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Last week was a banner one for Maryland. The Terps went a perfect 4-0, including a weekend sweep of Big Ten foe Michigan State, and ascended back into the top 25 nationally and to the top of the Big Ten standings.
Maryland (28-11, 12-3 Big Ten) has won seven games in a row, it’s last loss all the way back on April 12 to George Mason. This weekend will see the Terrapins go out on the road to take on Indiana at Bart Kaufman Field, which is also the site of the 2017 Big Ten Tournament. The Hoosiers (21-16, 8-6 Big Ten) are the most recent Big Ten team to play in the College World Series, making it to Omaha in 2013. Since then, they have fallen to the middle of the pack in the conference while Maryland has taken its turn as the conference’s top dog.
At 21-16, Indiana’s record is not particularly impressive, but the Hoosiers have played one of the most difficult schedules in the country with the No. 11 Strength of Schedule and the No. 33 RPI. That difficult slate included a pair of early season games against No. 1 Oregon State, which IU lost 1-0 and 4-1. More recently, the Hoosiers have gone toe to toe with No. 17 Michigan in Ann Arbor and held their own, taking two of three from the Wolverines last weekend. Indiana and Maryland are responsible for four of Michigan’s nine losses this season.
When the Hoosiers have had success, it has frequently been because of the long ball. Indiana leads the Big Ten in home runs with 45, while sophomore Matt Lloyd and senior Craig Dedelow are tied for fourth in the conference with nine apiece. Sophomore Luke Miller is also in the conference’s top 10 with eight homers.
Lloyd is Indiana’s best hitter, usually batting in the cleanup spot of the Hoosiers lineup. It’s the Canadian’s first season in Division I baseball after transferring from Iowa Western Community College in the offseason. He’s thrived at college baseball’s top level, hitting .336/.434/.655 and leading the team in walks with 18, but the left-handed hitter also strikes out a lot, whiffing in over 23 percent of his plate appearances.
Not only is Lloyd the team’s top bat, however, he is also its best arm out of the bullpen. The right-hander has appeared in 11 games and has been the Hoosiers’ de facto closer, picking up four saves. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound two-way star has pitched to a 2.08 ERA in 17.1 innings, striking out 12 and walking just three. When opponents make contact against him, it’s generally soft; he’s given up only two extra-base hits all season.
Lloyd is Indiana’s best hitter in 2017, but in 2016 that honor went to Dedelow, who was a third-team All-Big Ten performer in each of the last two seasons and was selected in the 34th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. He decided to return to IU for his senior season, though, and he’s mashed again, rolling up a .481 slugging percentage with 18 extra-base hits. Like Lloyd, he is a free swinger, with just a .250 batting average, his lowest since his freshman season, and a 21.7 percent strikeout rate.
Miller is sandwiched in between Lloyd and Dedelow in the usual Indiana batting order, normally occupying the three spot. He was a freshman All-American a season ago when he hit .333 in Big Ten play. This season, he leads the Hoosiers in hits and total bases while batting .297 with a .520 slugging percentage.
Indiana’s pitching has struggled at times this year, as it did last week when it gave up a combined 21 runs to the Wolverines in the final two games of the series. The staff has compiled a 4.76 ERA with a .285 opponents’ batting average. While the Hoosiers have hit a lot of home runs, their pitchers have also given up their share, with opposing teams going deep 32 times against Indiana.
Lloyd is arguably Indiana’s best arm in the bullpen, but the first one out of the pen for the Hoosiers is often Cal Krueger. The freshman from Jasper, Indiana, has appeared in 15 games and pitched 28.1 innings overall while posting a 2.51 ERA. He’s not a strikeout pitcher–he has just 15–but he’s also allowed just six extra base hits. If an IU starter struggles, expect to see the right-hander in long relief.
From the left side, Krueger’s fellow freshman Cameron Beauchamp has been solid for Indiana as well. He has very good stuff with a fastball that touches 93 and a solid curve. He’s posted a 3.68 ERA in 10 appearances, including two starts. The Indiana native sometimes struggles with his command, though; he’s walked 15 in 14.2 innings this season.
