NCAA 2014 Baseball Tournament: Terps go 3 - 0, advance to Super Regional round

Mike Shawaryn notched his 11th win Saturday night - @mercator88

The Terrapins won nine straight to end the regular season, but there were doubters among the cognoscenti. Next came a great showing in the ACCT and still there were skeptics. Now after the Columbia Regional the Terps are one of 16 teams in the country with a shot to win it all.

You Gotta Believe. Never Give Up. Clichés to be sure, but most appropriate for a Maryland team that above all else epitomizes resiliency. This toughness has been amply demonstrated to fans and the dwindling number of skeptics (actually just one, the ACC Commissioner) throughout the month of May, the ACCT, and now the NCAA Tournament’s Columbia Regional Round.

From the precipice

But first, cycle back to around 3:30PM this past Friday. The Terps were down 3 – 1 after eight innings to Old Dominion and a loss would have made advancing to the next round nearly impossible. Then came the ninth inning, which was quintessential Terrapin baseball: take everything the other team gives you and be opportunistic. The Terps scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth, the last two from HBP on consecutive pitches. Coach Szefc, in a post-game interview last night said that “If we don’t have a strong ninth inning (sic the ODU game), I don’t know where this thing goes”. But the Terps did have a strong inning, which was started by a double from senior Kyle Convissar. The Academic All-American had seen limited action of late, but came through with a clutch hit when it mattered most.

Winning game #1 was the first NCAAT victory for a Maryland baseball team since 1970. While a hurdle had been crossed a mountain loomed ahead. Up next was the region’s host team, the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Cocksure and loud

USC had the second largest attendance (behind LSU) in the country this year. Their stadium holds approximately 8,000 fans (including SRO), most of whom would be loud. When asked how difficult it was to play in Carolina Stadium Szefc said, “Even tougher than I thought it would be”. USC had won an incredible 28 straight games when hosting an NCAA Regional Round game. The Gamecocks had won the CWS as recently as 2010 and 2011. After defeating Campbell 5 – 2 on Friday the USC faithful were undoubtedly thinking “Super Regionals”.

Two not so little problems with that line of thought. The first was that the Maryland players had carried over their gestalt from the ACCT. Szefc would say that the Terrapins “played loose and easy”. Maryland didn’t look like a team overtaken by circumstances and atmosphere. The second fly in USC’s ointment was a fellow by the name of Mike Shawaryn. The freshman earlier in the season had won games at Florida and FSU, respectively, both nationally seeded teams at this year’s NCAAT. Shawaryn beat FSU again in the ACCT.

The Terps jumped out on top 4- 0 after two innings in Saturday night’s contest. They would need every one of those runs. Taylor Widener relieved a beleaguered Jack Wynkoop and hurled 6.1 innings of shutout ball, giving up only two hits to the Terps. The Gamecocks pushed a run across in the fourth inning to make it 4 – 1. Trouble ensued in the top of the sixth when the Gamecocks had two men aboard and nobody out with slugger Kyle Martin at the plate. Martin launched a shot that missed tying up the game by inches. Instead it went for a double to make the score 4 – 2. USC would eventually cut the lead to 4 – 3. Carolina Stadium was going nuts and it would have been understandable if the Terps folded. That didn’t happen. Bobby Ruse and Kevin Mooney consistently shut down USC hitters with RISP over the next three innings, allowing the Terps to tenaciously held on to their slim lead. With runners on the corners and one out in the ninth, Kevin Mooney got Joey Pankake to hit a grounder to Brandon Lowe, who flipped to Blake Schmit. The throw to first just nipped the runner and left the USC crowd dumbstruck.

More history being made

Maryland had now won two NCAAT games, more than in their entire history combined. More immediately, the win meant that the Terps would have Sunday afternoon off as USC and Campbell battled in an elimination game. USC ended up blanking the Fighting Camels 9 – 0, and they would have to take two straight from the Terps to advance to the next round. Meanwhile Maryland would advance if they beat USC Sunday night, or if necessary, on Monday night.

After falling behind 1 – 0 in the first inning, the Terps completely dominated USC the rest of the way. It was almost uncanny how Terrapin batters produced in the clutch. Four of the 10 runs in Sunday's game were scored on two-out singles. More importantly, these two hits by Blake Schmit and Anthony Papio came in critical times during yesterday’s game. Meanwhile USC was 2 – 19 with runners in scoring position in their two losses to Maryland. Maryland got clutch hits. USC didn’t. It’s almost that simple. With the 10 – 1 drubbing of host South Carolina the Terps won the Columbia Regional and will head down to Charlottesville for next weekend’s Super Regional set against Virginia. It’s a best-of-three affair with a team that Szefc says he has “Some great friends associated with it. We’ll be ready”.

A brief divergence for a pet peeve

I have a problem with how the NCAA designated “home team” in the Regional. Forget seeding apparently. For the first game it was decided by a coin flip. After that the team with the lower % of home games in the Regional got to be “home” team. If the two teams were tied on that metric then another coin flip was done. So Maryland was the home team against ODU not based on seeding but because of a coin flip. Since both Maryland and USC were “home teams” in their first game, a coin flip decided that Maryland would be “home” in Saturday night’s game. This folly in the name of equanimity even extended to which dugout the teams would occupy. In Saturday night’s game USC had to set up shop in the visitors' dugout.

These statistics don’t lie

Maryland is 39 – 21 on the year. They’re one win away from reaching the coveted 40-win accolade. Their RPI is 22 and they are 15 – 10 against teams in the top 50 RPI. It’s almost certain that they will be ranked when the final national polls are taken after the CWS.

Just how impressive was Maryland’s sweep of the Columbia regional? Mark West of College Baseball Central ranked the Regionals based on the average RPI for the four teams in each one. Here’s what he came up with:

Regional

RPI Avg

Gainesville

31.8

Baton Rouge

33.8

Columbia

35.3

Oxford

40.0

Tallahassee

43.3

Charlottesville

43.5

Nashville

44.3

Houston

45.0

Louisville

53.0

San Luis Obispo

57.0

Stillwater

62.8

Fort Worth

68.0

Coral Gables

68.8

Corvallis

81.8

Bloomington

84.5

Lafayette

87.3

It’s evident that the Columbia Regional was amongst the toughest. To put an even broader perspective of what the Terps have accomplished, I turn to the great web site Boyd’s World. They used their proprietary RPI score (“Iterative Strength Ratings”) and calculated the chances of each team winning their Regional, Super Regional, making it to the CWS championship game, and winning it all. I’ve listed below the probabilities for the four teams in the Columbia Regional. Maryland was given only a 15.4% chance of getting past the Regionals round and zero chance of winning it all.

Reg    Super  Final  Champ  Team
72.0   38.3   10.0    5.0   South Carolina
15.4    3.1    0.2    0.0   Maryland
 9.2    1.5    0.1    0.0   Old Dominion
 3.3    0.3    0.0    0.0   Campbell

To which I say, You Gotta Believe.

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