The talent was always there. There was no question of that heading into the abbreviated 2021 season, one in which the Terps would play just 44 games and face only Big Ten opponents.
That’s why it was baffling for outsiders when the Terps started 5-9 through the first 14 games of the season. In a season without a Big Ten tournament, they needed to turn it around quickly to have a chance to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Despite early-season struggles, Maryland continued to stay the course and knew it was going to turn it around. All it needed was a little bit of time.
“I think everyone’s united around the common goal of we want to win. Period. End of Story,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “We wish we would have come out of the gate being awesome, but the reality is, this game is all about playing good at the right time.”
With that time, Maryland has completely turned their season around, becoming one of the hottest teams in not just the Big Ten, but all of college baseball.
The Terps have won six straight games, the longest Big Ten win streak in program history, nine of their last ten and 14 of their last 18. Maryland sits at fifth place in the Big Ten at 19-13 and just 2.5 games back from first place Indiana.
Maryland’s offense is built on team play and unselfishness, labeled “the pack mentality.” When the team is clicking, it is because guys are feeding off each other from every at-bat. According to Vaughn, this type of performance was always in these guys, they just needed to get closer and spend more time together to get it out of them.
“I just think they’re closer, I think that’s the reality,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “In this COVID year, it’s been tough for these guys to really get to know each other, really growing together as a group and being able to create avenues for them to spend time together and grow. It’s been a challenge and I think the reality is, eight weeks into a season now they’ve spent a lot of time together, they put a lot of work in together and they’ve just grown closer together.”
One of the areas that have led to the winning streak is Maryland flipping the script on their ability to win close games.
Through the first half of the season, Maryland was just 2-6 in games decided by two runs or less. In the latter half of the season, Maryland is 5-0 so far in those games, including two walk-off wins.
“One of my mentors told me all the time, what you expect to happen, what you think is going to happen, is probably going to happen,” Vaughn said. “When things are balanced against you and you’ve got the right breaks, it’s really hard to believe that good things are going to happen, but the guys are starting to expect to win.”
The Terps have been terrific at getting people on base and driving in runners. Maryland ranks second in the Big Ten in on-base percentage and stolen bases while sitting at fifth in total runs scored.
“We knew we had talent, but after losing in the beginning we realized talent wasn't going to win us games,” infielder Matt Shaw said. “So, when we started to come together as a team and started playing well together, that’s when we started to realize how to win games. Once we realized that, we’ve been on a roll.”
On the mound, the depth of the bullpen has been terrific the last few weekends, with Vaughn having a ton of guys to turn to in relief. The Terps also excel at pitching strikes and striking guys out at the plate. Maryland is third in the conference in strikeouts, led by ace Sean Burke who is second in the conference in strikeouts and accounts for a quarter of the team's punch-outs.
While the Terps are hot, there are a lot more games to be played for Maryland to have an opportunity to spend some more time together and play baseball in June.
“We still got plenty of work to do,” Vaughn said. “We ain’t close to a finished product.”