Starting Pitching Matchup
FRI 6:05 p.m. EST
Jr. RHP Brian Shaffer (5-2, 1.77 ERA) vs. So. RHP Jonathan Stiever (2-2, 4.95 ERA)
Shaffer and the Terps essentially settled the debate over the best pitcher in the Big Ten last week when the junior right-hander shut down Michigan State and Maryland’s offense chased Big Ten ERA leader Alex Troop after four innings and 11 runs. Now Shaffer occupies that top spot in the ERA rankings, the only qualified pitcher with a mark under two. He also leads the conference in innings pitched, and ranks second in the conference with 74 strikeouts, just one behind Michigan’s Oliver Jaskie.
Maryland’s ace will take on Jonathan Stiever, who is coming off his best start of the season. Last week against Michigan he pitched seven shutout innings, striking out seven and walking one in a 1-0 victory over the Wolverines. The sophomore right-hander is best-known for his exceptional control. As a freshman he ran a K/BB ratio of six over 40 innings, mostly as a reliever. This year, he’s improved upon that already impressive number, striking out 32 and walking just three in 40 innings of work, all as a starter. His ERA is 4.95 mostly because he’s given up 19 extra-base hits, including seven home runs. Opponents hit .310 against Stiever, who throws a fastball that sits around 90 and curve that measures in the upper 70s.
Starting Pitching Matchup
SAT 2:05 p.m. EST
Fr. Tyler Blohm (7-3, 2.49 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Brian Hobbie (2-3, 6.19 ERA)
Blohm has almost as much of a presence on the Big Ten pitching leader boards as his rotation mate Shaffer. The freshman leads the conference in wins and ranks third in ERA. His performance has led to his promotion to the Terps’ Saturday starter after beginning the season pitching on Sunday. His first two Saturday starts haven’t disappointed, as he’s pitched 12 innings and allowed just two runs while striking out 11 and picking up two wins. Blohm hasn’t had much trouble adjusting to college hitters, as he’s allowing opposing batters to hit just .206. Like Shaffer, he gets plenty of swings and misses, as well, striking out 47 in 50.2 innings of work.
Hobbie pitched just 8.2 innings last season, but his workload has taken off as a junior. He’s made the most starts, 10, of any Indiana pitcher, throwing a team-high 56.2 frames. Like Stiever he’s kept his walks down, allowing only 1.74 free passes per nine innings, but when he’s made mistakes in the zone batters are punishing them. Opposing hitters have posted a .303 batting average against the 6-foot-4 Hobbie, racking up 14 doubles and nine home runs. Hobbie is most effective when inducing ground balls, as he throws a sinker as hard as 93, so if Maryland is beating a lot of balls into the dirt it should be a good day for him.
Starting Pitching Matchup
SUN 12 p.m. EST
Jr. RHP Taylor Bloom (5-2, 4.08 ERA) vs. So. RHP Pauly Milto (3-3, 4.20 ERA)
Bloom has struggled a bit this year compared to a season ago when he posted the fourth-best ERA in the Big Ten (2.46) and walked just nine hitters in over 100 innings. His most recent outing, however, was one of his best of the season. Maryland staked him to a big early lead and the 6-foot right-hander did the rest, tossing 7.2 innings of two-run ball, while striking out four and walking none. He was economical, as well, needing just 93 pitches to complete the sweep of the Spartans. Despite his periodic inconsistency, Bloom is still second on the team in innings pitched and leads the Terps with 11 starts.
Milto is another sophomore hurler who had a promising freshman season, but has seen his ERA rise in his second year with the program. The Greenwood, Indiana, product had a 3.38 ERA last season while striking out more than a batter per inning. In 2017, those numbers have slipped to 4.20 and just over six strikeouts per nine innings. He’s been a jack-of-all trades for the Indiana staff this season, though, appearing 10 times out of the bullpen in addition to four starts. Last time out, Milto started against the Wolverines on Sunday, April 23 and gave up six runs in five innings.
When left-hander Andrew Miller retired Michigan State second baseman Dan Durkin for the last out of Sunday’s doubleheader, the Maryland Terrapins not only clinched their fifth sweep of the season, but they improved to 18-1 at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium.
Maryland (28-11, 12-3 Big Ten) currently sits atop the Big Ten standings, in large part due to its success at home. In their three conference series’ in College Park this season, the Terps swept Penn State and Michigan State, and took two of three from then-No. 18 Michigan.
