Whenever redshirt-freshman Sean Burke takes the mound, Maryland first baseman Maxwell Costes knows the Terps are going to win. And, in fact, Maryland has won all but one of Burke’s four starts so far this season.
“Burke is a baller,” Costes said after the Terps’ 13-3 sweep-clinching win over Bryant Sunday. “Even last week against Coastal Carolina, even though we lost on Sunday, I was like, ‘We about to get us one today.’ Like, whenever he steps on the mound…the whole vibe of the team feels different.”
After missing last season while recovering from injury, Burke has proven to be the most dominant arm of Maryland’s pitching staff. With a team-best 1.99 ERA and 35 strikeouts–the most strikeouts by a freshman pitcher in Division I baseball, and the fourth-most strikeouts overall in the Big Ten–Burke’s composure on the mound has shone through even when Maryland’s offense is struggling.
Against Coastal Carolina, Burke tossed six innings and set Maryland up for a potential comeback, allowing only two runs on three hits and three walks. Behind Burke, the Terps had a chance to prevent a sweep, after the Chanticleers defeated Maryland 16-0 and 10-3 on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Though Coastal Carolina ultimately defeated Maryland 3-2, Burke’s performance has time and again proven that he has what it takes to dominate Division I hitters.
In his four starts Burke has lasted a minimum of five innings per start and struck out a minimum of eight batters. Against Bryant on Sunday, Burke matched his longest start of the season–his six innings against Coastal Carolina–while striking out a season-high 11 batters and allowing a season-low two walks.
“His composure throughout the game was incredibly impressive,” head coach Rob Vaughn said of Burke’s start on Sunday. “We were dropping fly balls behind him, causing him to throw extra pitches, and they were taking some decent swings, and he didn’t flinch.”
A perfect example of Burke’s composure is his first inning against Bryant. The Bulldogs put their first three batters on base, after a missed fly ball that was later ruled an error, a single, and a double that scored Bryant’s first run of the game. With that, Burke and the Terps were behind 1-0 with no outs and runners on the corners.
But after a quick mound visit from pitching coach Corey Muscara, Burke struck out three consecutive batters to strand those two baserunners, including a three-pitch strikeout to end the half.
“[Muscara] said that if I could just limit [Bryant] to one more run and get us out [and into the dugout, it’s like 2-0, then out lineup’s going to hit,” Burke said regarding Muscara’s mound visit. “Fortunately I was able to strike out the side there, and then our team’s bats just took care of the rest.”
Coincidentally, it was a start against Bryant two years ago that turned around former Maryland pitcher Hunter Parsons’ junior season and in part resulted in his development into the Terps’ ace.
While Parsons and Burke are different when it comes to the pitches they toss–Parsons tossed a two-seam cutter more and Burke throws a four-seam curveball–their mindset on the mound is similar, according to catcher Justin Vought.
“[Burke has] arguably the best stuff on the team,” Vought said. “To have him on Sunday’s, or out there against anybody that we play, we’re extremely confident going out there on Sunday’s with him on the mound. I think you’re going to put him with any Sunday starter in the country and you’re going to give yourself a chance to win, so that’s huge for us.”
A big part of Burke’s success, aside from his obvious pitching ability, is that mentality on the mound. It seems that Burke subscribes to Vaughn’s motto that “everything matters, nothing is special,” meaning that players shouldn’t put their play in-game on a pedestal, because it’s just as important as practice.
“In the past, and kind of in this preseason, when I struggled a little bit I was trying to do too much and trying to make things way bigger than they were,” Burke said. “Now just having a real simple pinch plan and making adjustments along the way…just overall being real simple and keeping everything to one pitch.”
Heading into the remainder of the season, Burke’s Sunday starts could play a major role in deciding whether or not the Terps make the Big Ten Tournament for the second year in a row. But at his current pace, Burke’s performance should be the last thing Maryland worries about.
“When you’ve got a guy like him who, he’s going to hopefully give up [fewer] than three, four runs, give your offense a chance to come through late in the game…that’s huge,” said Vought. “That’s all you want.”