Maryland baseball trailed 12-6 midway through the season-opening series finale against Tennessee. The Terps had already clinched the series victory, but the opportunity for a sweep quickly evaporated once the Volunteers scored 10 runs in the first two innings.
But the best moment of Maryland’s 2018 season occurred during this game, one that ended with its first loss of the year. For three outs, the Terps hung over the dugout railing with little concern for the six-run deficit they faced.
Because for the 12 pitches Tennessee’s hitters saw in the bottom of the sixth, all that mattered was the pitcher standing on the mound — a leukemia survivor named Billy Phillips who’d overcome a struggle much more deadly than the middle of Tennessee’s lineup.
Phillips was diagnosed with leukemia in 2015, sidelining him from the game several weeks before his senior season of high school. He sat out two seasons at Maryland and eventually won that battle, regaining enough strength to throw his first bullpen session in the fall of 2017.
Several months later, he found himself thrown into an actual game against an SEC opponent. When Phillips finally made the jog from the bullpen to the mound for the first time donning the Maryland uniform, shortstop AJ Lee met the reliever for a hug. The two embraced, and then Volunteers catcher Benito Santiago stepped into the batter’s box.
Santiago fouled off Phillips’ first pitch, then swung through a breaking ball to fall behind in the count. Phillips pounded his glove after his next pitch, when home plate umpire Travis Rose rung Santiago up on strikes.
In three pitches, Phillips had struck out his first-career batter. He allowed a one-out single but induced an inning-ending double play to complete his first inning of the season without much trouble.
The Terps greeted Phillips on his way back to the dugout, each congratulating him on an inspiring effort that would’ve been special regardless of the result. After all, Phillips was several years removed from pitching and hadn’t even had an entire offseason to regain his full strength or prepare for what college competition would hold.
Despite that, Phillips faced the minimum in his only inning of work.
Phillips went on to pitch 20 innings in 13 appearances during his redshirt freshman season in 2018, finishing with an 8.55 ERA. But even during outings that didn’t go as smoothly as the one against Tennessee, he made sure to remind media members that he was simply grateful to be able to play baseball again.
Maryland’s season had many special accomplishments in 2018 — a walk-off against Towson, a 17-run outburst against Rutgers, a two-hit complete game shutout against Stetson. But no moment was more special than the one with Billy Phillips standing on the mound with a baseball in his hand and a smile on his face.