In 2014 and 2015 — the last two seasons Maryland reached the NCAA Super Regionals — the team went 21-7 and 16-9 at home, respectively. With just five home games left this season, the Terps have clinched a home-record finish with single-digit losses in College Park for the third time in the last four years. Currently, Maryland is tied for the third best home record in the country.
After finishing 15-16 away from Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium last season — which includes neutral site games — Maryland is 10-10 in such contests this season. But head coach John Szefc believes the difference between his team’s home and away record isn’t because they necessarily struggle away from College Park.
“I don’t think we play bad on the road, it’s just that the results have been a little bit different,” he said. “The home team usually wins 70 percent of the time in college baseball.”
This statistic is consistent with the Terps’ 70-28 record — 71 percent — in College Park over the past four seasons. During this span, Maryland owns a .551 record away from Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium.
Maryland’s tough away schedule is a factor in why the team can’t duplicate its home record on the road. Of the Terps’ 10 losses away from home, seven have come against teams ranked in the top 40 in RPI. The Terps lost a game during opening weekend to Louisville (RPI 6) in Clearwater, Florida, were swept by LSU (RPI 13) in Baton Rouge, lost two of three at Nebraska (RPI 38) and dropped a midweek game at North Carolina (RPI 3). The Terps are currently ranked 25th in RPI.
At home, eight of the Terps 18 wins have come against teams outside the top 200 in RPI — Penn State, Princeton, Saint Joseph’s and Richmond. Overall, Maryland has the 82nd toughest schedule of 299 teams. Even though the Terps’ home schedule has been easier on paper than on the road, there appears to be an extra energy Maryland has when it plays at home, to which Szefc attributes to his “veteran squad.” The numbers led credence to the affect it has on the Maryland weekend rotation.
For the second consecutive weekend at home, Maryland’s starters — Brian Shaffer, Tyler Blohm and Taylor Bloom — all lasted at least six innings. As a team, Maryland allowed just 11 runs in their last six home games against Penn State and Michigan State.
Altogether, that makes the Maryland weekend starters a combined 12-1 with a 1.85 ERA in 102 innings at home. The same trio is 5-6 with a 3.86 ERA in 72.2 innings when pitching on the road.
Bloom says that College Park has become a difficult location to play at as a visiting team, helping not only the pitching staff, but the team as a whole.
“I think we’re a really tough place to play just because of the energy we have in the dugout,” Bloom said. “We just supply the energy ourselves and I think it’s just really hard for teams to come in here and beat us.”
Maryland’s energy in the dugout was present for both games of Sunday’s doubleheader, which featured dancing from senior infielder Pat Hisle, loud “U-S-A” chants after drawn walks and abrupt cheers during a streak of 12 straight balls thrown by Spartan pitchers.
“You have to really respect [the bench] because they’re not sitting there pouting because they’re not playing,” Szefc said. “They’re trying to get involved and help the group win. You talk about why you have that kind of success, well that has something to do with it.”
Not only has the weekend pitching flourished at home, but the offense has followed their lead. Maryland’s bats average more runs, hits, doubles and home runs per game at home than on the road.
Even on the base paths, the Terrapins show more aggressiveness on their own turf. The team is 34-for-45 (76 percent) in stolen base attempts in away games and 48-for-53 (91 percent) in College Park.
“Every day we’re here we bring a lot of energy. Our guys just do a good job of battling for nine innings every time we’re out here and we expect to win every time, especially at home,” outfielder Zach Jancarski said. “It definitely gives our guys a confident boost before the game even starts and I think that’s important, too.”
The Terps are currently on an eight-game road trip and won’t play in College Park again until May 9. In its five remaining home games, Maryland will look to continue making Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium a tough and unenjoyable location for any opponent to win ballgames, says Szefc.
“People don’t want to come in here and play,” Szefc said. “There’s some places we go to that I don’t want to go play at. I think [Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium] is becoming one of those kind of places for opposing teams.”
The Major League Baseball season is now three weeks old and most minor league seasons have begun, leaving us all to wonder how the former Terps are doing in the pros.
