Despite missing the 2016 NCAA Tournament after two straight trips to the Super Regionals, Maryland head coach John Szefc built a foundation for success that has already culminated into something tangible.
Last season, Szefc led a Maryland squad that included 14 freshmen, and regularly saw six or more underclassmen in the starting lineup. The youth made expectations for a third straight Super Regional appearance lofty, but not out of the realm of possibility.
However, the Terps finished the season at 30-27, clinching a spot in the Big Ten Tournament on the final day of the season and eventually reaching the Big Ten Tournament semifinal. But, the 27 losses, including key falters against lower-tier midweek opponents, proved to be too big to overcome to get off the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.
“I think that was a fair reason for all the ups and downs we had,” Szefc said at Maryland’s spring media availability Monday.
A year later, and those 14 freshmen are now sophomores, including 2016 Freshman All-Americans second baseman Nick Dunn, and outfielder Marty Costes.
Additionally, 2016 contributors and sophomores shortstop Kevin Smith, first baseman Kevin Biondic, catcher Justin Morris, outfielder Zach Jancarski, and starting pitchers Brian Shaffer and Taylor Bloom are now upperclassmen leaders.
“We have a lot more experienced guys,” Smith said. “We have a lot of guys that can be leaders when they want to and police ourselves that way.”
College baseball analysts are bullish on the Terps coming into this season, putting the Terps in the top-25 in three different preseason polls, thanks to that new mix of youth and experience.
Smith has received the most offseason recognition of anyone on the Maryland roster. The shortstop was named a First-Team Preseason All-American by Baseball America and Perfect Game, and a Third-Team Preseason All-American by D1Baseball.com, all on the heels of being ranked the No. 11 draft prospect by D1Baseball, earning Cape Cod Baseball League LCS MVP honors with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, and being named the Summer Breakout Prospect by D1Baseball.com.
Add what Szefc calls “one of the deeper pitching staffs” the program has seen, and it’s a roster that could lead the Terps back to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s one of the deeper pitching staffs we’ve had,” Szefc said. “That’s kind of a weird thing to day having lost [Mike] Shawaryn, who is the most successful pitcher in program history but being able to bring back two pitchers that had more starts that walks last year [Taylor Bloom, Brian Shaffer] is a rare thing in college baseball. Hunter Parsons was the pitcher of the year in the Cal Ripken League this summer and the freshman left-hander we have— Tyler Blohm—he’s progressed at a faster rate than almost any other guy I’ve been around.”
As a senior at nearby Archbishop Spalding, Blohm boasted a 0.74 ERA, and flourished in the Cal Ripken League this summer to the tune of 26 strikeouts in 26 innings his first time facing collegiate competition.
The bullpen also returns key pieces as RHP Mike Rescigno, a San Fransisco Giants-draftee in the 2016 MLB Draft, returns to Maryland as Perfect Game’s No. 1 senior prospect after a head-turning summer campaign with the Baltimore Redbirds in the Cal Ripken League. He joins RHP Ryan Selmer, who, like Smith and Dunn, is coming off a strong summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
“If you want to have a successful year, you have to like what you have on paper before you actually go out there and play the games,” Szefc said. “I can tell you…it is one of the better teams since I’ve been here on paper.”
The start of Maryland’s season is just days away, with the Terps traveling to Clearwater, Fl. for the Clearwater Tournament. Every game this season can be heard live on the Maryland Baseball Network.
Listen to the full media day interview:
[Contributions by Jake Eisenberg]