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‘Don’t let the pack get hot:’ Maryland baseball’s recent week made a national statement

The Terps re-entered D1Baseball’s top 25 on Monday.

Photo by Chris Lyons/Maryland Terrapins

After a rocky start to the season, Maryland baseball has regained its footing.

It’s been an up-and-down season for the Terps, with tough midweek losses and constant pitching woes removing them from the national conversation. Before this week, they were on the brink of missing the NCAA Tournament, per D1Baseball’s field of 64 projection, with losses to subpar teams like Georgetown, Albany and Purdue.

Maryland’s pitching staff holds a combined ERA of six. It seemed too much to overcome, even for the Terps’ elite offense.

“We’ve given up an astronomical amount of home runs,” head coach Rob Vaughn explained. “We’ve gotten in a lot of bad counts at times this year. When you get into bad counts with good hitters and you can’t land a secondary pitch, hitting becomes pretty easy.”

But Maryland turned a corner last week.

The week was an astronomical success, with record-breaking achievements, an absurd amount of offense and great pitching proving that Maryland baseball can compete with — and beat — any team. The Terps found their way back into the national rankings as well, slotting in at No. 23 in D1Baseball’s media poll.

Week recap

Tuesday’s game against UMBC was over almost instantaneously. Behind a program-record 17-run second inning, the Terps won, 24-11. The game was called in the seventh inning.

It was déjà vu on Wednesday, as seven home runs propelled the Terps over Georgetown, 16-3, in another mercy-rule win. Junior shortstop Matt Shaw hit the record-breaking 44th home run of his career in the contest, and sophomore relief pitchers Ryan Van Buren and Andrew Johnson shut the door on the other end.

Even so, the Terps were underdogs heading to take on the then-first-place Indiana Hoosiers. Indiana was 22-1 at home and hadn’t lost a series since its first of the year. It was ranked No. 14 in RPI and projected to host a regional.

The Terps took it to the home team from the opening pitch of the series. The bats continued to stay hot, pitching was stable and Maryland brought itself back atop the Big Ten. It comfortably collected its first conference sweep of the season, outscoring the Hoosiers by an aggregate score of 43-12.

The Terps extended their winning streak to seven games. They have won 10 of their past 13 and scored 107 runs in their last eight games.

The Terps climbed to No. 40 in RPI — an 18-spot improvement. But most importantly, they’re now in the driver's seat in the Big Ten.

“You win the league, they ain’t leaving you out of the NCAA Tournament,” Vaughn said after Saturday’s win. “We can take this into our hands ... we control our own destiny, I think as a team that’s all you can ask for.”

Vaughn had similar comments after the game on Sunday, reaffirming his belief that his squad is playing the best baseball it has all year. The center of it all is what Vaughn and his team calls “The Pack Offense.” It’s an identity that Maryland has adopted as it’s piled on teams in the past few weeks.

“It’s our identity as an offense ... You lengthen the field by hitting doubles and homers and you shorten the field by making those guys stand on the grass because you can drag, [sacrifice] or push,” Vaughn said.

“Don’t let the pack get hot.”

Progression of key players

The past two weeks have shown huge progress for plenty of Terps, but none as drastic as sophomore Eddie Hacopian and junior Kevin Keister.

Hacopian has turned into a force of late. In the 10th week of the season, he slashed four home runs and 11 RBIs, recording a .738 wOBA en route to a Big Ten Player of the Week nod. A week later against Indiana, he went 7-for-12 against with three RBIs.

“Eddie can hit. He won the batting title out of junior college, he won the batting title at the Cal Ripken League ... the guy knows how to put the barrel on the baseball,” Vaughn said. “He would get a little bit antsy earlier in the year and try to spoil pitches. His ability to take those sliders get him more sliders and more heaters up, and he’s been on time.”

Keister, meanwhile, went nuclear in Maryland’s routs of UMBC and Georgetown. He had two home runs in each game, totaling a combined 10 RBIs. He added five more RBIs in the weekend series, punctuating a bounce-back week for a player that was an All-Big Ten first-team selection last year.

“With Kev, we knew it was a matter of time,” Vaughn said. “This was what he kind of did last year. He was pretty good until mid-April to the rest of the year, where he was really, really good.”

Two weeks ago, both Hacopian and Keister had a wRC+ under the average mark of 100. As of May 1, they both have a wRC+ over 120.

“It just lengthens the lineup.” Vaughn said, “A lot of lineups, when you survive the top four or five, you can breathe a little bit for a couple of hitters before you come back ... our nine-hole guys hit four homers this week and had some really big hits, so it just lengthens your lineup a lot.”

While most the talk has centered around the offense — deservedly so — Maryland’s pitching staff had a much-improved week too. The Terps outscored Indiana 29-4 in the first two games, large in part to masterful performances from senior right-handed pitcher Nick Dean and freshman lefty Kyle McCoy.

Both dealt until the eighth inning, and by that time the games were blowouts. This allowed the Terps to stay, for the most part, out of their bullpen until Sunday. Solid appearances from Van Buren and junior left-handed pitcher Logan Ott were also optimistic signs for a relief staff that has struggled this year.

The home stretch

The Terps aren’t out of the woods yet in the Big Ten. Michigan State trails them by one game, which creates little room for error over the next three weeks.

Maryland has 11 games left before the postseason, with the next eight in College Park. With just three conference series remaining, the Terps’ postseason fate will be summated by one question.

Can the pack stay hot?