LHP Brett Cecil remains the only former Terrapin in the Major Leagues after he signed a four-year, $30.5 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals this offseason. The 2007 first round pick has made 10 appearances for the Cardinals this season, posting a 5.87 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 7 2/3 innings. As a middle reliever for St. Louis, Cecil struggled early, but has posted six consecutive scoreless outings going into Tuesday. In that stretch, he has struck out five batters and walked only two, helping him earn back a spot as a set-up man in the seventh and eighth innings.
Although there is only one Terp currently in the majors, the next one to get his shot in the big leagues could be LHP Adam Kolarek. The 2010 11th round draft pick has pitched well out of the bullpen for the Triple-A Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays), posting a 2.35 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 7 2/3 innings. Five of Kolarek’s six appearances this season have been scoreless, and in three of the six he has retired every better he faced. The Rays just placed left-handed reliever Xavier Cedeno on the 10-day DL, so Kolarek could be a possible option for his first call up to the big leagues.
While Kolarek has pitched well out of the bullpen, RHP Mike Shawaryn has opened some eyes as a starting pitcher in the Red Sox organization. The Unicorn, as he was known at Maryland, has pitched to 6.23 ERA in four starts for the Single-A Greenville Drive. Despite the inflated ERA, Shawaryn has struck out 27 batters and walked just five, and got some attention in his April 13 start in which struck out eight in five one-hit innings. The 2016 fifth-round draft pick is currently ranked as the 12th-best prospect in Boston’s system, and has struck out at least eight batters in each of his last three starts.
A trio of former Terps are sidelined early in the season. LHP Jimmy Reed started the 2017 season with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals (St. Louis Cardinals). After throwing a scoreless two innings in his first appearances of the season, Reed was knocked around in his next two outing and was placed on the disabled list. The 2013 sixth round pick is coming off of Tommy John surgery last season, and his ERA has ballooned to 8.10 so far this season.
RHP Jake Stinnett has started the season on the disabled list for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies (Chicago Cubs). The 2014 second-round pick is the 30th ranked prospect in the Cubs system, according to MLB.com, but has not yet pitched this season because of injury. He posted a 4.27 ERA in 20 starts with the Single-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans last season.
LHP Jake Drossner made just one appearance for the Single-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Milwaukee Brewers) before heading to the DL. The 2015 10th-round draft pick gave up one run on three hits in four innings in his only start this season. Drossner’s current teammate in Milwaukee, third baseman Jose Cuas, has stayed healthy for the Timber Rattlers and is slashing .244/.340/.488 in 41 at-bats so far this season.
As for the relievers, LHP Zach Morris has begun to pitch for the Single-A Lakewood Blueclaws (Philadelphia Phillies). In six appearances this season, the 2015 24th-round pick has pitched to a 3.68 ERA and 1.50 WHIP as a middle reliever.
LHP Alex Robinson has made four relief appearances for the Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels (Minnesota Twins), posting a 7.94 ERA. Despite the high ERA, he 2015 fifth-round pick has struck out seven batters in 5 2/3 innings. In his last appearance, he pitched a scoreless 1 2/3 innings, allowing only one hit and striking out three while still throwing gas.
Alex Robinson can throw baseballs really hard. Consistenly 97 MPH with the heater again tonight. #Kernels
Outfielder Lamonte Wade, who played alongside Robinson at Maryland and in rookie ball in 2015, has since been promoted to the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts (Minnesota Twins). A 2015 ninth-round pick, Wade has an on-base percentage of .357 with two home runs and five RBI in 56 plate appearances this season. The brother of current Terp Jamal Wade, Lamonte is the 13th-ranked prospect in Minnesota’s system, and still has that same sweet swing he had in College Park.
Second baseman Brandon Lowe has also made a jump in the Tampa Bay Rays organization after a strong 2016 season. The 2015 third-round draft pick is red-hot through 15 games for the Single-A Charlotte Stone Crabs. Lowe is hitting .388, which is second in the Florida State League, while he leads the league in both OBP (.508) and OPS (1.141).
RHP Kevin Mooney emerged as the closer for the Short-Season Class-A Auburn Doubledays (Washington Nationals) a year ago, and the right-hander will return there this season. The short-season New York-Penn League will begin in June.
