Maryland freshmen prove they belong, get first at-bats as Terps

maguire AB Indy

When Maryland baseball traveled for the majority of its early-season games, infielder Josh Maguire stayed in College Park. He and catcher Tavan Shahidi would work in extra offensive reps while the Terps spent their weekends on the road.

Oftentimes, players that aren’t expected to receive time on the field are excluded from team travel plans. And to start his freshman campaign, Maguire was one of those players left behind, with the only ways to closely follow games via online video and radio streams.

But head coach Rob Vaughn has shown he has no qualms about fiddling with the Terps’ lineup and rewarding players who prove themselves in practices and in games. That now includes Maguire, who has started in Maryland’s last six games.

It all started with two pinch-hit opportunities two weekends ago against Indiana, when Maguire’s first-career hit left the yard in only his fourth at-bat of the season.

“I couldn’t draw it up any better,” Maguire said on Terps Pregame. “It’s what you dream of … the feeling was awesome.”

Maguire 2AB Sat Indy
Photo credit: Paige Leckie / MBN

Now, in 42 at-bats, it’s clear the freshman’s hard work both with and away from his team early in the year has paid off. The freshman is hitting .231 with six hits, three of which are home runs. He leads the Terps with a .577 slugging percentage.

On Wednesday, freshman Zach Doss found himself in a similar situation to Maguire. While Maguire practiced while the Terps were on the road, Doss took reps in the Maryland bullpen, where he treated every catching rep as if it was a real game, according to senior captain John Murphy.

So, when Doss found himself in Maryland’s lineup suddenly, replacing catcher Sebastian Holte-Mancera in the fourth inning Wednesday against West Virginia, the freshman was ready to face a Division I opponent for the first time.

When Doss entered, Maryland was yet to plate a run and trailed West Virginia 5-0. Vaughn didn’t like the tempo at which the Terps played their first three innings, and gave Doss the nod with the hopes the young catcher would reinvigorate the Maryland lineup.

The Terps eventually lost 8-1, but Doss’ energy behind the plate did give Maryland a boost. In the fifth, the Terps finally put a run on the board after right fielder Michael Pineiro and Doss reached base on a hit-by-pitch and a walk.

Doss’ high-energy personality brings the emotion out of people, Murphy explained. It’s not necessarily what Doss says to his teammates, but the way he carries himself.

“I thought he was the bright spot of the game tonight,” Vaughn said. “That guy shows up [every day] and works. He’s a workhorse. he gets after it, he does his thing every day. [He] infused us [with energy] in a spot that we really needed it.”

Doss-cheer-Saturday
Photo credit: Paige Leckie / MBN

Doss didn’t record an official at-bat until the ninth inning, after he walked in the fifth and was hit by a pitch in the seventh. In the bottom of the ninth, Doss struck out swinging.

But even then, Doss reached base — his third time in as many at-bats for the Terps — when the third strike got past the West Virginia catcher and Doss sprinted to first safely. It jump-started a bases-loaded rally that ultimately fell short.

“I tell these guys, it’s a game of opportunities,” Vaughn said. “Maguire got his opportunity a couple weeks ago, and has taken advantage of it. Doss got an opportunity tonight, and showed us that he can handle it, that he’s more than capable to catch at this level and handle his own business.”

A brief injury put AJ Lee’s senior season into perspective

In the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday, Maryland shortstop AJ Lee rounded first base, turned to his dugout and yelled “Let’s go!” after roping a two-out, RBI single that capped a five-run rally that fell short in an 8-6 loss to Creighton.

Lee reached base three times in the series finale: the single in the ninth, a walk in the eighth and a hit-by-pitch in the seventh. The senior holds a .406 OBP in 16 games, a mark that ranks third on the team.

Although the Terps were swept for the second consecutive three-game set, Lee finished the series 4-for-9 with two walks and two hit-by-pitches in his second week back from an ankle injury he suffered on March 1.

