By: Matt Present
Down big in the late innings against Iowa, Head Coach John Szefc wanted to make sure every player on his roster got to experience Omaha. Not only did he want them to play in the final game of the season, but he wanted them to get a taste of the moment, because soon enough that moment will be theirs.
For many of the younger players their time had already come. The entire infield for the Terps this season was made up of underclassmen. In fact the only upperclassmen that were penciled into Szefc’s lineup this season were redshirt senior Anthony Papio, and juniors Nick Cieri and Madison Nickens.
Of the eight pitchers who toed the slab in the Terps final game, seven were underclassmen, with redshirt senior Rob Galligan representing the lone exception.
With eight players departing to the MLB draft last season, and a couple other mainstays graduating, for the Terps to make it back to the NCAA tournament the younger players were going to have to shoulder the load.
The operative word for the season was ‘inconsistent.’ The weekend rotation often dominated but there were times that the bullpen failed to match their efforts. There were games where the bats came alive and put up double digits in runs, and other games where solid contact was few and far between. While the Terps reached 30 wins for the fifth consecutive season, their results too lacked consistency. The Terps rattled off good wins against Alabama, Tennessee, Southesastern Louisiana, Cal State Fullerton, and a swept VCU. However each one of those quality wins could be countered with a bad loss, at the hands of Delaware (twice), Liberty, George Washington, and Rutgers (twice).
But 2017 means an extra year for so many young contributes to grow, a chance for an inexperienced team to morph into a veteran squad, and for inconsistent to turn into dominant.
The weekend rotation of Brian Shaffer, Taylor Bloom, and Hunter Parsons projects to be the best in the Big Ten. Shaffer and Bloom combined to toss eight complete games this season, both posted sub-3.00 ERAs, and both started more games than the number of walks they allowed. Meanwhile, Parsons showed a lot of promise as a freshmen. He earned Big Ten freshman of the week, after his seven innings of one run ball against James Madison on April 6. He followed it up with a spot start win against Purdue, where he allowed two earned runs in six innings, and a tough luck loss to West Virginia where he allowed one earned run in six innings of work.
On the offensive side of the ball this season two other freshmen led the charge, in Marty Costes and Nick Dunn.
Costes quickly established himself as the Terps everyday left fielder, despite playing only infield at Archbishop Curley, as a three sport athlete. He led the team with nine home runs, including moon shots at East Carolina and Cal State Fullerton, and his 37 RBI also led the team. Dunn started all 57 games at second base this season, and did a nice job to fill the large shoes of Brandon Lowe. Dunn led the team with a .296 batting average and 16 doubles. He also added 31 RBI, good for second on the squad.
While there are still roles to be filled in the bullpen and weekday rotation, the continuity that will exist in the starting lineup next season will provide much needed stability. Coupled with the weekend rotation, the Terps can once again set their sights on the 40 win mark that they achieved in 2014 and 2015.
Eclipsing that 40 win plateau would mean a return to the NCAA tournament. It could also mean that those players who were brought in at the end of the Big Ten Tournament just to ‘get some experience,’ are once again toeing the slab at TD Ameritrade Park, this time playing under the lights, in the College World Series.