Preseason Countdown: John Murphy put together a magical postseason run in 2017

John Murphy’s ERA nearly touched double-digits in 11 innings pitched as a freshman two years ago, but the right-hander emerged as a sophomore last season. The Merchantville, New Jersey, native displayed a drastic improvement from one year to the next, striking out 27 hitters in 31.2 innings and dropping his ERA to a bullpen-best 1.71.

His emergence was never as obvious than in the postseason, when he recorded 12 strikeouts in several high-pressure situations, more than any other Terps reliever. In a tie game against Purdue, with the Terps facing elimination from the Big Ten Tournament, Maryland sent Murphy to the mound in the sixth inning with two runners on base. He struck out the first Boilermaker he faced, and after issuing an intentional walk, struck out the next two hitters to leave the bases loaded.

Murphy’s day didn’t end there, though, as he allowed just one hit in three innings while finishing with six strikeouts. Kevin Smith’s three-run double in the eighth put the Terps up 5-2, a lead that held, and gave Murphy the win.

After beating Nebraska the next day to keep their tournament hopes alive, the Terps called upon No. 37 again, this time against Northwestern. Similar to Murphy’s prior outing, he came into the game with the score tied. The right-hander tossed a scoreless seventh inning, setting up a four-run bottom half to give the Terps a 9-5 lead.

Murphy held the Wildcats scoreless in the final two frames to close out the game, finishing with another pair of strikeouts. While the Terps lost the next day in a rematch with Northwestern in the semifinals, Murphy finished the tournament 2-0 with six innings pitched, two hits allowed and eight strikeouts.

Maryland came one game shy of the Big Ten Championship game, but its three wins in the tournament might have been the deciding factor for a third NCAA Tournament berth in the last four years. After losing the opening game to West Virginia in the Winston-Salem Regional, the Terps beat UMBC in an elimination game, setting up another game against the Mountaineers.

The Terps led 2-0 in the top of the fourth when Murphy trotted out from the bullpen in an awfully familiar situation: with the bases loaded and nobody out. In dominant fashion, Murphy did it again, striking out the next three hitters to thwart the threat. An emphatic celebration ensued.

Maryland eventually lost the game, 8-5, and was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament to end its season. Murphy, though, finished the postseason with his only two wins of the season and 12 strikeouts in nine innings, including striking out the side twice to strand the bases loaded. It was a magical run from the right-hander, and he’ll be poised to replicate that success as a leader in this year’s bullpen.

Preseason Countdown: Wade’s success on the mound paves way for Biondic

Maryland Baseball Network is counting down to Opening Day! To mark the 33 days until the start of the 2018 season, former Terps right-hander Jamal Wade recorded 33 strikeouts in 2017 in his first season as a pitcher.

Before the Seattle Mariners selected Jamal Wade in the 17th round (513th overall) of the 2017 MLB Draft, the junior right-hander struck out 33 batters in under 20 innings of work. Wade picked up his 33rd and final strikeout of his junior season during a two-strikeout inning against West Virginia in the NCAA Regionals, just one year after wrapping up his sophomore campaign as a reserve outfielder.

In 17 appearances, he notched one win in his only decision of year, tossing two shutout innings in a 6-0 Maryland midweek victory over William & Mary. Featuring a solid curveball and a fastball that often touched the mid-90s, opponents hit just .208 against Wade at the plate.

Junior Jamal Wade pitches for the Terps. Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network 4/4/2017

While he wasn’t a top choice out of the bullpen for the Terps last season, his electric fastball and devastating curveball still warranted a MLB draft selection, which ultimately led him to forego his final season as a Terrapin. Wade’s 5.03 ERA didn’t deter scouts from his potential as a pitcher, as it was just his first season toeing the rubber.

The Owings Mills, Maryland, native came to College Park as one of the top third base prospects in the state, but transitioned to the outfield for his freshman season. His first three hits as a Terrapin were all home runs, and he finished his first year with five homers and 11 RBI in 35 games.

But after taking a reduced role during his sophomore season—earning just four starts—Wade transitioned into a pitcher over the summer in 2016 with the NECBL’s Keene Swamp Bats. The rising junior pitched just 11.1 innings, but allowed just two earned runs with an impressive 21 strikeouts.

Wade wasn’t the first Terrapin in recent history to switch from a position player to a pitcher, and it doesn’t appear he’ll be the last, either. Former right-hander Mike Rescigno, who graduated after last season, began his career in 2014 as an infielder. Seeing time at both first and third base, as well as a designated hitter, Rescigno hit .241 in 26 games as a freshman.

The coaching staff became impressed by his arm, however, and moved him into the bullpen for his final three seasons. He found the most success in 2016, striking out 23 batters in 23 appearances. He, like Wade, was drafted after his junior campaign, but passed on the opportunity to finish out his fourth year in College Park.

California native Jake Stinnett hit five homers as a freshman in 2011 for the Terps, but transitioned to the mound and dominated. In 2014, the then-senior posted a 2.67 ERA across 17 appearances (16 starts), tossing four complete games, including a no-hitter. The right-hander was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 2nd round of that year’s MLB Draft, and finished the 2017 campaign with a 1.19 ERA across three levels of minor league ball.

Kevin Biondic fields a ball at third base. The senior infielder may see time on the mound this spring for the Terps after pitching 16.2 innings in the Northwoods League last summer. Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network 3/12/2017

There’s reason to believe that another Terps infielder will see time on the mound for the first time in their career this spring. Last summer in the Northwoods League, senior Kevin Biondic hit .254 with five homers in 169 at-bats while tossing 16.2 innings with 11 strikeouts and a 1.62 ERA.

In the midst of going 7-for-9 and reaching base in 11 of 13 plate appearances during the Fall World Series, he also pitched a pair of innings during the intrasquad scrimmages. It was the first time Biondic has pitched for Maryland, and although it was just in a scrimmage, he toyed with a knuckleball throughout the fall.

With the departure of key arms such as Ryan Selmer, Jamal Wade and Tayler Stiles, the Terps won’t have the deepest bullpen in the Big Ten in 2018, so Biondic has a shot to contribute out of the pen this spring. He also has the potential to turn into a more consistent two-way player than Wade and Rescigno. Wade appeared in just six games in the outfield last season following his transition to the mound, while Rescigno didn’t see a single at-bat once he switched into a reliever.