Preseason Countdown: Wade’s success on the mound paves way for Biondic

Maryland Baseball Network is counting down to Opening Day! To mark the 33 days until the start of the 2018 season, former Terps right-hander Jamal Wade recorded 33 strikeouts in 2017 in his first season as a pitcher.

Before the Seattle Mariners selected Jamal Wade in the 17th round (513th overall) of the 2017 MLB Draft, the junior right-hander struck out 33 batters in under 20 innings of work. Wade picked up his 33rd and final strikeout of his junior season during a two-strikeout inning against West Virginia in the NCAA Regionals, just one year after wrapping up his sophomore campaign as a reserve outfielder.

In 17 appearances, he notched one win in his only decision of year, tossing two shutout innings in a 6-0 Maryland midweek victory over William & Mary. Featuring a solid curveball and a fastball that often touched the mid-90s, opponents hit just .208 against Wade at the plate.

Junior Jamal Wade pitches for the Terps. Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network 4/4/2017

While he wasn’t a top choice out of the bullpen for the Terps last season, his electric fastball and devastating curveball still warranted a MLB draft selection, which ultimately led him to forego his final season as a Terrapin. Wade’s 5.03 ERA didn’t deter scouts from his potential as a pitcher, as it was just his first season toeing the rubber.

The Owings Mills, Maryland, native came to College Park as one of the top third base prospects in the state, but transitioned to the outfield for his freshman season. His first three hits as a Terrapin were all home runs, and he finished his first year with five homers and 11 RBI in 35 games.

But after taking a reduced role during his sophomore season—earning just four starts—Wade transitioned into a pitcher over the summer in 2016 with the NECBL’s Keene Swamp Bats. The rising junior pitched just 11.1 innings, but allowed just two earned runs with an impressive 21 strikeouts.

Wade wasn’t the first Terrapin in recent history to switch from a position player to a pitcher, and it doesn’t appear he’ll be the last, either. Former right-hander Mike Rescigno, who graduated after last season, began his career in 2014 as an infielder. Seeing time at both first and third base, as well as a designated hitter, Rescigno hit .241 in 26 games as a freshman.

The coaching staff became impressed by his arm, however, and moved him into the bullpen for his final three seasons. He found the most success in 2016, striking out 23 batters in 23 appearances. He, like Wade, was drafted after his junior campaign, but passed on the opportunity to finish out his fourth year in College Park.

California native Jake Stinnett hit five homers as a freshman in 2011 for the Terps, but transitioned to the mound and dominated. In 2014, the then-senior posted a 2.67 ERA across 17 appearances (16 starts), tossing four complete games, including a no-hitter. The right-hander was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 2nd round of that year’s MLB Draft, and finished the 2017 campaign with a 1.19 ERA across three levels of minor league ball.

Kevin Biondic fields a ball at third base. The senior infielder may see time on the mound this spring for the Terps after pitching 16.2 innings in the Northwoods League last summer. Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network 3/12/2017

There’s reason to believe that another Terps infielder will see time on the mound for the first time in their career this spring. Last summer in the Northwoods League, senior Kevin Biondic hit .254 with five homers in 169 at-bats while tossing 16.2 innings with 11 strikeouts and a 1.62 ERA.

In the midst of going 7-for-9 and reaching base in 11 of 13 plate appearances during the Fall World Series, he also pitched a pair of innings during the intrasquad scrimmages. It was the first time Biondic has pitched for Maryland, and although it was just in a scrimmage, he toyed with a knuckleball throughout the fall.

With the departure of key arms such as Ryan Selmer, Jamal Wade and Tayler Stiles, the Terps won’t have the deepest bullpen in the Big Ten in 2018, so Biondic has a shot to contribute out of the pen this spring. He also has the potential to turn into a more consistent two-way player than Wade and Rescigno. Wade appeared in just six games in the outfield last season following his transition to the mound, while Rescigno didn’t see a single at-bat once he switched into a reliever.

Freshman DiLuia transitioning to college life, ready to help Terps win

Last November, Maryland Baseball Network’s Dylan Sinn profiled Mark DiLuia, who had just signed to pitch for the Terrapins. A year later, Sinn sat down with DiLuia as the freshman prepares for his first season of college baseball. 

Mark DiLuia is late. The freshman and I had planned to meet so we could talk about his transition from being one of the best high school pitchers in Illinois last year to one of 10 members of Maryland baseball’s 2017 recruiting class.

