By Dan Servodidio
When Jim Belanger visited the mound at Carolina Stadium last May, he knew his freshman pitcher was in the midst of the toughest test of his young career. Maryland led South Carolina, 4-3, in the sixth inning of their opening NCAA Tournament game, and Mike Shawaryn found himself in a jam, having already allowed two runs in the frame, before his pitching coach paid him a visit.
“It was a 2-0 count and that place was as loud as I’d ever heard it,” Belanger recalls of the summer night in Columbia, S.C. “When I got back to the dugout, I was standing next to Coach [Rob] Vaughn and he looked at me and says, ‘We’re going to see how tough Mike is right here.’”
Shawaryn’s coaches got their answer on the next pitch, a fastball right down the middle that set the tone for the rest of the at-bat – and kept the Terps in the lead for an eventual win. The victory not only snapped South Carolina’s 28-game, 12-year home winning streak in NCAA play, but it was also Maryland’s first win in the tournament for since 1971.
Although Shawaryn’s outing ended after he allowed three runs over 6 1/3 innings and 111 pitches, his effort against the Gamecocks’ last season was one of many in his career that exemplify the righthander’s winning mentality.
You could cut-and-paste different scenarios around Shawaryn – the constant variable in a recurring, winning equation – and the end result always holds.
There’s the four New Jersey state titles he won in high school, two of which he anchored as Gloucester Catholic High’s ace…
Or the three no-hitters he tossed during his senior year for the G.C. Rams, when he went 8-2 with a 0.63 ERA and 81 strikeouts…
How about the American Legion World Series title he captured as the best pitcher for Brooklawn Post 72, just months before coming to College Park, Md…
Then there’s the school-record 11 wins he compiled as a freshman for Maryland last season, including victories over a variety of ranked opponents like Florida, North Carolina State and Florida State twice.
“They’re all great, I remember each one individually,” Shawaryn said of last season’s wins. “It kind of helps me to go out there and kind of have a little more confidence that I’ve been able to do this in the past so I can do it now too.”
It seems everywhere the Carneys Point, N.J. native goes, he finds a way to come out on top. But don’t think his teammates and coaches are caught off guard by Shawaryn’s performance.
“The guy’s just pitched big games all the time and all he’s done is win,” Belanger said. “When you’re around him every day, it doesn’t surprise you at all.”
“Everybody expects a young guy to stumble here and there, but the way he carries himself and the way he prepares, there’s no surprise to me,” said Terps’ catcher and designated hitter Nick Cieri, who won the American Legion title alongside Shawaryn with Brooklawn. “For us, we already knew what we had, but for the rest of the country it might’ve been a little bit different.”
It’s safe to say, the rest of the country knows about Maryland’s sophomore star by know if they didn’t already. This season, Shawaryn is off to better start than his impressive freshman campaign a year ago.
He’s undefeated through nine starts with a 1.89 ERA, .193 opponent’s batting average and a Big Ten-leading 69 strikeouts. His eight wins, which also lead the conference, have him on pace to break his 11-win, program-record season.
What’s his formula?
“Attacking hitters,” Shawaryn said after a recent 130-pitch, eight-inning, nine-strikeout performance in a win against Iowa. “You’re going to have a lot more success when you’re 0-1, 0-2 in the count and you’re ahead of hitters constantly and attacking them.”
The sophomore credits his approach to big games to a lesson he learned from his coaches at Gloucester Catholic and Brooklawn.
“Our high school coach Dennis Barth, and later in the year it was Mike Rucci, they always harp on, ‘We’ll play anybody, anywhere and we’ll play the best talented teams and we’re going to try and go out there and beat them,'” Shawaryn said. “I kind of took that mentality to last year and this year.”
“His work ethic has really translated the most,” said Cieri, who worked with his freshman-year roommate every Monday last season to fine tune Shawaryn’s mechanics. “His stuff was always there but he’s always been willing to put in that extra work.”
Shawaryn’s success is no secret to Belanger, though, who says he scouted the 6-foot-3, 211-pound pitcher when he coached at Monmouth University, just 1.5 hours north of Gloucester Catholic.
“I’ve been watching Mike pitch since he was a freshman in high school and he’s just been the same dude all the time,” Belanger said. “From his personality, his mental makeup, you just knew he was going to come in and be a star right away.”
Belanger and Cieri experienced the phenomenon that is Mike Shawaryn before he set records in a Terrapin uniform. Come out to Shipley Field on a Friday night and more often than not, you’ll see a tall, spectacled figure on the mound dominating opposing hitters en route to a victory.