Preseason Countdown #11: Biggest holes to fill

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The Terps have numerous holes to fill heading into the 2019 season, both offensively and defensively, after losing a handful of starters and key contributors.

Between the seven seniors and two draftees, Maryland lost its top five offensive players, top two relievers and one of its weekend starters. On the defensive side, the Terps lost three of their main outfielders, the entire right side of their infield and their most-used catcher.

Starting with the outfield, the Terps start this season without center fielder Zach Jancarski and fellow outfielders Will Watson and Marty Costes.

During his four years with the Terps, Jancarski provided numerous SportsCenter-worthy plays as the everyday center fielder, including these catches his senior year:

A defensive asset, the center fielder also showed out in the batter’s box, finishing the season tied for second-highest batting average on the team, hitting .279 with the second-most hits. 

Watson, who spent the majority of his time with the Terps in left field, finished his tenure with the Terps in strong fashion after transferring from LSU-Eunice in 2016. In a game against Rutgers last season, Watson homered twice in the third inning, including a grand slam to help Maryland put up 11 runs in the frame on its way to a 17-2 victory.

Right fielder Marty Costes struggled in the box at the start of his junior year, going 9-for-59 (.153) in his first 16 games of 2018. But based on two strong previous seasons, the outfielder was still drafted by the Houston Astros in the 22nd round last summer. 

Moving to the infield, the Terps start 2019 without their entire right side, after first baseman Kevin Biondic graduated and second baseman Nick Dunn was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals.

After transitioning into a two-way player, Biondic came in clutch for Maryland both on the mound and in the box, while also providing the Terps with a consistent first baseman.

The senior batted .279 in his final season with the Terps, leading the team in triples (4) while also leading the team’s bullpen in ERA (2.59). After going undrafted, Biondic signed with the Red Sox as a free agent, joining Boston’s short season Single-A affiliate as a right-handed pitcher.

Dunn led Maryland in eight offensive categories last season, including batting average (.330), home runs (10) and RBIs (39). His absence now leaves the Terps with a huge gap to fill on the right side as their most consistent player.

Starting catcher Justin Morris also graduated after the 2018 season. Like Biondic, he also inked a minor-league deal as a free agent during the summer. The four-year former Terp signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in late July.

On the mound, the Terps also lost their Friday starter and three relievers. Right-handed starter Taylor Bloom finished the season with the third-lowest ERA amongst regular starters and later signed a professional contract with the Washington Wild Things, an organization in the Independent Frontier League.

Right-handed reliever Ryan Hill also graduated last year. Hill finished the season with the second-lowest ERA among relievers (2.92) and was the only consistent Terps reliever to allow zero home runs.

Preseason Countdown #12: Best summer ball hitters

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Maryland baseball sent a handful of its hitters to summer leagues after the 2018 campaign, but catcher Justin Vought and third baseman Taylor Wright had the two standout performances in the offseason.

Vought, now a sophomore, struggled to get into a groove during his freshman season playing behind former catcher Justin Morris. He only played in 22 games, but he still managed to hit three homers before getting in 18 more games last summer with the Baltimore Redbirds of the Cal Ripken Baseball League.

The Pennsylvania native hit .347 with the Redbirds, a mark that led all Terps during the summer. He also ended the season leading his college teammates in on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.

Vought enters the 2019 campaign as the only returning catcher on the Maryland roster. Head coach Rob Vaughn added two junior transfer catchers in Sebastian Holte-Mancera and Tavan Shahidi, while freshman Zach Doss entered the program.

Like Vought, now-senior Taylor Wright started slow in his Maryland career a season ago. Wright hit .230 after transferring from Colorado Northwestern Community College, but he was fourth on the team in doubles (9), tied for fifth in RBIs (25) and second in stolen bases (11).

Wright went to the West Coast League again to play for the Kelowna Falcons, where he played in 55 games in 2018. The infielder hit just under .300 while smashing six home runs and recording 38 RBIs. Wright had only hit two homers in the spring with the Terps, making his uptick in power in the offseason a positive sign.

At the end of the summer, Wright earned first team All-WCL honors at third base, making him the best player in the league at that position. During the regular season, he ranked in the top 10 in the WCL in runs, hits and runs batted in.

In 2019, Wright is one of two returning starting infielders alongside senior shortstop AJ Lee. The Terps lost second baseman Nick Dunn to the MLB Draft, while first baseman Kevin Biondic graduated.