And, while Lee is still only batting .231, Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn isn’t concerned. After a rough start to the season, during which Lee began the year 0-for-13, the shortstop seems to be bouncing back.

“AJ’s day-to-day is really, really good,” Vaughn said. “He was hitting like .150, but his quality at-bat percentage was still over 50 percent, so we knew there were good swings in there [and] we knew he was going to be solid.”

The shift in Lee’s momentum correlates with his return from injury. After he took a “funky turn” rounding first on a double against Louisiana Lafayette, the infielder left the game. He remained on Maryland’s bench for the next seven contests, rehabbing his ankle.

Lee singled in his first at-bat when he made his return on March 15 against No. 17 East Carolina, and continued his success in Maryland’s back-to-back midweeks against Elon. He went 3-for-6 against the Phoenix and reached bases seven times, including his first home run since February 23, 2018 against Army.

Though it has paid off, taking time off to recover was frustrating for Lee. It was the first time he had been kept from playing due to injury, but, according to the shortstop, it gave him a new perspective.

“[It] made me appreciate things a lot more,” Lee said. “I just feel a lot more relaxed, a lot more comfortable out there, and [I’m] just having fun and playing the game.”

With his more composed mindset, Lee has rebounded from his slump. In the eight games before injury, he hit .148 with a .314 on-base percentage and only two RBIs. Now, in the eight games since his return, he’s hitting .320 and reaching base 50 percent of the time. He’s also had seven RBIs since his return – more than three times as many as the first half of his season.  

Vaughn’s also seen a vast improvement in Lee’s defense. After recording four errors in those first eight games, Lee has only one error since his return from injury.

That error, however, didn’t come while Lee was at his primary position. Prior to the Terps’ Saturday matchup against the Bluejays, Vaughn learned that center fielder Chris Alleyne injured his thumb. The second-year head coach turned to Lee, who had never started in the outfield, and explained the situation to the senior captain.

Lee told his coach to do what he had to do to win the game.

“You talk about a senior that’s unselfish,” Vaughn said. “[Lee’s] what that looks like, and that’s what we’re going to need moving forward.”

D2IOs-pWoAEdIiH
Photo credit: Maryland Athletics

Lee’s unselfishness and maturity have both developed in the past year, Vaughn said. At the beginning of the fall, Lee not only stayed after practice an extra 30-to-40 minutes to field ground balls, but he encouraged others — specifically the younger players — to do the same.

Lee’s work ethic has “set the standard” of how the team works and “gets after it,” according to Vaughn, who added that it’s Lee’s demand that others follow suit that has really impressed him.

“There’s a lot to like about AJ and the way he’s going about his business,” Vaughn said. “[He’s] really showing these young pups what it takes to compete at this level … I’m proud as heck of him for that.”

Throughout his early-season highs and lows, one aspect of Lee’s game has remained constant: he gets on base.

Last season, Lee started all of the Terps’ 54 games, and while he batted only .232, he reached base almost 40 percent of the time. A speedy and dynamic base runner, Lee’s ability to get on base is one of the most important aspects of his game. 

“A lot of people will look at it and see his batting average and see our record and think that he’s either not doing what he should be or what we’re not doing what we should be doing,” Vaughn said, explaining that it couldn’t be further from the truth.

For Lee, he’s just glad to be back. And for the team, which has lost three of its last four weekend series, it’ll be glad it has its senior shortstop heating up when conference play starts this weekend against Indiana.

“It’s definitely tough when you see your guys out there competing and you can’t really do anything to help them,” Lee said. “[But] I’m feeling pretty good now, and I’m excited to be back.”

Chris Alleyne began the season on the bench. Now, he’s atop Maryland’s lineup.

IMG_1799
Photo credit: Maryland Athletics

Chris Alleyne often refers to himself as Maryland baseball’s “jack of all trades.” He has the ability to play multiple positions, reach base in various ways, and when he’s standing on first, use his speed to swipe second or score easily on a ball hit into the gap.