Before our scheduled meeting time, DiLuia (pronounced De-LU-ya) lets me know, while apologizing earnestly, that the team’s practice longer than expected, so he won’t be able to make it on time. When he arrives later, he extends a giant hand, grasps mine firmly, and apologizes again. I assure him it’s not a problem. He never mentions that it is birthday.

“He’s kind of got that, I hate to use this comparison, but that Derek Jeter quality of, you just kind of look at the guy and are like, ‘Man, that kid’s a winner,’” Corey Muscara, Maryland’s pitching coach, said of DiLuia. “The way he stands, the way he carries himself, the way he talks, the way he listens, how he learns. He’s just very mature beyond his years. More than the stuff and the body that’s what’s impressed me the most [about him].”

To be clear, DiLuia’s “stuff” is impressive, as well. He has a fastball, change-up and slider in his repertoire, all three of which he can throw for strikes. The lanky 6-foot-3 right-hander’s fastball has touched 90 mph in fall workouts, which led Prep Baseball Report to rank him the No. 11 high school player in Illinois just before his senior season at Marian Catholic High School.

During that senior season, DiLuia planned to work on the command of his pitches, a goal he says he accomplished.

Terps freshman Mark DiLuia, pictured here in high school, was ranked as one of the top prep pitchers in Illinois. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers in June, but declined, opting to come to Maryland. Photo courtesy of Mark DiLuia

“All around I felt I was a complete better pitcher [compared to my junior year],” DiLuia said. “I could throw any pitch I wanted in any count and I just felt all around like more of a pitcher than my junior year, when I was more of a thrower.”

The improvements paid off as the Homewood, Illinois native went 7-1 with a 1.68 ERA and Marian Catholic reached the 3A state championship game. DiLuia pitched his team to the title game with a complete-game 4-3 victory over the 30-9 Champaign Central in the semifinal.

His performance as a senior was good enough that the Texas Rangers selected him in the 38th round of the 2017 MLB Draft. DiLuia had signed to attend Maryland in November 2016 and he decided to go to college instead of entering the professional ranks. He arrived in College Park in August after a turbulent summer for the Maryland baseball program.

In mid-June, then-Head Coach John Szefc left Maryland to take the same position at Virginia Tech, and took Pitching Coach Ryan Fecteau with him. Fecteau was one of the coaches who had recruited DiLuia to the Terps, and his departure left the incoming pitcher feeling a little uneasy about the change.

“It was definitely a little nervous at one point because I was like, ‘Man if [then-assistant coach Rob] Vaughn’s not coming back, then I won’t know anyone on the coaching staff,’” said DiLuia, who got the news of the coaching change the same day he had beaten Champaign Central.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Mark DiLuia. Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

The uneasiness was allayed somewhat when DiLuia found out Vaughn would step into Szefc’s role as the head coach, and assuaged even more after he talked to Muscara, Fecteau’s replacement, in early July.

“Definitely was a sigh of relief when I found out Coach Vaughn would be back here,” he said. “After I talked to Coach Muscara on the phone for the first time, I was pretty excited to get the ball rolling. He seemed like he was pretty amped up and he seemed like he knows what he’s doing.”

Once he saw his new protégé pitch, Muscara was excited too.

“I think the thing that impresses me the most is his tempo and timing,” the former St. John’s coach said. “The other day at practice he was 86-90 [mph] and he hadn’t thrown all summer, so we’re still building him up, and it’s easy. So when you see a kid who’s throwing the ball that easy and can command the ball, you know there’s a lot more in the tank. He’s going to be a kid that throws consistently in the low 90’s, he might even touch the mid-90’s while he’s here.”

Muscara’s comments are somewhat at odds with how DiLuia views his own velocity, which he says he has struggled to increase over the last several years.

“The last couple of years I’ve been kind of upset with myself, I haven’t really seen a big jump in velocity, but I just keep telling myself, keep working harder, keep messing around with different things and the velocity will come,” DiLuia said.

One aspect of the freshman’s quest to throw harder has been an attempt to put on weight through diet and strength training.

“More mass equals gas, as Coach Muscara says,” DiLuia said, laughing.

Despite his impressive performance in fall workouts so far, he is not sure what is role on the pitching staff will be when the season starts in February. He isn’t too concerned about it, though; he just wants to help the team.

“Whatever it is, Sunday guy, weekday starter, coming in in relief, any opportunity I get to throw, I’ll be happy with, and I’ll make the most of it whenever I get the chance,” he said. “In the end of the day it’s all about getting wins and whatever I can do or whatever the team can do to get one more on the ‘W’ side I’ll be more than happy with.”