On this edition of the MBN Podcast, Jake Eisenberg and Justin Gallanty break down the Terps sweep of Michigan State and name the “Terp of the Week” (1:00). Next, a new segment, where Jake and Justin make some statements about the team or players and decide whether or not they’re overreactions, fair statements, or wrong (7:26). Then, a conversation with Brian Shaffer (36:22) about team movie nights, pancakes, jersey preferences and more. Finally, Jake and Justin look ahead to the series against the Indiana Hoosiers (1:05:00) this weekend.
You can subscribe to the MBN Podcast on iTunes, here: MBN Podcast
After a weekend sweep of Michigan State, the Maryland Terrapins have now won seven in a row to climb to the top of the Big Ten standings and back into the Top-25 rankings. Before resuming conference play this weekend at Indiana, the Terps (28-11, 12-3 Big Ten) will take a trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to take on the James Madison Dukes.
Maryland’s pitching staff has been key during the current winning streak, as the Terps have surrendered more than two runs just once in the past seven contests, which includes a midweek shutout last Wednesday against William & Mary. In addition to strong weekend starting pitching, the bullpen has continued to keep opponents off the board. Southpaw Andrew Miller (1.02 ERA, .127 opponents’ average) has been dominant on the mound, while Ryan Hill (2.51) and Ryan Selmer (1.54) have been just as dominant in mid- and late-inning situations. The team’s season ERA now sits at 3.45, the third-best in the Big Ten.
Zach Jancarski has led the Terps offense lately, as the junior center fielder has hit safely in 14 straight games, including five straight multi-hit efforts, to raise his season average to .340. Second baseman Nick Dunn also enjoyed a nice weekend at the plate, going 3-for-11 with 4 RBIs in the sweep of Michigan State.
While the Terps have trended upward, the Dukes will look to reverse their recent struggles. James Madison has won just twice in its last 18 contests and is in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. The Dukes’ pitching has struggled mightily over that stretch, surrendering at least seven runs in 13 of those 18 games, including a 26-1 beating at the hands of the Liberty Flames. Their team ERA has climbed to 5.98, with opponents hitting .284 off them. Only three James Madison pitchers (Christian Leckert, Fox Semones, and Michael Evans) own ERAs below 4, but Semones and Leckert have seen very limited action, combining to pitch just five innings. Evans has been the Dukes’ best reliever, making 15 appearances out of the bullpen spanning 25 innings. He has pitched to an 3.60 ERA with 35 strikeouts against nine walks.
Despite their pitching struggles, the Dukes have excelled at the dish, plating at least six runs in each of their last three contests, all losses to William & Mary over the weekend. As a team, they are hitting .282 with 50 homers and scored 269 runs scored, marks that best the Terps in each category. Five Dukes are over the .300 mark for the season, including Semones, who paces the team with a .333 average. Outfielder Adam Sisk (.322, 10 2B, 27 RBIs, 14 SB) and first baseman Brett Johnson (.295, 9 HR, 34 RBIs) have enjoyed fine seasons at the plate as well.
This is the first of two meetings between the Dukes and Terps this season, as James Madison was scheduled to travel to College Park on March 1 but the contest was rescheduled due to weather. Maryland won both contests with James Madison a year ago, defeating the Dukes 5-0 in College Park before winning 19-12 in 10 innings in Harrisonburg.
Starting Pitching Matchup
TUE 6:00 p.m. EST
TBA vs. TBA
Maryland and James Madison have not yet announced starters for Tuesday’s game.
In the seventh inning of a 4-4 game against Nebraska, cleanup hitter Brandon Gum stepped to the plate for Maryland with a runner on first. Gum liked the first pitch he saw and roped a single to left field, putting two on base.
Will Watson hit next and he too hacked at the first pitch, hitting a line drive just over the outstretched glove of the leaping Cornhusker second baseman. The single to right drove in Marty Costes to give the Terps a lead that they would not relinquish.
Earlier in the game, relief pitcher Ryan Hill had jogged out of the Haymarket Park bullpen and into a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam. He proceeded to escape after allowing just one run.
For the next four innings, Hill mowed down Nebraska’s lineup, throwing a season-high 72 pitches. The right-hander allowed just one run and struck out five Cornhuskers, while Watson and Gum reached base seven times combined in a road victory over a team that had previously been undefeated in Big Ten play.
All three players were instrumental in one of Maryland’s most important wins of the season. All three were playing somewhere else last year. Gum, Watson and Hill, all transfers, have been key pieces all season long on a Terps team that sits atop the Big Ten.