Preseason Countdown #13: Best summer ball pitchers

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After the 2018 Maryland baseball season ended just shy of a postseason appearance, many Terps took their talents to summer leagues around the country. Five pitchers in particular looked promising in the offseason, something that head coach Rob Vaughn will hope carries over into this spring.

Senior right-hander John Murphy had himself quite the season for the Sanford Mainers in the NECBL. He racked up five saves as the go-to closer for his squad while only allowing seven hits in 15.2 innings of work. He earned a 1-1 record with a 2.87 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP, earning himself a number of accolades.

Murphy was named the league’s pitcher of the week in the second week of the season, where he held his opponents to a .154 batting average while striking out eight batters in four innings. In the middle of the summer, Murphy was named to the NECBL All-Star team and garnered first team All-NECBL honors at the end of the summer.

Redshirt-sophomore reliever Mike Vasturia also had himself a good summer on the bump with the Sanford Mainers. The right-hander led the team with only two walks allowed and a 1.68 ERA in 13 appearances.

Sean Fisher completed the trio of Terps on the Mainers last summer, where he became an instant fan favorite. The sophomore southpaw allowed two earned runs in 18 innings of work while also adding 20 strikeouts to his resume. His performances earned himself a spot on the NECBL All-Star team alongside Murphy.

Maryland junior righty Elliot Zoellner was in relief for the Bethesda Big Train last summer in the Cal Ripken Baseball League. With a 1-0 record on the year, Zoellner let up only one earned run in 14 innings, giving him a team-low 0.64 ERA on the league’s co-champion squad. 

The most successful starter for the Terps last summer was junior Zach Thompson, who had to sit out last season due to transfer rules. In eight starts for the NECBL’s Mystic Schooners, Thompson finished with a 2-1 record while striking out a team-high 47 batters. The right-hander was honored as the NECBL Pitcher of the Week in the eighth week of the summer, where he fanned 11 batters in just six innings of work.

Preseason Countdown #15: Best stories of 2018

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We’re just 15 days away from Maryland baseball. As we wind down our preseason coverage looking back on the 2018 campaign, we compiled the best stories written about the team in the past year.


From the Maryland Baseball Network…

After an offseason of moving pieces, Maryland baseball will rely on experience, familiarity this spring

Maryland’s weekend pitching exceeding expectations in early-season slate

Controlling their destiny: senior bats are leading Maryland’s postseason push

From The Diamondback…

A bedazzled red robe “brings an extra fire” to Maryland baseball

A new rally squirrel sparked Maryland baseball’s offense in its win vs. James Madison

Zach Jancarski’s highlight-reel catch encapsulated his progress for Maryland baseball

From the Washington Post…

A hug on the mound put cancer survivor Billy Phillips at ease before his Maryland debut

From The Left Bench…

Bionic Biondic: the Terps’ tough senior

From Testudo Times…

Maryland baseball alums have relished their time in MLB organizations

Preseason Countdown #16: Best comeback of 2018

Maryland baseball struggled overall in midweek games a season ago, winning just five of 13 contests. Its last, though, was one to remember. Maryland battled back from multiple deficits to beat in-state foe Towson, 8-7, in extra innings.

The Terps trailed 6-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, but homers from catcher Justin Vought and outfielder Zach Jancarski powered a three-run inning. An inning later, first baseman Kevin Biondic tied the game with a solo homer.

The Tigers retook the lead in the ninth, but Maryland rallied to force extras, where second baseman Nick Dunn delivered the walk-off double.

Here is Maryland Baseball Network’s game recap from the win:

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By Joe Catapano | May 9, 2018
Nick Dunn delivers walk-off hit in extras to beat Towson 

Maryland baseball is still fighting to extend its season, and while Wednesday’s midweek matchup with Towson would neither help nor hurt those chances, erasing two late deficits before second baseman Nick Dunn’s walk-off single in extras was representative of the team’s challenge to make a late push into the Big Ten Tournament.

First baseman Kevin Biondic hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighth and right fielder Marty Costes hit a game-tying sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth to force extras, keeping Maryland alive. All this happened before Dunn delivered the walk-off hit in the bottom of the 10th to cap off Maryland’s 8-7 comeback win in its final midweek game of the season.

The Terps were never truly out despite trailing the majority of the game, similar to the team’s position two games back of the final spot in the Big Ten Tournament with two weekends left to play. Mathematically, Maryland still has a chance.