Featured image courtesy of Mark DiLuia.

Maryland baseball releases 2018 schedule

Maryland baseball released its 2018 schedule Tuesday afternoon, and the Terps will begin their season with a three-game series on the road against Tennessee starting on Feb. 16.

Maryland will continue its recent trend of playing an early-season SEC road series, doing so against Alabama in 2016 to start the year and then last season against LSU. The Terps defeated the Volunteers, 10-9, in their last meeting in 2016 during the Keith LeClair Classic in Greenville, North Carolina. Tennessee finished 27-25 overall in 2017.

Maryland went 38-23 in last season, earning the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The Terps rattled off three wins in the conference tournament after losing their first game, but were eliminated by Northwestern in the semifinals. After a one-year hiatus, Maryland returned to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons, where it earned a No. 3 seed in the Winston Salem Regional.

The Terps will participate in a tournament hosted by Coastal Carolina (Match 2-4), which will include Ball State—an opponent from last season—and Radford. Instead of participating in a second tournament like last season, the Terps will visit East Carolina from March 16 to March 18. The Terps and Pirates last played during a tournament in 2016.

Maryland will take on four nonconference opponents that earned a spot in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, including North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware and Radford. Overall, though, only seven of Maryland’s 26 opponents this season qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year. 

Maryland’s four home-and-home series include William & Mary, VCU, Delaware and James Madison. Maryland will play a pair of midweek matchups against North Carolina (March 20) and West Virginia (May 1) during the regular season, like it did last year.

Every game this season—home and away—can be listened to
LIVE on the Maryland Baseball Network.

The Terps, who went 20-3 at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium in 2017, will begin their home schedule with a three-game series starting on February 23 against Army, who the Terps last played and swept back in 2011. The Terps will also host out-of-conference opponents Bryant (March 9-11) and Stetson (March 23-25). Maryland welcomed Bryant to College Park last season, but haven’t played Stetson since 2003.

The Terps will begin conference play by hosting Northwestern from March 30 to April 1. The Wildcats came to College Park last season, defeating the Terps in two of three games. The Terps beat Northwestern to keep their Big Ten Tournament hopes alive, but couldn’t replicate the result the following day and were eliminated in the semifinals. Maryland will also host Illinois, Purdue and Rutgers in conference play.

Like last season, Maryland will travel to Lincoln and Bloomington to take on Nebraska and Indiana.  The Terps will also visit Michigan and Michigan State as the other two conference road series. It’ll be a tough conference road slate, as three of Maryland’s four opponents all made the NCAA Tournament last season.

The Big Ten Tournament will be played from May 23 to May 27 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.

Aggies beat the Old Liners, 16-1, in Game 3 to complete Fall World Series comeback

With the Old Liners leading by eight runs in the Fall World Series after winning the first two games, Aggies captain Kevin Biondic asked head coach Rob Vaughn to put the number “8”  in their opponent’s run column on the scoreboard prior to Game 3. The senior knew his team would have to win by nine runs to claim the series victory.

Because this year’s fall finale incorporated a point-system comprised of wins, run differential and various objectives, the Aggies had a chance to win the series, despite losing the first two games.

Biondic swung and missed on a two-strike count in the first inning, ending his streak of eight straight times reaching base to start the series. Despite being retired for the first time in three days, Biondic quickly responded to spark a seven-run Aggies rally in the third inning, eventually helping blowout the Old Liners, 16-1.

Biondic’s request to visually see his team down eight runs on the scoreboard mentally sparked the Aggies, as they went on to win the entire series, 16-9.

“What that tells you, you start talking about leadership,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “You start talking about grit and the things that great championship teams do. That’s what Kevin Biondic exhibited today.”

Following freshman Tommy Gardiner’s leadoff walk to start the third, Biondic launched an 0-1 pitch to the right-center field gap for a double off right-handed reliever Ryan Hill. Four runs came across before Biondic stepped back up to the plate with two outs as the Aggies batted around.

Battling tough, Biondic drew an 11-pitch walk to reload the bases against right-hander Mike Vasturia, who relieved Hill after he didn’t record an out. Senior Will Watson took advantage of Biondic’s at-bat by delivering a bases-clearing triple to cap off the Aggies’ seven-run inning.

“I don’t want to say that sealed the deal right there, but that boosted our confidence even more than what it was already at,” Biondic said.

