It's about time that Maryland baseball got some respect. Last week Bryant still got a vote in the Coaches' Poll after we swept them. But with Jake Stinnett's no-hitter (among the many outlets picking up the story were Yahoo sports and Baseball America) and Maryland baseball playing at such a high skill level, people had to notice. In the latest Coaches Poll Maryland got four votes which gave them a #48 ranking.
First things first. Maryland dominated UMass the way they did against Bryant: great pitching, really slick defense, and timely hitting. In particular the defense up the middle was tremendous, as Blake Schmit, Brandon Lowe, and Nic Cieri were flawless. Jake Stinnett remarked that "our fielding was great and will continue to be", giving our defense a lot of credit for his no-hitter. In game 2 of Saturday's double header Anthony Papio made a nice diving catch and our outfielders ran down almost everything the Minutemen hit in the air. These are the types of things that don't show up in the box score but are a critical part of the game.
I wondered if Stinnett was throwing a lot of two-seam fastballs given how the UMass hitters kept pounding balls into the ground. Stinnett said that he was "throwing a mixture of two and four seam fastballs, along with a slider and a changeup". I asked Stinnett if Jimmy Reed's decision to return for his senior year in 2013 had influenced him to do the same in 2014. "Absolutely" Stinnett said. "It was good to see Jimmy go through that scenario".
Stinnett wasn't the only pitcher who contributed. Mike Shawaryn game up no runs on three hits, one walk, and seven strike outs to run his consecutive scoreless inning streak to 11. Our bullpen was solid, yielding only one run across seven strong innings.
It seems that every spot in the line-up is capable of producing. In the UMass series Brandon Lowe went five for eight, knocking in a pair while scoring three times. Mike Rescigno had five hits, three RBI, and scored twice. LaMont Wade had three multi-hit games, and Charlie White had some timely hits. In true team spirit that defines this squad Rescigno shrugged off his fine weekend and said that "there are no holes in our line-up". The statistics certainly bear this out. In the series the Terps' collected 28 hits and had 48 base runners. Think about that for a second: that's an average of 16 men on base per game. Compare that with UMass that had 10 hits and 20 base runners. Our hitters showed great patience, striking out only nine times over the three games, while the Minutemen were struck out a gaudy 34 times. I remember a number of instances where Minutemen batters walked back to the dugout shaking their head in frustration after fanning.
Injuries: Kevin Martir didn't play in the series due to a hip flexor but will be back soon. Brandon Lowe jammed his thumb sliding into second base and missed the series finale.
Additional thoughts about the 2014 season
It's tempting to say that our success has been due to playing non-ACC teams. But Florida is ranked, Bryant will most likely win their conference, and James Madison has got some live bats. Still, the buzz around the clubhouse was the upcoming series in Tallahassee. The team is confident without being cocky, embracing Coach John Szefc's style of play. A good example is Alex Robinson. Last year he was a weekend starter as a freshman, but was hampered by control issues. He's starting off this year in relief after working with Pitching Coach Jim Belanger in the Fall. The move to the bullpen was to get Robinson to focus on his mechanics. Many players would sulk at going to the bullpen, but Szefc told me that Robinson is positive about the move. For now Robinson will stay in the bullpen with Zach Morris probably being the mid-week starter.
The Terps have four players batting above the .300 mark. Rescigno and Papio have identical .429 averages, Lowe is hitting .333, and Schmit is at .314. Lowe leads the team in RBIs (8, tied with Schmit) and runs scored (10). As a team the Terps have an OBP of .375; no doubt helped by being HBP 27 times already. With Kyle Convissar now back in the line-up our OBP might even go up.
While Stinnett has been dazzling (just one hit in his last 17 innings), Shawaryn has been quietly very impressive himself. Showing great poise for a freshman weekend starter, he has a 3 - 0 record to go along with a 0.54 era and a 0.76 WHIP.
Special shout-out to Assistant Coach Rob Vaughn
Have you noticed that opponents are 4 out of nine in stolen base attempts? To add to that impressive statistic is the fact that Bryant and UMass are small ball teams that like to run. Give a lot of credit to Assistant Coach Rob Vaughn, a catcher who was drafted in the 30th round in the 2009 major league draft. Last season Jack Cleary, who has a cannon for an arm, threw out above 40% of runners attempting to steal. With Cleary's departure, I had reservations about the ability of sophomore Kevin Martir and freshman Nick Cieri to pick up the slack. Gone are my doubts after seeing how well both have played. Cieri caught 28 innings in a little over 24 hours, throwing out base stealers and a runner attempting to reach second on a bunt. Szefc had praise for Vaughn, saying that "he is a very sound catching instructor", and by Vaughn working with Cieri it's possible that the freshman could develop "a Cleary-like arm".
(Note: The 2015 schedule is still a work in progress.) Unlike other sports where our rivalries with ACC foes will end, next year the Terps' baseball team has mid-week games at Virginia and North Carolina State. Plus it's possible that baseball power house Cal State Fullerton (currently #3 in College Baseball News' poll) will play a three game series against the Terps in both 2015 and 2016, one away and one at Shipley Field. That's a credit to the strong reputation of Maryland baseball started by Erik Bakich and improved upon by Szefc. Playing quality out of conference games "may" lower our overall win percentage, but it will greatly help our RPI and national visibility. Fear the Turtle!