Heading into the 2021 season, there were a lot of high expectations surrounding the Maryland baseball program. In the previous season that was cancelled after just 15 games, the Terps had put together an impressive start, jumping out to a 10-5 nonconference record.
With most of the key pieces returning to the lineup for this season, plus the addition of some highly-touted freshmen, Maryland was due for a big season that featured only 44 games, all against Big Ten opponents.
In the Big Ten preseason poll voted on by coaches in the conference, Maryland ranked fifth. With almost half the season in the books, the Terps aren't quite in the position they had hoped they would be early on. Maryland currently sits in ninth place in the conference, with a 9-10 record, due to a poor start from head coach Rob Vaughn’s group.
The Terps went 1-3 in their opening series against Michigan State in Greenville, South Carolina. Then, after staying afloat the next few series, Maryland had another 1-3 weekend in the final one of March.
However, coming off a 3-1 weekend facing some of the best competition in the conference in Northwestern and then-No. 25 Michigan, and winning four of the last five games, the Terps are beginning to turn things around.
“The way the team is playing, the way the team is competing, the way they're doing things is so polar opposite than when we were down in South Carolina [in the opening series], in the best way possible,” Vaughn said.
Eight of the Terps’ games this season have been decided by two runs or less, leaving little room for error in a competitive conference.
The good news for Maryland is the Terps’ bats have started to heat up at the plate and the Terps’ pitching staff is beginning to step up, allowing Maryland to finally break through.
Senior outfielder Randy Bednar and infielder Benjamin Cowles have both been tremendous at the plate, leading the team with 25 hits apiece. Cowles also leads the team in homers with nine.
The Terps put out a deep lineup and when everyone is clicking up and down the order, it is scary for opposing pitchers. Second baseman Tommy Gardiner, who bats ninth in the lineup, had a productive weekend, hitting two homers and driving in five runs.
First baseman Maxwell Costes, who was on the Golden Spikes preseason watch list and is considered one of the best hitters in the league, missed some time earlier in the year with an injury.
Costes returned to the lineup in a forgetful weekend in Columbus, where he failed to record a hit. In the following series this past weekend, however, Costes returned to the hit-machine that he is. Costes totaled eight hits on the weekend, including four in one game, and had nine RBIs.
“The Terps are hot, man,” Costes said. “Sometimes it takes that one game, that one inning where things just start to click. ... We’re playing like an offense now, rather than us going one-on-one versus the pitcher with everybody.”
The starting pitching staff, headlined by Sean Burke, has been solid in recent outings, but the relief pitching has been able to hold things down, especially Ryan Ramsey, who has become Vaughn’s go-to guy out of the bullpen, leading all relief pitchers in innings pitched.
In his lone appearance on the mound this past weekend, Ramsey recorded six strikeouts and allowed just one hit in four innings pitched.
“Ramsey’s been unbelievable,” Vaughn said. “I still remember the first time I saw him and he’s just so much more confident,”
After starting the weekend 2-0 against Northwestern, Maryland had a tough test against No. 25 Michigan on Sunday. The Terps dropped the Sunday showcase, 6-5, with the go-ahead run for Michigan coming off a homer in the top of the ninth.
“The true test of this team is going to be how we compete tomorrow,” Vaughn said following the loss.
The Terps certainly did compete the following day, annihilating Michigan, 17-7, by scoring 11 runs across two innings after trailing by three.
“From the start of the year, we knew this was the kind of team we could be and that we could beat teams like this. And to finally do it is just an awesome feeling because it’s something we’ve been working for for a couple years now,” right-handed pitcher Sam Bello said.
One of the keys to this potential mid-season turnaround is taking a one game at a time approach, staying present in the moment and not looking up at the standings, a sentiment Vaughn preaches to his team.
“Since we’ve approached it one day at a time, the results have been pretty good, our effort [has] been good and our energy’s been good,” Vaughn said. “We do those things, I think the score will take care of itself over time.”
Only time will tell if the Terps can carry the momentum from a successful weekend to make a push the rest of the season. Maryland fans might find out sooner than later though, as the Terps will travel to Nebraska this weekend to take on the Cornhuskers who sit atop the Big Ten standings.
“There’s been some challenges with this group over the last six weeks, some things they’ve had to deal with, some things they’ve kind of fought through, some things as a unit we’ve had to grow through, and we have. We’re as close of a group as we’ve had here in a while,” Vaughn said.