As head coach Rob Vaughn watched backup catcher Sebastian Holte-Mancera’s success at the plate last weekend against Louisiana, he pondered how to regularly feature the hot-hitting junior college transfer in the lineup.
There was no simple answer, despite the junior’s 5-for-11 start to his Maryland career.
The Terps had an everyday catcher in sophomore Justin Vought. Three superior defensive outfielders filled Holte-Mancera’s secondary positions. Freshman Maxwell Costes had been the designated hitter in every game, and his .300 batting average and team-leading eight RBIs were too productive to withdraw from the lineup.
But a midweek matchup against a winless Delaware team let Maryland experiment to include its hottest hitter in the lineup. Costes played first base for the first time since middle school, allowing Holte-Mancera to assume the DH role and produce his third-multi hit performance in five appearances.
“I feel pretty comfortable because I’ve been prepping myself before the game very well,” Holte-Mancera said. “Doing mobility and a lot of stuff, allowing myself to be ready to succeed whenever I come in.”
Before Tuesday, Holte-Mancera had only played in unexpected situations. But now with the lefty batting .538 in 13 at-bats this season, the Terps could increase his workload by keeping Costes in the infield.
The Minnesota native started twice at catcher during the opening weekend, but only because Vought entered concussion protocol after the season-opener and missed the rest of the series. Holte-Mancera filled the offensive void, however, going 3-for-7 in Vought’s brief absence.
He didn’t play again for more than two weeks, as Vought quickly recovered in time for the next series. But Holte-Mancera didn’t think much of his lack of action, and continued to work hard at practice while patiently waiting for another chance.
“He works hard, man,” Vought said. “He’s out here every day grinding.”
When the Terps played 14 innings in the first half of a doubleheader against Louisiana, Vaughn turned to Holte-Mancera so Vought didn’t have to catch 23 innings in one day.
And again, Holte-Mancera made the most of a golden opportunity, recording his second consecutive multi-hit game and forcing the coaching staff to consider an option to get him in the lineup consistently.
“We tell guys all the time if you want to get in the lineup, do something to change,” Vaughn said. “If you’re not in the lineup right now, do something to change it. Give us a reason to do it.”
Five hits in three games was all the justification Vaughn needed when he took a defensive chance to keep Holte-Mancera in the lineup. And it paid off.
After only scoring eight runs in three games against Louisiana, Maryland produced a season-high 11 runs and 13 hits against Delaware with Holte-Mancera and Costes both in the lineup.
In the sixth inning, Holte-Mancera mashed his first-career Terrapin homer. Two innings later, Costes muscled a line drive over the left-field wall for his first collegiate blast — the final touch on an 11-6 victory.
Defensively, Costes successfully fielded the only two balls hit his way and didn’t commit an error in the nine other putouts he was a part of. For Holte-Mancera’s sake, Costes didn’t do anything that would warrant quickly ditching the thought of a second trial run at first base.
“It’s just nice to know we have an option if we need another left-handed bat in the order,” Vaughn said. “We can throw Maxwell over there and he can hold his own.”
With first basemen Michael Pineiro and Kody Milton still adjusting early in the season — both hitting below .200 — the Costes option at first gives Vaughn and the coaching staff an enjoyable sense of flexibility.
Even though it’s uncertain whether the same lineup will be used when Maryland battles 2018 NCAA Super Regional participant Stetson this weekend, the Terps don’t seem to care which combination of players take the field.
“Everybody’s going to do their role. Everybody’s going to contribute,” Vought said. “No matter who’s in the lineup for us, we’re confident with the guys we roll out there.”