Each member of the aforementioned trio transferred to Maryland before this season, while outfielder Madison Nickens transferred before the 2016 season.
In total, Gum, Watson and Nickens, the three position player transfers, have hit nine of the team’s 38 home runs and collected 65 of its 219 RBIs. All three have been mainstays in the everyday lineup, starting at least 30 times each in 39 games.
Nickens, who came to Maryland from LSU-Eunice, says it’s no accident that the transfers play such a large role on the team. The Maryland coaching staff recruits players that are ready to contribute.
“The recruiting job is really well done,” Nickens said. “They recruit guys they know can fit in right away. And so, when we come, it’s just easy to fit in. We have a role in mind they’d like us to fill once we get here. They recruit us for a reason.”
Head Coach John Szefc expects transfers to come in and contribute immediately, and he has been impressed with how all four on this year’s team have performed.
“They’ve been productive, they’ve been good,” Szefc said. “That’s what you want a transfer to do. You like to have your transfer guys come in and not operate like typical freshmen where it takes them a while to understand things.
“There’s always a maturation process when they come in from one program to another, but you hope because they’re a little bigger, faster, stronger, more mature, with some college baseball experience under their belt, that they can adjust quicker to how our operation works.”
When Szefc and his staff look for transfers to bring into the program, they don’t look players with one specific skillset. Rather, the coaches look for players that will fill a hole on the roster, which is why the ability to play right away is an important quality in a potential transfer.
“It depends on what our need is really,” Szefc said. “It depends on the position, it depends on the need. Hopefully they have good numbers and you’re going to programs that you’ve been to before or you know that they’ve had success pumping out Division I players.”
Hill’s former school, Grayson College in Denison, Texas, certainly fit that description. It’s produced a handful of major leaguers, including active pitchers John Lackey and Mike Bolsinger.
“When [Maryland’s coaches] recruited me, they told me, ‘We’re not going to bring you in to sit the bench and use you every now and then,’” said Hill, who struck out a whopping 12.1 hitters per nine innings in 2016. “’If we’re going to bring in a transfer, we’re bringing them in to get work right away.’”
Hill has gotten plenty of work in his first season with the Terrapins. The 6-foot-1 Texan has pitched in a team-high 18 games. He’s been one of Maryland’s most effective relievers, posting a 3-0 record and a 2.51 ERA across 32.1 innings. Last Wednesday against William & Mary, he made his first start with the Terps, tossing three no-hit innings en route to a Maryland victory.
He also considered transferring from Grayson to Coastal Carolina, but a visit to Maryland during the 2016 season made it clear that he wanted to be a Terrapin.
“Just watching how they want about their practice and it kind of resembled my [junior college],” Hill said. “Everyone was laid back, having fun, but they were getting their work done and getting better each day. It felt like I was going to something I already knew.”
Nickens, who was in his first season with the program at the time, showed Hill around campus. The Terrapins were supposed to have a game, but it was rained out, so Hill and his host got pizza instead.
When the pitcher officially committed to Maryland, Nickens sent him a text welcoming him to the team. Upon Hill’s arrival on campus in August, the elder Terp made sure the newcomer fit in with his teammates, which Hill said boosted his confidence on the mound.
“I feel like when you fit in with the team, you’re more relaxed out there,” he said. “Being a pitcher, when the defense sees the pitcher’s relaxed and has a good tempo and is doing well, then they’re out there relaxed and they’re going to play.”
In hosting Hill, Nickens was in a way paying it forward, as the outfielder had also made his decision after an older player had made him feel comfortable on a visit. When Nickens visited a year prior, Anthony Papio, a four-year Terps outfielder who is now part of the team’s coaching staff, hosted the Louisiana native.
“He was a big part [of my decision to come to Maryland],” Nickens said of Papio. “I was with him, there was an instant connection. He was my roommate the next year, he was a fellow outfielder and I loved playing with him.”
Watson, like Nickens, is a Louisiana native who had previously played at LSU-Eunice. It’s no coincidence that the same school has produced two of Maryland’s four transfers. Szefc was an assistant at Louisiana-Lafayette from 2003-2008 and has a friendly relationship with Eunice Head Coach Jeff Willis.
