After overcoming a tough start to the 2021 season, the Maryland baseball team earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.
The Terrapins enter the tournament as a No. 3 seed in the Greenville, N.C., region. The Terps (28-16) are one of three Big Ten teams that made the tournament along with Michigan and Nebraska. Maryland’s region also includes No. 1 East Carolina, No. 2 Charlotte and No. 4 Norfolk State. The Terps are scheduled to face Charlotte at 6 p.m. on June 4, part of a double-elimination regional.
The team is not disappointed with a No. 3 seed. Rather, the Terps are ecstatic to have the opportunity to spend at least one more week together.
“We’ve just got to keep playing the brand of baseball we’ve been playing,” head coach Rob Vaughn said on Glenn Clark Radio June 3. “You want one more weekend, you get one another for another week, and that’s the beauty of this time of year.”
The fourth-year head coach said his team has been playing each game with a “playoff, back-up-against-the-wall mentality” since April and is ready to tackle any challenges it may face in the tournament.
To earn their spot, the Terps overcame a 10-12 start to their season. Vaughn told his players in late March that they would be a completely different team a few weeks from that point.
“We’ve got to embrace this journey,” Vaughn said, recalling his message to the team at the time. “This is part of our story, like it or not, and take it one day at a time. Our only goal was to be 1-0 today.”
And so they did.
From that point on, Maryland won 18 of its final 22 games and its final seven series. The Terps’ 28-16 record placed them second in the conference standings (Big Ten teams played exclusively conference games during the season, and there was no conference tournament).
Maryland’s dominant run landed it a spot in the d1baseball.com’s top 25 for the first time since 2017. The Terps grabbed the spot after winning their series against Michigan May 21-23, pushing the Wolverines out of the rankings.
Maryland’s offense is led by infielders Benjamin Cowles (.302/.421/.660, 17 home runs), Matthew Shaw (.306/.409/.527, 15 doubles) and Maxwell Costes (.291/.497/.398, 28 walks), among others. The pitching staff is headed by right-hander Sean Burke (3.56 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 68.1 innings).
The Terps’ challenges went beyond a shaky start to the season, as the team persevered through many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaughn believes his team handled the circumstances in a professional manner. The Terps had little to no access to weight rooms and exercised in small groups rather than as a team.
“I think it made them really appreciate the game of baseball and getting to play each and every day,” Vaughn said.
Between the current roster and incoming recruits, Vaughn strongly believes that Maryland’s baseball program has the potential to achieve more success in the future, noting that the program began to shift in the right direction a little more than a decade ago. Vaughn added that he would not have accepted the job if he did not think the program could succeed at a high level.
This year’s seniors, who were freshmen when Vaughn took over the program, helped the team reach the position in which they are in today, the coach said.
“In the world we’re in today and when things don’t go your way, you quit, go somewhere else. That’s what most people do,” Vaughn said. “And this group of seniors, they stuck with this, they kept fighting. They believed in what we were doing, and they’re the reason we’re here.
“Whether they’re the guys on the field, making the pitch, getting the hit, making the play or whatever it is, or whether they’re the guys that are just building people up in the dugout and being the best teammate they can be. We think that this is what Maryland baseball should be.”
Given their current situation and the success alums Adam Kolarek and Brandon Lowe are enjoying in the big leagues, Vaughn is confident that the program is headed in the right direction.
Kolarek and Lowe are “unbelievable representatives for your program,” Vaughn said. “I think it shows guys coming up through the program that are here currently and recruits coming here that, ‘Man, this is some place I can go, I can get an education, I can win baseball games and I can develop into a big leaguer.’ And I think those are the things we care a ton about.”
For more from Vaughn, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics