Freshman DiLuia transitioning to college life, ready to help Terps win

Last November, Maryland Baseball Network’s Dylan Sinn profiled Mark DiLuia, who had just signed to pitch for the Terrapins. A year later, Sinn sat down with DiLuia as the freshman prepares for his first season of college baseball. 

Mark DiLuia is late. The freshman and I had planned to meet so we could talk about his transition from being one of the best high school pitchers in Illinois last year to one of 10 members of Maryland baseball’s 2017 recruiting class.

Before our scheduled meeting time, DiLuia (pronounced De-LU-ya) lets me know, while apologizing earnestly, that the team’s practice longer than expected, so he won’t be able to make it on time. When he arrives later, he extends a giant hand, grasps mine firmly, and apologizes again. I assure him it’s not a problem. He never mentions that it is birthday.

“He’s kind of got that, I hate to use this comparison, but that Derek Jeter quality of, you just kind of look at the guy and are like, ‘Man, that kid’s a winner,’” Corey Muscara, Maryland’s pitching coach, said of DiLuia. “The way he stands, the way he carries himself, the way he talks, the way he listens, how he learns. He’s just very mature beyond his years. More than the stuff and the body that’s what’s impressed me the most [about him].”

To be clear, DiLuia’s “stuff” is impressive, as well. He has a fastball, change-up and slider in his repertoire, all three of which he can throw for strikes. The lanky 6-foot-3 right-hander’s fastball has touched 90 mph in fall workouts, which led Prep Baseball Report to rank him the No. 11 high school player in Illinois just before his senior season at Marian Catholic High School.

During that senior season, DiLuia planned to work on the command of his pitches, a goal he says he accomplished.

Terps freshman Mark DiLuia, pictured here in high school, was ranked as one of the top prep pitchers in Illinois. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers in June, but declined, opting to come to Maryland. Photo courtesy of Mark DiLuia

“All around I felt I was a complete better pitcher [compared to my junior year],” DiLuia said. “I could throw any pitch I wanted in any count and I just felt all around like more of a pitcher than my junior year, when I was more of a thrower.”

The improvements paid off as the Homewood, Illinois native went 7-1 with a 1.68 ERA and Marian Catholic reached the 3A state championship game. DiLuia pitched his team to the title game with a complete-game 4-3 victory over the 30-9 Champaign Central in the semifinal.

His performance as a senior was good enough that the Texas Rangers selected him in the 38th round of the 2017 MLB Draft. DiLuia had signed to attend Maryland in November 2016 and he decided to go to college instead of entering the professional ranks. He arrived in College Park in August after a turbulent summer for the Maryland baseball program.

In mid-June, then-Head Coach John Szefc left Maryland to take the same position at Virginia Tech, and took Pitching Coach Ryan Fecteau with him. Fecteau was one of the coaches who had recruited DiLuia to the Terps, and his departure left the incoming pitcher feeling a little uneasy about the change.

“It was definitely a little nervous at one point because I was like, ‘Man if [then-assistant coach Rob] Vaughn’s not coming back, then I won’t know anyone on the coaching staff,’” said DiLuia, who got the news of the coaching change the same day he had beaten Champaign Central.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Mark DiLuia. Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

The uneasiness was allayed somewhat when DiLuia found out Vaughn would step into Szefc’s role as the head coach, and assuaged even more after he talked to Muscara, Fecteau’s replacement, in early July.

“Definitely was a sigh of relief when I found out Coach Vaughn would be back here,” he said. “After I talked to Coach Muscara on the phone for the first time, I was pretty excited to get the ball rolling. He seemed like he was pretty amped up and he seemed like he knows what he’s doing.”

Once he saw his new protégé pitch, Muscara was excited too.

“I think the thing that impresses me the most is his tempo and timing,” the former St. John’s coach said. “The other day at practice he was 86-90 [mph] and he hadn’t thrown all summer, so we’re still building him up, and it’s easy. So when you see a kid who’s throwing the ball that easy and can command the ball, you know there’s a lot more in the tank. He’s going to be a kid that throws consistently in the low 90’s, he might even touch the mid-90’s while he’s here.”

Muscara’s comments are somewhat at odds with how DiLuia views his own velocity, which he says he has struggled to increase over the last several years.

“The last couple of years I’ve been kind of upset with myself, I haven’t really seen a big jump in velocity, but I just keep telling myself, keep working harder, keep messing around with different things and the velocity will come,” DiLuia said.

One aspect of the freshman’s quest to throw harder has been an attempt to put on weight through diet and strength training.

“More mass equals gas, as Coach Muscara says,” DiLuia said, laughing.

Despite his impressive performance in fall workouts so far, he is not sure what is role on the pitching staff will be when the season starts in February. He isn’t too concerned about it, though; he just wants to help the team.

“Whatever it is, Sunday guy, weekday starter, coming in in relief, any opportunity I get to throw, I’ll be happy with, and I’ll make the most of it whenever I get the chance,” he said. “In the end of the day it’s all about getting wins and whatever I can do or whatever the team can do to get one more on the ‘W’ side I’ll be more than happy with.”

Featured image courtesy of Mark DiLuia.

Fecteau, Haines to join Szefc at Virginia Tech

Former Maryland Head Coach John Szefc will be bringing two of his Terps assistants with him as he takes over as the head coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies. Ryan Fecteau and Corey Haines are now listed on the Virginia Tech website as Assistant Coach and Director of Operations, respectively.

This is the second time in two seasons that Maryland will search for a new pitching coach, as Jim Belanger left the Terps staff last June to take a job at Kentucky.

Pitching Coach Ryan Fecteau visits the mound early in the second inning to confer with sophomore Hunter Parsons. (Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network)

Fecteau, who replaced Belanger, departs Maryland after a one-year tenure as the team’s pitching coach. The New Hampshire native came to College Park in the summer of 2016 following a six-year stint at Bryant, where he molded a pitching staff that consistently dominated the Northeast Conference.

In four of his final five seasons with the Bulldogs, Fecteau’s staff boasted the NEC Pitcher of the Year. That trend continued when the coach moved on to Maryland as the Terps’ Brian Shaffer took home the top pitching award in the Big Ten in 2016.

This season, Fecteau led the Terps to a 3.98 ERA, and helped develop young arms such as Tyler Blohm and John Murphy into key pieces on the Maryland pitching staff. He will inherit a Virginia Tech pitching staff that ranked dead last in the ACC in ERA this spring with a 5.79 mark.

Unlike Fecteau, Haines was a long-term member of Maryland’s staff, serving the last five years as an assistant coach under Szefc and three previous years (2009-2011) as a student assistant and volunteer.

In his most recent stint in College Park, Haines focused on developing hitters and working with the team’s infielders. He worked with players such as Brandon Lowe (3rd round pick, Tampa Bay Rays, 2015 MLB Draft) and Kevin Smith (4th round, Toronto Blue Jays, 2017 MLB Draft), two of Maryland’s most decorated infielders in recent years.

Haines is an Elkton, Maryland, native and a Maryland alumnus, having graduated with a degree in kinesiology in 2011.

With the departure of Fecteau and Haines, new Maryland Head Coach Rob Vaughn now has two more spots to fill on the coaching staff.

Ryan Selmer drafted in 31st round by New York Mets

Right-hander Ryan Selmer, the Terps closer in 2017, was selected in the 31st round (937th overall) by the New York Mets in the MLB Draft, Wednesday.

Selmer departs College Park after having been a mainstay in the Maryland bullpen for three seasons. As a freshman in 2015, he tied a program record for most appearances in a season, working in 31 games (27 relief appearances and four starts) while compiling a 2.18 ERA.

Redshirt Junior Ryan Selmer pitches for the Terps. Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network 4/4/2017

Over the next two seasons, the 6-foot-8 right-hander took the mound 54 more times for Maryland, more than anyone else on the team over that time. As a junior in 2017, Selmer pitched 41.1 innings at the back end of the Terps bullpen, registering eight saves and a 3.05 ERA. Although he was nominally the closer, he had eight appearances in which he pitched multiple innings, including two games that he went at least four frames.

Arguably the Beltsville native’s best game of the season came on one of the biggest stages, as Selmer entered the Big Ten Tournament semifinal against Northwestern in the second inning and proceeded to hurl 5.2 innings of one-run ball against the Wildcats, while striking out three and giving up just four hits. The Terps lost the game 6-5, but through no fault of Selmer’s, who kept Maryland in the game long enough to mount an electrifying comeback from 6-0 deficit.

Selmer is the fifth Terp to be taken in this year’s draft and the third pitcher.

Brian Shaffer Drafted in 6th Round by Arizona Diamondbacks

Brian Shaffer, the 2017 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, was selected in the 6th round (172nd overall) by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Major League Baseball Draft, Tuesday. He was the second Terp taken in the 2017 MLB Draft, after Kevin Smith was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 4th round.

Shaffer was a mainstay on the mound for three seasons at Maryland. After a promising freshman campaign in 2015, in which he went 5-1 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of over five, the 6-foot-5 right-hander made a leap into the conference’s elite as a sophomore. In 2016, Shaffer ranked second in the Big Ten in wins (eight) and innings (103.2), and also finished in the league’s top 10 in ERA, strikeouts, and opponents’ batting average. His performance earned him an All-Big Ten Third Team selection and the unenviable task of filling Mike Shawaryn’s shoes as the Terps’ ace the following season.

Shaffer made another impressive improvement as a junior, ensuring there was no drop off in Friday-starter quality despite Shawaryn’s departure. The Pylesville native finished fourth in the conference in ERA (2.66) and was one of only two pitchers in the league, along with Michigan’s Oliver Jaskie, to notch over 100 strikeouts. Along with the prolific punchout total, Shaffer demonstrated remarkable control, walking just 1.49 hitters per nine innings.

Junior Brian Shaffer pitches during another stellar outing. (Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network)

The tall righty’s performance in Big Ten play was even better. His 5-1 record and 1.76 ERA, along with a league-best 56.1 IP, earned him Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors and a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team.

After three standout seasons in College Park, Shaffer has worked his way on to some all-time Maryland lists. The right-hander is fifth in Terps history in innings pitched, and tied for second in wins, with 20.

The Diamondbacks are getting a pitcher who has also pitched well in big games. As a freshman, Shaffer, hurled seven innings to lead Maryland to a Big Ten Tournament win over No. 5 Illinois, which entered the contest on a 27-game win streak. In 2017, the Maryland ace faced Michigan State’s Alex Troop when Shaffer and Troop were 1-2 in the Big Ten in ERA. Shaffer pitched seven innings of one-run ball and struck out seven, while Troop surrendered 11 runs in four innings.

Maryland Baseball Network’s Joe Catapano took a look at Shaffer’s stock prior to the MLB Draft.

MLB Draft Preview: RHP Ryan Selmer

Ryan Selmer RHP

Ht: 6’8″        Wt: 220        Year: R-Jr.        Bats/Throws: R/R

Hometown (HS): Beltsville, Md. (Riverdale Baptist)

2017 Stats: 

G: 26        IP: 41.0          ERA: 2.20         K/9: 5.7            BB/9: 2.4          H/9: 9.0

Arsenal: Fastball with sinking action (90-92), slider; both thrown from a three-quarters arm angle.

Background: Ryan Selmer has been a mainstay in the Maryland bullpen since he equaled a program record for most appearances in a season with 31 in his redshirt freshman campaign of 2015. In his first season, the tall right-hander posted a 2.18 ERA, despite walking nearly as many batters (16) as he struck out (19).

Redshirt junior Ryan Selmer celebrates after making his way out of a 9th inning jam. Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network 3/7/2017

Selmer has improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio in all three seasons he’s been a Terp, increasing it from 1.19 as a freshman to 1.67 as a sophomore and now to 2.36 as a junior. His ERA regressed as a sophomore, rising to 4.34, but he has brought it back down to just 2.20 this season. He’s also taken up the mantle of the Maryland closer, notching seven saves in 2017, including two in which he was asked to get more than three outs.

In the summer of 2016 the Beltsville, Maryland, native pitched for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League and posted similar stats to those he compiled at Maryland. Selmer went 2-2 with a 3.38 ERA as a long reliever for the Gatemen and, after the season, D1Baseball ranked him as one of the top 150 prospects in the Cape Cod League.

Outlook: In many ways, Selmer’s 2017 has been his best season at Maryland. He has set career-highs in saves and strikeouts, and a career-low in walks per nine innings. His ERA is a touch higher than in 2015, but it would be much lower if not for one outing at the end of April against Indiana, in which he surrendered four runs in 0.2 innings. Since that game, Selmer has appeared seven times, including twice in the Big Ten Tournament and pitched to a 1.88 ERA. He’s also shown a willingness to pitch as many innings in relief as his teams needs, as he did when he fired 5.2 frames against Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, allowing just one run in the process.

Selmer pitches to contact (just 26 strikeouts in 41 innings this season), but the sinking action on his fastball makes him a very effective ground ball pitcher. He can become too reliant on his fastball at times, but he’s capable of making in-game adjustments as he did in the semifinals against Northwestern. The first three Wildcats reached against Selmer, but once he started mixing in his slider, he allowed just two hits over the next four innings.

Redshirt Junior Ryan Selmer pitches for the Terps. Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network 4/4/2017

Selmer’s performances last summer at the Cape and this spring in College Park, combined with the possibility that he could a few more ticks to his fastball in the coming years, make him an intriguing prospect. D1Baseball’s Frankie Piliere thinks the Maryland right-hander could go as high as the sixth or seventh round in the upcoming draft. Piliere mentioned the movement Selmer gets on his fastball as a significant factor in his rising draft stock:

“Low 90s with heavy life, this is what teams look for,” Piliere said in an interview with MBN’s Jake Eisenberg. “I think he’s got still more velocity to come, he works down in the zone, his downhill plane, from his angle, that’s going to be really difficult no matter what type of hitter he’s facing…that’s the type of guy who can sneak up on people.”

While the Terps’ closer may not get the widespread recognition that Brian Shaffer and Kevin Smith do, his ability to pitch in any situation, his lanky frame and the life on his fastball make Selmer one of the better draft prospects on the Maryland roster. He will likely be taken in the first 10 rounds of this year’s MLB draft.

Gum hits a grand slam, but Terps fall in Big Ten semis

After surviving three elimination games in three days Maryland finally ran out of gas on Sunday.

The Terps fell behind early and never recovered as their Big Ten Tournament run came to an end at the hands of a Northwestern team that will now play for the title.

The Wildcats pushed across three runs in the first and three more in the second, putting enough distance between them and the Terps to overcome a seventh-inning Brandon Gum grand slam in a 6-5 Northwestern victory at Bart Kaufman Field in Bloomington, Ind.

Maryland (37-21) got its first opportunity to put runs on the board in the top of the first when leadoff hitter Zach Jancarski got hit by a pitch and reached third on an errant pickoff throw. Northwestern starter Cooper Wetherbee struck out Marty Costes and Nick Dunn back-to-back, both looking, to end the threat, setting the stage for the Wildcats to grab the advantage in the bottom of the frame.

Hunter Parsons got the first two Wildcats (27-29) in the opening inning on ground balls before giving up a soft single up the middle to Joe Hoscheit. The next hitter, Matt Hopfner, rolled a grounder to short that could have ended the inning, but Kevin Smith hesitated, looking to second before throwing late to first, allowing Hopfner to reach.

Catcher Jack Claeys batted next and made the Terps pay. The 6-foot-2 junior drilled his third home run of the season over the left-field fence to give Northwestern a 3-0 lead. Claeys entered the game slugging just .368 for the season, but the home run was a no-doubter.

The Wildcats added three more runs in the second inning on a procession of soft singles off Parsons and then reliever Ryan Selmer. Northwestern piled up eight hits in the first two innings, but only Claeys’ home run could be classified as “hard-hit.” Still, the Wildcats led 6-0 after scratching across five runs off Parsons and another off Selmer.

“When a three-run deficit turns into a six-run deficit quickly, it’s not just more difficult to come back from it, but it’s also a bit of shot in the chops mentally to your team,” Head coach John Szefc said. “It just blew up on us really quick.”

That cushion would be more than enough for Wetherbee, who pitched one of the best games of his career. The left-hander escaped jams in the first and second and then dominated over the next four innings, allowing just one hit over those four frames. Wetherbee equaled a career-high with nine strikeouts, including three in the fifth when he set down the Terps in order on nine pitches.

“He’s a senior, he’s throwing what could be the last start of his college career, he had a lot of urgency to pitch well,” Szefc said of Wetherbee. “I give him credit on three days rest he was really good. That’s what you hope to get from a senior and that’s what they got.

“He commanded the zone, he attacked hitters, he threw his breaking ball for a strike and we struggled with him, big time.”

Maryland finally got to Wetherbee as he tired in the seventh. Smith started the rally with a single to left, Maryland’s first base knock since the third inning. Pinch-hitter Danny Maynard reached on a walk and after one more hitter, Wetherbee’s day was done. He hurled 6.2 innings and left runners on second and third for reliever Pete Hoffman. When the Wildcats hung on, Wetherbee got the win, running his record to 4-3.

Hoffman walked Zach Jancarski and then went 2-0 to Gum. Perhaps thinking the Maryland first baseman would be taking all the way, Hoffman tossed a fastball right down the middle and Gum deposited it over the left-field wall, adding some drama to the final innings.

“[Lawrence] had just walked Janc[arski] and he was struggling to find it,” Gum said of the at-bat. “His best pitch was a slider and it looked like he didn’t have it, so I was just really looking for a fastball. I didn’t think there was any chance he was throwing a 2-0 slider in that situation, so I was just sitting dead red and got a pitch up over the middle of the plate.”

The graduate transfer’s grand slam was his fourth homer of the year and closed the gap to 6-4.

“It’s a big moment, but you can’t get too high on it,” he said. “Obviously we’re still down two, so we still had a lot of work to do at that point. But it was definitely a sigh of relief, like, ‘We can still win this thing.'”

Gum entered the game hitting .328 for the season before a 2-for-5 performance against the Wildcats that included not only the grand slam, but also a double. His .440 OBP is the best on the team.

“I know some of the questions, I don’t like to read too much into the media stuff, but a lot of the things being said [before the season] were whether I could transition to Big Ten pitching after being in the Atlantic-10 [at George Mason], so it was good to prove I could hit, it doesn’t really matter what conference it’s in,” Gum said.

Maryland rallied again in the eighth off a battered Northwestern bullpen. Hoffman and left-hander Sam Lawrence allowed the first four Terps to reach on two walks, a bunt hit, and a sharp single to right, slicing the Wildcat lead to 6-5. With the bases loaded and one out, though, Lawrence got Jancarski to ground into a 6-4-3 double play. Jancarski dove head-first into the bag, but he was out at first and Maryland’s best chance to even the score slipped away.

Still, Gum says Maryland’s ability to battle back from such a large deficit is indicative of the team’s mental toughness.

“We’re just tough in the box, it doesn’t really matter who’s throwing,” he said. “We’re just never really out of it until the last out is recorded. That’s more mindset than ability because pretty much anybody can hit at this level, it’s whether you’re mentally strong enough to do it.”

Maryland was able to get so close because of stellar work from reliever Ryan Selmer. The tall right-hander entered with one out in the second and, after giving up one run in that inning, held the Wildcats at bay until the eighth.

“When I first started, they were sitting on my fastball and I noticed that after I gave up the two hits to score those runs,” Selmer said. “I started mixing in my slider a lot more and a lot of the time they were biting at it or hitting weak contact.”

He pitched 5.2 innings in his longest outing of the season, allowing just a single run on four hits.

Parsons took the loss to drop to 0-3 this season, while Lawrence picked up his second save of the year.

Northwestern will take on Iowa tonight with a spot in the NCAA Tournament on the line.

Three solo homers, four-run seventh help Terps survive and advance

Maryland has battled through delayed games, 10 p.m. starts and three elimination contests, but their hopes for a Big Ten Tournament title remain alive for at least a few more hours.

