Going into the last conference series of the 2018 Maryland baseball season, the Terps were just on the outside looking in, ninth place in the conference. The team needed a strong showing in Bloomington against Indiana, but first-year head coach Rob Vaughn’s Terps were swept by the Hoosiers, sending them home early—no Big Ten tournament, no NCAA Tournament.
“Failure does something to you. As a head coach, it really humbled me, made me take a look at things we needed to do better. I think as players, it does too,” Vaughn said. “What do we need to adjust? What do we need to do differently?”
“For a lot of guys, it was a reality shock,” starting pitcher Hunter Parsons said. “It was like, ‘Wow, we didn’t make the tournament last year.’ ... It definitely sucked going home.”
It was a rough 2018 for Maryland, finishing 24-30 with a 9-14 conference record before losing veteran leaders Nick Dunn, Marty Costes, Taylor Bloom and Zach Jancarski, among others. The Terps also lost their best two recruits, Nick Decker and Jack Herman, who were both drafted and signed professional contracts, something that Vaughn and the coaching staff prepared for.
“We had a pretty good feeling we weren’t going to get Jack and Nick on campus,” Vaughn said. “We had to make some adjustments. We went out and got some JuCo guys that we added to the mix just to get a bit more depth to what we were doing.”
Through all of those setbacks, Maryland baseball is revamped for the 2019 season, with veteran leadership and a young presence with 11 new freshman, including infielder Kody Milton, the 2018 Washington Post All-Metro Player of the Year and son of former Maryland baseball pitcher and 11-year MLB veteran Eric Milton.
“Kody’s been a different guy since he’s been back this break,” Vaughn said. “The make-up that Kody has and his desire to be great, he’s going to find himself very involved in everything we’re doing this year.”
In total, there are 18 new players on the team, and and from what he’s seen, Vaughn has confidence in what is a very new set of faces in College Park.
“It’s going to be a little different group this year, but I love the way they are working every day,” Vaughn said. “I think the DNA of them is ripe. I just think we need to coach them up and get them there.”
There are just four seniors on the team: shortstop A.J. Lee, third baseman Taylor Wright, closer John Murphy and starter Hunter Parsons. All four will play big roles on a young roster.
Parsons is Maryland’s probable No. 1 starter after turning his college career around last season with a 3.44 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 89 innings pitched, along with a .225 batting average against. The right-hander might be the biggest key for Maryland’s success this season if he can improve upon those numbers. His strides toward that goal started in the offseason, after discovering he didn’t use his lower body enough on the mound in 2018.
“This fall I spent a lot of time in bullpens, playing catch, doing dry work and stuff, just really trying to be as explosive as I can with my lower half,” Parsons said. “This spring, it’s translated into being able to control my stuff more. My stuff has better life.”
As the go-to starter, Parsons faces more responsibility than he has in his Maryland career. But he’s confident he has what it takes to be an ace.
“I just want to go out there, get quick outs, and just put them in the best position to win,” Parsons said. “There’s really not any added pressure. It’s just doing what I tried to do last year.”
Maryland’s 2019 schedule is tough, facing four ranked teams (Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, Michigan and Minnesota) and seven teams who made the 2018 NCAA Tournament (Campbell, Coastal, ECU, Stetson, Indiana, Ohio State and Minnesota). However, with a year under his belt, Vaughn is more than up to the challenge.
“If we can stay healthy, I think we have enough pieces on the mound, I think we have enough pieces offensively that we can grind some stuff out and get some stuff done,” Vaughn said.
Parsons is just as excited for the tougher competition. For him, it’s an opportunity to prove people wrong.
“Any time you’re playing opponents that are supposed to be better than you and you’re counted as the underdog, it’s kind of a test to see how gritty you are,” Parsons said. “Those games are more of a mental test. ... It’s a matter of a better team playing down to their competition. As the underdog going into those matchups, you can be the team to stun a team.”
Maryland is a hungry team this year. After missing out on postseason baseball entirely, the Terps are looking to change the script for 2019. It starts on Friday morning against Campbell.