“[LSU-Eunice] is about 40 minutes from Lafayette, so I’ve watched them play since 2003,” Szefc said. “Whenever we need a guy, I’ll start there and if [Willis] doesn’t have one, he’ll tell me where one is. He’s just a good reference, he knows everything about the Deep South.”
Like his teammates, Watson credits the coaching staff for picking players they know will fit the system Maryland likes to play. He says a “blue-collar” mentality is part of Maryland’s identity and the transfers that come in all have that mindset. Speaking with Szefc and his staff played a key role in convincing the outfielder that Maryland was the place he wanted to play.
“Once I built that relationship with the coaching staff and knew their philosophy, I knew it really fit my skill set and what I can do on the field,” said Watson, who has started 36 games this year and gone a perfect 12-for-12 on stolen base attempts.
Nickens hosted his former Bengals teammate on the latter’s visit to College Park, and Watson called his teammate his “inside man” at Maryland when he was making his decision. The pair ate lunch with the coaches at Looney’s Pub on Baltimore Avenue and later had dinner at Blackwall Hitch in Annapolis, where Watson tried Maryland crab for the first time. He felt the final decision to play at Maryland was an easy one.
“Once I built those relationships with [Associate Head Coach Rob] Vaughn and Coach Szefc and with all the previous success, with going to the Super Regional [in 2015], it was really a no-brainer for me,” Watson said.
Unlike his fellow transfers, Gum took a different route to College Park. Instead of transferring from a junior college, he came to Maryland as a graduate transfer after four years at nearby George Mason. Despite being in the final stages of recovery from shoulder surgery when the season began, Gum has emerged as one of the most reliable bats in Maryland’s order while learning to play first base. Through 34 games, the infielder is hitting .315 with three home runs and a team-high 24 walks and .458 on-base percentage.
The Virginia native said Szefc didn’t have to do much to convince him College Park was the best place for him because Maryland had been his “number one choice” going into the process. Once he made the decision to continue his career with the Terps, he was able to tell his mom that he would be playing in her home state.
“She was really happy because she’s from Maryland and I always made jokes about the Maryland flag and how they’re obsessed with it,” Gum said of his mother, Betty. “Now she loves that I have to wear it on everything.”
The team’s most senior member said it hasn’t been difficult to fit in with his new teammates. At least one of them has trouble remembering a time when he wasn’t a Terp.
“I feel like it was a quick transition once I was able to get back on the field after recovering from surgery,” Gum said. “I was hitting with [Zach] Jancarski one day and he made some comment about two years ago and I was like, ‘Man, I wasn’t here.’ He was like, ‘Dude I keep forgetting, I feel like you’ve been here all three years I’ve been here.’”
Watson, too, has not had any trouble meshing with the rest of the team. He hinted at another reason transfers are able to have so much success immediately: the rest of the team is full of accepting players who are able make newcomers feel comfortable as soon as they arrive.
“The chemistry is really good, I mean we’re all best friends,” Watson said. “We all live in the same apartments, we’re all best friends with each other, joking around and doing a bunch of fun stuff.”
The team has had fun on the field, as well, racking up 28 wins, including seven straight victories. Much of that success comes from the players who have found a new home in College Park.
Coming off a weekend sweep of Penn State, the Maryland Terrapins (28-11, 12-3 Big Ten) defeated William & Mary on Wednesday for the second time this season, and then came back home for another sweep; this time beating Michigan State.
The Terps have now won seven consecutive game and have catapulted themselves back into the rankings in most major polls. Maryland is also now first in the Big Ten and boasts an impressive 18-1 record at home this season.
Maryland will have to do a lot of traveling this week as they try to continue their recent success. They will travel to Harrisonburg, Virginia to take on James Madison on Tuesday, and then head out Bloomington, Indiana to take on the Indiana Hoosiers for a three-game set.
James Madison (18-21, 3-12 Colonial) also faced William & Mary last week, but fared considerably worse than Maryland. The Dukes got swept, extending their losing streak to seven games coming into the game against Maryland.
Indiana (21-16-2, 8-6-1 Big Ten) is coming off a big weekend where they took two of three in Ann Arbor from a ranked Michigan team. The Hoosiers fell to Butler earlier in the week though, so they came out with an even 2-2 record.
Rankings Breakdown (click links for full rankings):