“Belief is a huge thing. That’s the one thing in this dugout. There’s a lot of people that believe that we’re not done yet,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “I think that goes for every game we walk in to. Having guys come through in big spots like they did today can be a big thing to carry into the weekend.”

The Terps fell behind 6-2 in the top of the seventh, but used a late offensive power surge to even the score. Zach Jancarski and catcher Justin Vought each homered in the bottom of the seventh inning to cut the Terps’ deficit to 6-5.

Right-handed reliever Elliot Zoellner recorded a much-needed shutdown in the eighth, just in time for first Biondic to hit a game-tying home run to deep left field. It was Maryland’s fourth homer of the afternoon.

“We were just locked in at the plate today,” Dunn said. “We were seeing the ball well and running off good ABs.”

Trailing since the second inning, the Terps were even with the Tigers, who used similar home runs to claim their lead.

Starting pitcher Billy Phillips worked a scoreless first inning, but allowed three runs over the next two frames. Junior third basemen Richard Miller hit his seventh home run of the season over the batter’s eye to give Towson a 1-0 lead. The Tigers went up 2-0 later in the second inning, and senior left fielder Billy Lennox snuck a ball over the fence the following in the third to put the visitors up 3-0.

“I thought we came out, honestly, a little flat today and I thought Towson kind of did the opposite,” Vaughn said. “They came out with energy and took some really good swings early in the game and kind of punched us in the mouth a little bit.”

After three scoreless frames, Maryland cut its deficit to two in the bottom of the fourth. Biondic legged out a leadoff infield, preceding a two-run home run from Will Watson.

Towson added two important insurance runs in the top of the seventh off left-hander Grant Burleson, extending its lead to 6-2 with just nine outs left to record. But another late Maryland push ensued, tying the game after scoring four runs in the next two trips to the plate.

Closer John Murphy entered in the top of the ninth, but allowed a leadoff walk and a go-ahead double before departing after recording one out. Redshirt senior Alec Tuohy recorded a double play to get out of the inning, and later pitched a scoreless frame in the top of the 10th.

Dunn delivered the walk-off hit down the right field line with one out, scoring Taylor Wright from second. A mob followed, as Dunn was lifted and carried into the outfield in celebration. It was the most emotion on the baseball field Dunn has expressed, according to Biondic.

“It feels pretty good,” Dunn said. “I was just looking to put a good swing on the ball. He kind of left one up and that was it.”

The Terps, who have six conference games remaining, will return to Big Ten play this weekend when they host Rutgers. Maryland trails Nebraska, Rutgers and Michigan State for the No. 8 seed in the tournament.

“We’re just fighting for a spot right now in the Big Ten,” Biondic said. “We start with Friday. Win Friday and go on from there.”

Preseason Countdown #17: 5 things we learned at media day

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With the season quickly approaching, Maryland baseball held its media day on Monday, giving head coach Rob Vaughn and senior pitcher Hunter Parsons a chance to talk about the upcoming campaign.

Vaughn and Parsons touched on a multitude of topics, but here are the five most important things we learned about the 2019 Maryland baseball team at media day.

1. Zach Thompson and Daniel O’Connor are making good cases for weekend rotation spots

Parsons is set in stone as Maryland’s Friday night starter, but the other spots still seem to be up for grabs. However, Vaughn said that Thompson has impressed so far this spring.

“[Thompson] gets after it and works his tail off,” Vaughn said. “He’s hungry too because he spent all year having to watch [from the dugout].”

Thompson is a redshirt sophomore right-hander who sat out last season after transferring from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a Division III school. According to Vaughn, Thompson struck out eight batters in three innings in an intraquad scrimmage last week, and he’s now making a strong case for the open Saturday spot.

The head coach was also very impressed with O’Connor, a freshman who joined the team as a walk-on in the fall, and has maybe been the biggest surprise for the Terps so far.

“[O’Connor is] a local guy that we basically gave an opportunity to in the fall, not knowing what he would do,” Vaughn said. “That guy was unbelievable and has really shown us that he has a chance to start at a high level. Not a lot speeds him up, he’s tough, [and he] competes.”

2. Tyler Blohm and Drew Wilden are also in the rotation plans, but aren’t ready yet

Blohm posted a 4.10 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 59 innings over 11 starts. He was dominant at times, including a 12-strikeout performance against Stetson. But Blohm struggled with injury down the stretch, and that same injury followed him into the spring. Vaughn said Blohm recently got back on the mound, but he most likely won’t be ready for the opening weekend at Coastal Carolina. However, he is still a part of the rotation plans.

The same goes for redshirt freshman left-hander Drew Wilden, who missed last season after Tommy John surgery. Wilden was one of Maryland’s top recruits when he arrived in College Park, and Vaughn knows what he can bring to the team.

“I don’t know if it will be week one, but I would really look for Drew Wilden to continue making those steps. He threw [on Friday] … and was awesome.”

Vaughn said Wilden finally got back to the mound this week, a great sign for Maryland’s rotation.

3. Ben Cowles and Kody Milton could be starters in the infield

After the departure of stars Nick Dunn (2B) and Kevin Biondic (1B), the Terps have two holes on the right side of the infield this season. Sophomores Tommy Gardiner and Michael Pineiro will get their shots, but according to Vaughn, freshmen Ben Cowles and Kody Milton have really impressed so far this spring.

Cowles was one of the best infield recruits out of New York, and although shortstop is his natural position, he has shown the tools to get himself into the lineup at second base.

“[Cowles] goes out and is one of the more competitive kids I’ve ever been around,” Vaughn said. “With the exception of our coach [Anthony] Papio, I don’t know if there’s a more competitive kid I’ve ever coached.”

Milton, the son of former Maryland star Eric Milton, was the No. 1 first base recruit in Maryland, according to Perfect Game, and has shown what he can do with the bat.

“One of the guys that’s been through-the-roof tremendous is Kody Milton,” Vaughn said. “He had some adversity in the fall. Kind of struggled offensively, which a lot of young guys do, but his desire to be great is unbelievable.”

Vaughn said freshman Josh Maguire will also get a look at that open second base position, as he has plenty of options in the infield.

4. There are still question marks in the outfield

The Terps lost basically their entire starting outfield from last season, with Will Watson and Zach Jancarski graduating and Marty Costes leaving for the MLB Draft. Randy Bednar, who hit .208 in 43 games last season, will return to a starting spot in the outfield, but Vaughn said Bednar is the only player who has locked down an outfield spot.

Vaughn mentioned multiple other names, including Chris Alleyne, who spent his summer and fall converting to the outfield, and Sebastian Holte-Mancera and Caleb Walls, two junior college transfers. The head coach also talked about Pineiro, who came in as a first baseman, but also got plenty of reps in the outfield in the fall.

5. The Terps learned a lot in the classroom this offseason

Maryland has obviously worked on a lot in the fall and spring after a disappointing 24-30 record in 2018. However, the Terps also did a lot of work in the classroom. Vaughn explained how the team focused a lot on mindset and leadership, which had an impact on many of his players, especially his ace.

“I think it’s really cool. As a freshman coming in here, I would have never expected to be spending days inside talking about character and leadership. I think it’s really special,” Parsons said. “[The sessions were about] why do you play baseball. Why do you want to succeed? What are you thankful for? Stuff that just can keep you going every day. It’s all about putting baseball into perspective and realizing that it’s just a game that we’re lucky enough to play.”

Preseason Countdown #18: Best moment of 2018

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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.

Preseason Countdown #19: Biggest home run of 2018

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The stands at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium were filled with fans during the last weekend of March. A group cheered loudly for then-senior Kevin Biondic, as the Terps took on the Northwestern Wildcats.

These supporters waved cutouts of Biondic’s face in the air, their own homemade mini “Fatheads” with popsicle sticks taped to the back.

That Sunday, in the rubber match between the two Big Ten foes, Biondic saved the day, the game and the series to lead the Terps to their fourth come-from-behind series win of 2018.

It started with a home run at the plate and ended with him on the mound, as the Terps rallied back to win 4-3. 

When Biondic stepped into the box in the bottom of the eighth inning, Maryland trailed 3-2 with two outs. In the at-bat prior, outfielder Marty Costes singled through the left side, giving Biondic a chance to put the Terps ahead for the first time all game.

But the first baseman was 0-for-3 on the day. That did not last, however, and the senior sent a shot deep, crossing overtop the left-center wall as the stands erupted in cheers. With his home run, Biondic put the Terps up 4-3 heading into the ninth.

But his work for the night was far from over. After transitioning into a two-way player the prior summer, adding pitching to his arsenal, Biondic became a reliable reliever for Maryland. For that reason, head coach Rob Vaughn turned to Biondic for the 27th and final out of the game.