The Terps hit three home runs in the first two innings and plated four runs in the seventh to break a 5-5 tie en route to a 9-5 win in the Big Ten Tournament Saturday at Bart Kaufman Field in Bloomington, Ind.

Maryland rallied in the seventh without a hard-hit ball. Brandon Gum started the inning with an infield single in the 5.5 hole and right-fielder Marty Costes followed with a four-pitch walk. Second baseman Nick Dunn tried to sacrifice the runners to second and third, but his bunt was perfectly placed in no-man’s land between the third baseman and the pitcher for a base hit.

AJ Lee batted with nobody out and the bases loaded and Northwestern reliever Josh Levy nailed him in the shoulder to bring in the go-ahead run. Levy exited after that, but the story was the same for the next Wildcat reliever, JR Reimer. He walked Will Watson to force in another run and extend Maryland’s lead to 7-5. The Terps also scored on a Kevin Smith sacrifice fly and Justin Morris ground ball to take a commanding lead.

Maryland reliever John Murphy shut down any thoughts of a late comeback with his second superb performance of the tournament. He threw the final three innings, striking out two without allowing a run. Overall in the tournament, he’s pitched six scoreless innings and allowed just two hits while punching out eight. Maryland’s seventh-inning explosion made Murphy the winner, his first decision of the season.

Levy took the loss to drop to 4-2 in 15 appearances.

Maryland came out hitting like a team that planned on winning a third consecutive elimination game. Costes gave the Terps an early lead with a solo home run over the short porch in left in the first inning. The homer was Costes’ 11th of the season, giving him (temporarily, it turned out), the team lead in long balls.

In the second inning, Will Watson doubled the Terps advantage to 2-0 with a home run of his own. It was Watson’s fifth homer of the season and the next hitter, Kevin Smith, followed it up with a third homer of the first two innings to extend the lead to 3-0. Smith’s homer was his 11th of the season, as well, equaling Costes’ total.

Maryland pounded five extra-base hits in the first two innings off Northwestern starter Josh Davis. Davis settled in after the second, however, and retired seven Terps in a row during one stretch.

In the fourth, the Wildcats got even. Joe Hoscheit got the rally started with a one-out base hit, but the rest of the uprising happened with two outs. With two away, catcher Jack Claeys walked against Maryland starter Tayler Stiles. Third baseman Connor Lind followed with a ground-rule double to left that hopped over the fence to bring one run home. Leo Kaplan hit next and completed the comeback with a single over  Smith’s head into left to knot the score at 3-3.

The three earned runs he surrendered in the fourth were the first he had given up in 12.1 innings for Stiles, who was making his third start of the year. Kaplan’s hit ended his day after 3.2 frames.

The fifth inning was a long, strange frame that took over an hour to play, but ended with the teams still tied. With two outs in the top of the inning, Hoscheit parked his seventh home run of the season over the left field wall off reliever Ryan Hill to give his team a 5-3 lead. Hoscheit went 2-for-4 and continues to be one of the hottest hitters in the country. His .468 average in Big Ten play was the highest in the league since 1998.

Later in the inning, a Hill fastball clipped home plate umpire Daniel Jimenez and Jimenez was forced to exit the game. A lengthy delay followed as the teams waited for a fourth umpire to reach the field.

When play resumed, Davis seemed to have lost his rhythm. He surrendered a single and a double to the first two Maryland hitters he faced in the fifth, ending his day. Reliever Tommy Bordignon threw a wild pitch to score Justin Morris from third and allowed a Brandon Gum single that plated Zach Jancarski with the tying run. Maryland loaded the bases again later in the frame, but Levy fanned Smith to end the inning and keep the score at 5-5.

Northwestern’s bullpen struggled finding the strike all afternoon. In all, the Wildcat relievers threw 72 pitches and just 33 of them were strikes.

Three Maryland hitters collected multiple hits, including Jancarski, who doubled twice. Lee did not get a hit, stopping his 14-game hit streak, but he did get hit by pitches twice.

Maryland will play Northwestern again tonight, with a scheduled start of 8:30 p.m. that is likely to be pushed back significantly. The winner of that game will earn a spot in the Big Ten Tournament final tomorrow.