by John Vittas
Maryland took two of three from the Buckeyes on their home field this weekend. The result was essential in helping the Terps’ chances of making the NCAA Tournament. Here are this weekend’s takeaways:
1. The bats are back.
The Maryland bats broke out this weekend and then some. The numbers do the offensive onslaught justice:
– 39 runs on 50 hits in 3 games
– Outscored the Buckeyes 22-4 during innings 7-9
– batted .457 with RISP and .480 with 2 outs on the weekend, yielding 20 two-out RBIs
– Eight of Maryland’s nine starters had at least 4 hits, seven of them had at least 5
– Brandon Lowe drove in eight runs on seven hits, Jose Cuas hit two home runs and Tim Lewis batted .500
“It’s not like we’re facing bad arms, Ohio State has good arms,” head coach John Szefc said. “We feel like we scored a lot of runs off their best guys. We were a single away from sweeping this damn series. Our offense was tremendous this weekend.”
The Columbus hitting barrage came days after Maryland was completely stifled by an unranked Indiana team on their home field.
“The Indiana series really woke us up,” Lowe added. “It made us realize that nothing is a lock.”
The contributions from the entire lineup is a new phenomenon, because for most of the season, Maryland had gotten next to nothing from the bottom part of the batting order. It’s an extremely encouraging sign.
“At this stage of the season, these guys trust each other that the next guy is able to have a good at bat,” Szefc said.
“From one to nine, everyone is contributing, everyone is doing their job,” third baseman Jose Cuas said. “As coach has been saying, just pass it on and keep the line going. It’s by far one of the best series we’ve had as a team.”
2. The Terps have a plan, and it has nothing to do with wins and losses.
When the players re-convened last Tuesday after getting a day off to digest the sweep at the hands of the Hoosiers, the coaching staff laid out a two-week plan. It was a blueprint of how to reach the NCAA Tournament, but it made no mention of win-loss record, bubble teams or RPI.
“He spoke about pitchers attacking hitters and vise versa,” Cuas said. “It was nothing about wins and losses, it was all about competing, working hard and letting the game take care of itself.”
“They said to put everything behind us and focus on the next two weeks,” said Lowe. “It was just about playing great baseball over these two weeks and things are going to work out for us.”
“I want these guys to know exactly where we are,” John Szefc said. “We have a lot of experienced guys. It shouldn’t be pressure to them. If that’s pressure, then we’re not going to win anyway. As a person, I always wanted to know where we’re at. And so I let them know where they’re at. As hitters, we need to not take fastballs for strikes. As pitchers, we need to attack the zone more. And the third part was that our attitudes need to be real positive.”
So far, the plan is right on schedule.
3. Maryland’s chances of making the Tournament are much better.
Maryland entered the weekend outside of the top 50 in RPI, but got themselves into the 30s by taking two of three this weekend against a top 25 RPI team in Ohio State. The Terps are now tied for third in the standings and get to face Northwestern this weekend, the team with the worst overall record in the Big Ten. That should give Maryland a good shot at the three seed in what could be a five bid league.
The Ohio State series was Maryland’s last chance to make a positive impression on the committee before the Big Ten Tournament. If they had dropped the series, we would be talking about resumes, rankings and strength of schedule – trying to come up with reasons the Terps were a worthy bubble team. But instead, Maryland has their destiny well within their own control.
“The resume is there, the RPI is a little concern,” B1Gbaseball.com writer Chris Webb said on MBN’s broadcast Sunday. “That’s a reflection of the strength of schedule. But if you look at the whole picture as far as the body of work for the whole season, [Maryland] is a regional team.”
“This is huge for us,” Cuas said. “I think this game might have put us in a good spot for a regional.”
By my amateur analysis, I see 40 wins as the key to the postseason castle. Maryland is currently 35-17 with four regular season games left, plus the double-elimination Big Ten Tournament. While 38 or 39 wins should be enough to get them in, 40 would make them an absolute lock, and a likely two-seed.
Tournament talk aside, Maryland made a major statement this weekend, whether Coach Szefc is willing to admit it or not.
“I don’t know about messages,” Szefc said. “I would like to think that hopefully we established some kind of a tough, winning reputation last year and hopefully we backed that up this weekend. I like where we are. The bottom line is that we control what happens to us. We really do. We just have to keep that in mind and keep doing what we’re doing.”