Maryland baseball’s chances of making the Big Ten Tournament looked slim less than a month ago after it was swept at home by Purdue. The weekend dropped the Terps’ conference record to 3-8 with three of the last four series slated for the road.
The team then won two of three in East Lansing against Michigan State — a series that might determine the final seed in the tournament — before losing two of three against Nebraska. Maryland’s record still sat at 6-11 and outside the tournament.
The probability of the postseason still looked minimal heading into last weekend against Rutgers, likely needing a sweep — something the Terps hadn’t accomplished all season — to keep their hopes alive. But then, with potentially six games left in their Maryland careers, the seniors led a charge that now has Maryland in a position to control its own destiny heading into the regular season finale on the road against Indiana.
Maryland’s four starting seniors — Kevin Biondic, Will Watson, Zach Jancarski and Justin Morris — finished their final series at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium a combined 19-for-43 (.442) with 14 runs scored and 17 RBIs to lead the Terps to their first sweep of the season. The results moved Maryland from 11th place in the Big Ten to eighth, which would earn them a trip the tournament.
“We’re playing with that chip on our shoulder right now,” Morris said on Sunday. “I mean, our careers can be over after any day now so we’re all just trying to take advantage of these last few games and just leave it all out there on the line.”
The Maryland native started all three games at first base against Rutgers, relinquishing his primary role behind the plate to provide assistance as Biondic nursed a bruised foot. In addition to his 4-for-10 weekend at the plate, Morris’ defense was strong despite playing the position on just one other occasion this season.
“He did an unbelievable job out there, just unbelievable. What that is, is just big-time unselfishness from that young man. Big time,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “He’s been our catcher here for the last couple of years but our team needed him to play first base and that dude stepped up and did his thing both offensively and at first base [last] weekend.”
While Morris’ defensive boost was a pleasant surprise, Jancarski’s performance in center field was nothing out of the ordinary. His full-extension grab in the ninth inning Friday night potentially saved the game with the tying-runner at the plate. A day later, with his team much more comfortably up 15 runs, he dove backward and crashed into the wall to corral a fly ball.
Jancarski — who also went 5-for-10 at the plate in the series — has played in 183 games in his Maryland career, including starts in every game of the last two seasons. Putting his body on the line while up 15 runs in the last inning of his last weekend series in College Park shows what kind of seniors Vaughn has playing for him.
Biondic, despite not pitching, didn’t let his minor injury keep him from the batting order for the finale home series of his career. He assumed the designated hitter role for all three games, going 3-for-10 with two RBIs. The typical first baseman’s time in College Park began with playing 42 games in the Terps’ run to the NCAA Super Regionals in 2015, including all 10 starts in Maryland’s postseason games during his freshman year.
He started just 16 times two years later as a junior when Brandon Gum replaced him as a redshirt senior. Biondic’s adaptability has exemplified senior leadership, working hard to earn 50 more games this season with 23.1 innings on the mound as a first-year pitcher.
However, Maryland’s offensive surge began with the senior that has spent the least amount of time in College Park. Will Watson, who transferred from LSU-Eunice after his sophomore year, went 7-for-13 with 10 RBIs against Rutgers in three games. He hit two home runs with seven RBIs in the third inning alone on Saturday, helping earn national recognition and the Big Ten Player of the Week.
“Not one of us wants to be done playing so we want to extend the season as long as we can and we know what’s at stake,” Watson said Saturday. “We know that every inning, every pitch is important so we just kind of try to relay that message to the whole team.”
Will Watson of @TerpsBaseball is the #B1GBaseball Player of the Week after recording four multi-hit games, tallying 12 RBI on nine hits and scoring six runs to help the Terrapins go 4-0 last week pic.twitter.com/8EoK8Gm6Aj
— Big Ten Baseball (@B1Gbaseball) May 14, 2018
Despite a below-.500 season the Terps didn’t anticipate, they have a chance to extend their season in Bloomington. It’s simple: win all three games and they’re in the tournament. Anything other than that will require some help from around the conference.
The Terps are playing inspired baseball right now, going 6-3 in their last three conference series. That success, orchestrated largely by their seniors and starting pitching, has earned all one can ask for going into the final three games of the regular season: the right to control one’s own destiny.
“We could’ve made out lives much easier if we were getting after it, doing some of this earlier in the year,” Vaughn said. “But at the end of the day, if we can find a way to get to the tournament, who knows? I think when people are playing fearless and people are playing like there’s no tomorrow, then they become really, really dangerous.”