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Maryland softball had its moments in 2019, but it was another losing season

While the Terps’ offense took major strides forward, the pitching staff couldn’t do the same.

Maryland softball vs. Minnesota Maryland Softball (@TerpsSoftball)

Maryland softball picked up 20 wins this season, its most under head coach Julie Wright, but enters the offseason on a low note after finishing in last place in the Big Ten. The Terps were 16-12 entering conference play, but went 4-19 in the league and closed the season on an eight-game losing streak, going 20-31 overall. Maryland did finish the season with an improved RPI ranking of 124th compared to last season’s 172nd, but there were still plenty of disappointments.

Coming into the season, Maryland faced plenty of question marks, with only three returning starters and nine returning players. Several young hitters had breakout seasons, and after the Terps only had two pitchers throw more than 30 innings in 2018, four recorded more than 40 innings this season. However, the staff couldn’t limit the powerhouse offenses in the Big Ten, and the offense went quiet against some of the conference’s best pitchers.

At the plate

Maryland’s offense was near the bottom of the Big Ten last season, but this year, the Terps ranked in the top five. As a team, the Terrapins had a .288 batting average and scored 218 runs. Seven of the nine usual starters had a batting average higher than .270. However, one area Maryland struggled was picking up the clutch hits when runners were on base.

One of the turning points of the season was when star freshman Taylor Okada went down with a season-ending knee injury. The rookie second baseman was clearly Maryland’s best hitter for the first part of the year and was even one of the nation’s best freshmen. When Okada got hurt, the team was 15-11 and hadn’t yet played a conference game. Okada posted a .426 batting average and a.455 on-base percentage in the 26 games she started. Without her in the lineup, the Terps offense was still very good, but it would’ve been very interesting to see how the freshman would’ve performed in Big Ten play.

Sophomore JoJo McRae replaced Okada in the leadoff spot, and finished the season with a .317 average and a team-high 34 runs scored. Junior Anna Kufta hit .274 with six home runs and a team-leading 42 RBIs, and was one of four players to start in every game this season. Junior Amanda Brashear was another consistent piece of the offense, hitting .294 and scoring 29 runs, which ranked second on the team. Brashear was also great defensive player in right field, making several highlight plays all season long.

Sophomore Sammie Stefan was a breakout player for the Terps. The slugger only started eight games last season, but started 50 games this year. Stefan recorded 33 RBIs and posted team-highs in home runs (7) and slugging percentage (.521). Freshman Gracie Voulgaris was also very impressive, considering she was tasked with the difficult job of catching and hitting in the heart of the lineup for the majority of the year. Voulgaris had to learn to catch five different pitchers in her first year on top of making an impact on the offensive side. She appeared in all 51 games, hitting .295 with 25 RBIs. The rookie also led the team with a .389 on-base percentage.

The lone senior on offense was Bailey Boyd. Her consistency will be missed next season, as she started all 51 games and finished second on the team with a .308 batting average. It was an impressive jump from the 2018 season, where she hit .188 in 47 games played. Boyd also provided solid defense at both shortstop and second base for the Terrapins.

In the circle

Maryland’s pitching ranked last in the Big Ten with a combined 5.84 ERA. Not only was this the worst in the Big Ten, but it also was one of the worst in Division I softball, placing 268th of 295 teams. The Terps allowed 347 total runs, most in the conference, and struggled to put opposing hitters away, with their 128 strikeouts also ranking last in the conference.

The standouts on the staff were seniors Sydney Golden and Sami Main. Golden was Maryland’s ace, accounting for close to half of the team’s strikeouts with 63. The righty also pitched the most innings on the team with 140 ⅔, while posting a 12-12 record and a 3.78 ERA. Main was the team’s most versatile pitcher, making 10 starts and 19 relief appearances. The senior finished the season with a 5.61 ERA in 87 ⅓ innings with 34 strikeouts.

With the departure of the two workhorses, the pitching staff will be another question mark heading into next season. Barring any transfers, the Terps will still have Kiana Carr and Victoria Galvan. Both of these pitchers tossed more than 40 innings this season, while freshman Amelia Jarecke appeared in seven innings early in the year.

Coming in

Maryland’s recruiting class includes infielders Ashlyn Anderson and Taylor Liguori, who will help fill the void of Boyd leaving. The Terps will also bring in outfielder Campbell Kline, who led her high school team to the Class 4A Maryland state championship as a junior last season with a .750 batting average and a state-record 69 hits.

Of the five 2019 signees, two are pitchers. Hard-throwing Courtney Wyche stands at 6-foot-1 and posted a 0.94 ERA with a 17-3 record in her best season in high school. The other incoming arm, Trinity Schlotterbeck, carries the distinction of recording 21 strikeouts in a no-hitter during her high school career. These pitchers certainly will have the opportunity to be the new workhorses in the rotation.

Looking ahead

With such a young team and so much uncertainty, there weren’t many expectations for Maryland this season. The Terps’ strong start provided reason for optimism, but they could never find their footing in conference play. Wright hopes this season can serve as a first step for the program.

“We’ve done some great things,” Wright said after the season finale against Michigan. “And I think we’ll continue to do that. I’ve seen some wonderful things from our youth and I think that it’s going to be a very bright future.”

Barring attrition, most of the Terps’ offensive firepower will return to College Park next year. And adding new players to the mix is always exciting for a coach.

“Six more freshman coming in, learning the system and we’re going to be super young, but super talented and super athletic,” Wright said. “And that’s where this team will thrive, I think, and we’re going to be a lot deeper too, so we’ll be able to handle some bumps and bruises that come with the season.”

The Terps certainly expect to make the Big Ten tournament next year, but they’ll likely enter 2020 with much loftier goals. If Maryland can keep up the offensive firepower and couple it with more consistent performance in the circle, the Terps could be a much more dangerous team going forward.

“There’s really only one way go, which is up,” Main said. “I think that there’s a lot of potential, talent-wise, that we have on the team. ... The team’s chemistry was very good this year, and I think that’s going to elevate the game.”