Entering the game with the bases loaded and two outs, Biondic needed to prevent the Wildcats from staging a devastating comeback against the Terps. The right-hander forced a flyout to left field, securing his second save of the season with the help of left fielder Will Watson’s sliding catch.

Not only did Biondic supply the Terps’ game-winning run with his homer, but he also ensured the Wildcats would head home to Chicago with the series loss. The momentum from the two-run shot energized the whole stadium, and Biondic left the field the hero of the day. 

Preseason Countdown #20: Best pitching performance of 2018

It wasn’t hard to find the best pitching performance of 2018.

Hunter Parsons’ two-hit complete game shutout would’ve been impressive against any opponent, but this one came against a Stetson team that won its conference tournament, hosted an NCAA regional and advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals for the first time in program history.

The right-hander retired the first 11 batters he faced, none of which hit the ball past the infield. He allowed a single in the fourth, a single in the fifth, hit one batter in the seventh, but those were the only three Hatters to reach base.

Here’s a repost of Maryland Baseball Network’s game recap from the masterful performance:


20daysBy Joe Catapano | March 25, 2018
Parsons pitches complete game shutout, clinches series victory over Stetson

Maryland right-hander Hunter Parsons was greeted with a big hug from his catcher Justin Morris after dealing his 101st pitch Sunday against Stetson. The junior had just dealt a two-hit complete game shutout—Maryland’s first since 2016—to clinch a series victory over the Hatters.

“That hug meant a lot,” Parsons said. “He called me last year when I was struggling and he’d say, ‘You just have to trust it man. You just have to trust that God’s got a plan with you right now.’  I had to fight through that and to be able to come out there and throw to him today was pretty awesome.”

Parsons continued his dominant resurgence in his sixth start of the season, also striking out a career-high nine hitters in the Terps 2-0 victory. The junior’s complete game shutout is the first since former pitcher Brian Shaffer’s in the 2016 Big Ten Tournament.

As Mike Spooner’s fourth-inning line drive dropped in left-center field for Stetson’s first hit of the game off Parsons, snow began to fall from the sky and onto the turf at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium.

The junior’s perfect game and no-hit bid were spoiled after retiring 11 straight batters on 36 pitches to start the game, but the Terps dugout still erupted in cheers at the sight of snowfall. Parsons, not phased by his first mistake or his teammates’ coincidental excitement, retired the next very next batter on three pitches to complete his fourth scoreless frame.

“At first I saw something white fly by my face and I was like, ‘What is that?’ and then it started coming down harder I was like, ‘Oh shoot, it’s snowing,” Parsons recalled. “But I think that played in our favor because [Stetson] played 21 games in Florida, it’s 85 [degrees] there and it’s starts snowing here and our dugout is cheering.”

Throughout his performance Parsons received the ball from Morris, and quickly prepared for his next pitch, holding his glove in front of his face before the opposing batter was even settled back into the box.

“When you’re stepping into the box and a guy’s attacking you and you’re feeling like you’re being attacked because it’s strike, strike, strike, the second both feet hit in and you look up the ball’s coming at you, it’s tough,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “He’s really latched onto that.”

Halfway through the game, though, Parsons had no run support to aid his strong performance. Stetson left-hander Mitchell Senger, who earlier this season threw a no-hitter, was matching his counterpart in his first four frames.

Similar to yesterday’s win, the Terps used free passes to create separation from Stetson. After left fielder Richie Schiekofer legged out an infield single, two walks loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth for second baseman Nick Dunn. Taking advantage of more mistakes, Schiekofer scored the game’s first run on a passed ball.

The following inning, the Terps used an outfield error to eventually move first baseman Kevin Biondic into scoring position. Schiekofer’s RBI groundout scored Biondic from third after a nifty slide dodged the tag at the plate. Schiekofer, a freshman, went 2-for-4 with Maryland’s RBI and run scored.

“When push comes to shove, I want a guy that’s going to grind and that’s what our team needs right now and [Schiekofer] personifies that to a tee,” Vaughn said. “So I’ve been really happy with the way he’s competed.”

Those two runs, neither which were driven in with a hit, were all Parsons needed to finish his complete game. For the sixth time of the afternoon, the right-hander worked a 1-2-3 frame in the ninth to cap off his incredible feat. Just five weeks after allowing eight runs in his first outing this season against Tennessee, Parsons recorded to a fly out to left field to record a two-hit complete game shutout.

“I’m so happy for him. He’s worked so dang hard for this,” Vaughn said. “He’s got a long way to go but what he did out there today was awesome.”