolen bases in eight tries and effectively moved runners up with ten sacrifice bunts over the three game set.
Still, as they prepare for Tuesday's game at James Madison, the Terps have only three batters hitting over .250 after six games. They're led by Anthony Papio's remarkably hot start as he's hitting .563 with nine hits in sixteen at bats and his .813 slugging percentage is nearly double that of his closest teammates. Anthony Amaro at .333 and Kevin Martir at .278 are the only other Terrapins hitters averaging better than one hit per four at bats. The Terps generally did a good job getting timely hits leaving only five runners on base in the first and third games of the series. They were a bit less efficient in the middle game with eight left on base.
The Terps are off to a fairly good start and, as Yogi Berra is alleged to have said, "Ninety percent of this game is half mental." The Terps got one win on the road against a top twenty-five team in Florida and felt they should have had one more. They opened their home season with a season sweep of the Bryant Bulldogs. And this should establish some early season confidence. Bryant is quality program but is also a team Maryland should expect to sweep if they aspire to reach post-season play. However. with Charlie White and LaMonte Wade struggling, and Kyle Convissar unable to play because of an injury, the Terps will need more contributions from across the lineup. Bryant's has quality pitching but so do most of the teams in the ACC. For a team that lacks power, the Terps will have to hit considerably better than their current .233 team average if they hope to have a successful final season in the conference.