By Ben Harris
“Throughout the course of a successful baseball season,” said head coach John Szefc Sunday, “most teams look back at a day or two and say ‘I think at that point, we grew up and turned a corner. We became something on that day.’ ”
For Maryland, that day was Friday.
After Taylor Bloom tossed a three-hit complete game shutout in the first game of a doubleheader, the Terps were held hit-less for 9.1 innings.
But, through grit and grind, the Terps battled back. Pushing across the tying run in the ninth to extend the game – still without the benefit of a hit – Maryland sealed the deal in the tenth to clinch a series win over the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes.
“We’ve been waiting for a day like this for a long time,” said Szefc.
On Sunday, after another slow offensive start, Szefc’s club battled back in the ninth, erasing a two-run deficit to sweep Ohio State, again winning in walk-off fashion 5-4.
Just as freshmen Zach Jancarski and Dan Maynard played integral parts in Maryland’s walk-off wins this weekend, Kevin Smith – as a freshman – sparked last season’s lone walk-off win and series sweep over No. 18 Nebraska.
“We were talking about it Friday and how that walk-off was probably the turn of our season,” Smith said of Friday’s win. “Last year we had a similar thing here with Nebraska on a Sunday, so we’re really going to try to ride this out and try to get a lot more momentum going into the Big Ten.”
In that game, Smith homered to tie the game in the seventh and scored the game-winning run on an infield error in the ninth. Friday, Maryland tied Ohio State in the ninth on an error from the opposing third baseman.
“The last couple of games where we were able to come from behind and get a win is going to be really big for us down the road,” said senior outfielder Anthony Papio, whose two-run single tied Sunday’s game at four in the ninth. “I think we’ve matured a little bit now and now we’re confident we’re on a bit of a winning streak that we’re going to keep this going.”
Entering this season, just three players on the roster had experienced a season at Maryland that did not end in an NCAA Super Regional appearance. And for a young team – 24 underclassmen, and just 10 juniors and seniors – this season’s early struggles exemplified inconsistent, inexperienced play. For young players with little losing experience, a .500 win percentage halfway through the 2016 season could have strangled their mental make-up.
However, at 15-15, Maryland did not lie down when the 19-8-1 Buckeyes strolled into College Park for the first time in 75 years.
“[Kevin] Biondic was down to his last strike [Friday] and he just figured out a way,” Szefc said. “Successful teams can do that. We’ve been very up and down, I’m not saying we’ve had a great year so far because we haven’t, but hopefully we kind of turned the corner on a day like today.”
The Terps now hold a winning record both overall (18-15) and in the conference (4-2) for the first time this season. With the corner seemingly turned, Maryland will ride their season-best four-game winning streak into the meat of Big Ten play.
“I think we’re a lot more mentally strong than maybe we were…it’s a matter of toughness,” said Szefc.