Sitting on the bench while watching his team provide a surplus of run support, sophomore transfer Zach Thompson returned to the mound in the bottom of the third after setting down the first six batters he faced.

Thompson, who pitched at Archbishop Spalding High School prior to spending his freshman season at St. Mary’s College (Md.), allowed just one earned run, while striking out three in four innings of work. His counterpart and former high school teammate, Old Liners left-hander Tyler Blohm, allowed just one hit and struck out three in two scoreless innings.

Although the Older Liners scored a run in the bottom of the third to make it 7-1, the Aggies offense went back to work in the fourth. After falling behind 0-2 in the count, Biondic snuck a ball down the left-field line for a two-run double. The senior finished the series 7-for-9, reaching base in 11 of his 13 plate appearances.

“I think I’ve come a long way from where I started,” Biondic said. “I think of lot of it comes from the pitching. I understand what pitchers are doing and what they think and what pitches are going to be thrown and in what counts.”

The Aggies scored an additional six runs in the fourth inning, including RBI singles from Barrett Smith and Zach Jancarski, to make it a 15-1 Aggies lead. After the half inning, The Aggies took control of the series run differential for the first time of the week, 15-9. Smith provided the last run of the game in the top of the fifth on a sacrifice fly. He finished the afternoon 1-for-1 with three walks, a sac fly and three RBIs.

“All the guys came ready today,” Biondic said. “I was very surprised in how positive everyone was today. It was almost like we knew we were going to come back.”

Right-hander John Murphy closed out the game for the Aggies in the last inning, clinching both the game and Fall World Series victory over the Old Liners. The fall season is now over for the Terps, and they will return to game action in the middle of February for the start of the 2018 season.

“If we want to do what these guys want to do and do something special in the spring,” Vaughn said, “then now is really when the work starts.”

Old Liners explode for 11 runs to beat Aggies in Game 2

The Old Liners held a three-run lead with the bases loaded and no outs before right-hander Mike Vasturia recorded three straight outs to clinch a victory over the Aggies in Game 1 of the Fall World Series.

One day later, it was the Old Liners offense with three runners on with nobody out in the third inning.

Catcher Justin Morris, who had 13 RBI last season, cleared the bases with a double down the right-field line to put the Old Liners up 3-0. Three more runs came across in the inning, helping the Old Liners to an eventual 11-6 win.

“Capitalizing on big situations with runners in scoring position was big for us today,” Old Liners second baseman Nick Dunn said. “We just kept having good at-bats.”

Aggies starting pitcher, right-hander Mark DiLuia, allowed just one baserunner in his first two innings, but conceded five earned runs in the top of the third. Dunn doubled and singled off the center field wall in the inning, as the Old Liners batted around.

Aggies’ freshman left-hander Grant Burleson, who pitched two scoreless innings in Game 1, recorded the final two outs of the third to put a halt to the six-run inning.

Old Liners starting right-hander Hunter Parsons didn’t allow a hit to the first nine batters he faced, but gave up a single and a home run to back-to-back hitters in the bottom of the third. Following freshman Tommy Gardiner’s single, Kevin Biondic hit a two-run blast over the center field wall to cut the deficit to 6-2. Biondic has now reached base in all eight of his plate appearances in the Fall World Series.

“It’s been a crazy fall for him so far,” Dunn said. “He’s by far our best hitter this fall and it’s just really special to see that.”

Parsons pitched four innings, allowing just the two runs on two hits with a pair of strikeouts.

“It was good to get back out there,” Parsons said. “The Fall World Series is always a fun to to compete so I was glad to be able to go out there and just have some fun with it.”

After the Old Liners pushed across two runs in the top of the fourth, Biondic took the mound for the first time of the series. The senior picked up pitching over the summer, similarly to former Terps Mike Rescigno and Jamal Wade. He allowed two inherited runners to score on a  sacrifice fly and a Marty Costes RBI-single, extending the Old Liners lead to 10-2 in the fourth.

Dunn hit an RBI-double off Biondic in the fifth for his third hit of the afternoon. After his home run in Game 1, Dunn has three extra-base hits in the Fall World Series.

“The pitching I saw this summer [in the Cape],” Dunn said, “that’s helped into the fall and into the spring.”

Old Liners freshman right-hander Sean Fisher pitched 1.2 scoreless innings in relief, allowing just one hit. Left-hander Jon Dignazio came on to record the last out, but allowed four runs before clinching the Old Liners second win of the series.

The Fall World Series will conclude Friday at 4 p.m. at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium.