Although she seems upbeat, Maryland head coach Courtney Scott-Deifel doesn't seem particularly happy as the Maryland Terrapins softball squad prepares to enter their first Big Ten Tournament. And with good reason. After moving above .500 in conference play with a sweep of Penn State, the Terps dropped seven of their final eight games to finish 9-14 and tied for eighth in the league.
Here's some of the good news:
- The nine wins in conference play alone nearly equals the entire output of 11 wins in 2014.
- The Terps currently sit at 27-26 meaning even if they lose their first Tournament game, they are assured of no worse than a .500 finish which is something of a refreshing revelation after the abominable program worst 11-35 last year.
- Three Terrapins earned All-Big Ten honors. Junior shortstop Lindsey Schmeiser was named to the first team while seniors Erin Pronobis and Shannon Bustillos earned spots on the second team. Bustillos was also named to the league's All-Defensive team and won Maryland's Sportsmanship Award.
I spoke with the coach Wednesday morning as part of the B1G conference call Wednesday morning. She talked about her All-B1G performers:
"All three of them have had a tremendous year for us. They've done so much and their numbers prove it. But it's also about what they've done with their presence in our lineup and defensively they've been huge to our success this year. I'm really happy with the representation we had on those teams and those three really deserve it."
Of the three, Pronobis is the biggest surprise. She was an unheralded player from North Point High School who played two years at the Community College of Baltimore County before transferring to Maryland. As a junior, she hit .229 with 13 RBI and two home runs. In her senior campaign, she started all 53 games, batted .370 with 12 home runs and 44 RBI. Said Deifel, "Erin has really worked her butt off. Erin's been huge for us in our lineup especially in the Big Ten driving in runs and having some really good at bats."
Like the rest of the squad, Schmeiser suffered through a difficult 2014. After being named the ACC Freshman of the Year and to the first team All-ACC squad in 2013, the junior from Dunkirk missed the final 11 games. Despite that, she batted .286 with 20 RBI and four home runs. "Lindsey's been steady all year for us. We've got her in our leadoff spot and she's a really good tone setter for us," said Deifel. Schmeiser was second on the team behind Pronobis hitting for a .364 average. She tied for third in both home runs (11) and RBI (42) and led the team with 20 doubles and 113 total bases.
Of her catcher, Deifel said, "Shannon Bustillos has had a record breaking year for her. She just broke our all-time RBI and home run records. She's really really turned it on when it's come to conference play She's hitting .410 in conference play."
We talked a bit about the team's late season problems and the attitude as they head into the conference tourney:
"I think this team is still figuring out who they are and when you're looking at who they were last year in comparison to who they are this year, they're a completely different team. I think that they're not completely comfortable with the fact that they could be really great. Down the stretch I don't think we competed that well which we definitely established earlier in the year just being a fighting team and a team that never gives up. I haven't seen that in our team consistently the last eight games or so.
"I liked how they got better each day against Michigan. Michigan's top ranked for a reason. They're very, very good in every aspect. To see them compete a little bit more in each game, I really liked seeing but then we went to Michigan State and I really wasn't very happy with what I saw there. So, still inconsistent.
"Going into this weekend it's kind of a fresh start. For us, it's just a clean slat. No Pressure. Just go out there and do what we do. For them, the training's there and the preparation's there. They just have to trust it and trust themselves."
Maryland will face Penn State in their first round game Thursday. The Terps swept three straight from the Nittany Lions in the series played in College Park. Both squads finished 9-14 in conference but the Terps earned the eighth seed by virtue of that season sweep though all three games were decided by one or two runs.
"When we played Penn State, we were playing really well and they weren't playing their best. They're playing better softball right now and we're not. We're very even teams. We look a lot alike when you compare our numbers. It's very tough to beat a team three times let alone four but we're going to go at them and play our game and hope we come out on the winning side."
They certainly don't have long to wait. Even more fun, if the Terps do come out on the long end of the score, they get to face top seeded Michigan - the number three team in the country in round two.