But the sophomore’s skillset started this season where it spent almost all of last year — on the bench. Despite transitioning from infield to center field in the offseason to help address a team need, he didn’t earn a start until the Terps’ third game. He hasn’t sat out since.

His role was clear. On defense: cover ground in center. As the nine-hole hitter: get on base for the top of the order. On the bases: wreak havoc in opposing pitchers’ minds. He wasn’t expected to lead Maryland to wins.

However, his 6-for-13 weekend against Stetson did just that. His first two career homers on Sunday guided Maryland to a series victory — a powerful performance beyond what head coach Rob Vaughn anticipated from the 5-foot-9 spark plug.

“[He] didn’t even start the first two games of the year,” Vaughn said, jokingly adding, “That shows you how dumb I am sometimes.”

In his freshman season, Alleyne mustered only two hits in 25 at-bats. On the bases, he even tripped in between third and home and was consequently tagged out as the game-winning run against James Madison (Maryland still won in 12 innings).

That’s all water under the bridge now, a distant blip already rectified only 14 games into a new season.

Alleyne is hitting .275 after his six-hit weekend against Stetson. He ranks first on the team in runs scored (12), second in home runs (2), and third in RBIs (7) and on-base percentage (.408). He’s also one of two Terps who doesn’t have more strikeouts than walks.

“Everyone’s going to struggle,” Alleyne said. “But there’s always a point where you’re going to see success if you can just stick with it.”

With regular leadoff hitter Caleb Walls entering Saturday on a 2-for-24 skid, Vaughn elected to switch things up midway through the series. He handed the role to Alleyne, who led off regularly at Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia.

While his hot bat was the highlight during Maryland’s two-win weekend, Alleyne had already become a mainstay of the lineup more for his speed and defensive abilities than his offense.

His incredible gap-to-gap range as a first-year outfielder became evident a week earlier against Louisiana Lafayette — especially in Maryland’s 14-inning marathon loss Saturday. In the 13th frame, he sprinted into deep right-center field and contorted his body to make an acrobatic, game-saving web gem, momentarily evading defeat.

The solid defense carried into this past weekend, when Stetson decided to test Alleyne’s arm. While the Terps lost on Saturday, Alleyne’s inning-ending, run-saving play maintained a two-run game. His throw moved catcher Justin Vought slightly up the third-base line, but not far enough to prevent a lunging tag at the plate.

“I love it out there,” Alleyne said. “It’s what [the team] needed. So as long as they need me out there, that’s what I’ll be doing.”

And then came Sunday, when Alleyne provided his team with much more offense than anyone thought he would provide. He drove in four runs and scored three times, playing a part in all but one of the team’s eight runs.

He reached base in all five trips to the plate: a leadoff double to start the game, a hit by pitch, his first-career homer, a walk and another two-run blast to seal the game. The first homer came from the right side of the plate against preseason All-American Mitchell Senger, and the other from the left side of the plate with the Terps clinging to a two-run lead.

“That home run he hit in the eighth there at the end to give us some breathing room … finally allowed us to squash [Stetson’s] momentum,” Vaughn said. “Even in our dugout, you could feel them coming a little bit and we were on our heels.”

Alleyne’s four-RBI afternoon was the difference in The Terps’ 8-4 win, which clinched a Maryland series victory over Stetson for the second consecutive year. It marked the Terps’ first road series victory since last April.

So, while “power” might not have been an established attribute in Alleyne’s self-proclaimed nickname, that’s exactly what Maryland needed from its jack of all trades for a big bounce-back weekend.

“I’m feeling good,” Alleyne said. “I’m not trying to do too much up there, just trying to allow my ability and my approach to take me where it wants to go.”

Maryland experimented on defense so it could use its hottest hitter vs. Delaware

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.

SeaBass
Photo credit: Maryland Athletics

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.”

Two first-year starters had breakout weekends vs. Maine

Maryland designated hitter Maxwell Costes’ visit to second base was short-lived in the first inning Sunday against Maine.

Just one pitch after the freshman’s two-run, bases-loaded double, Costes leisurely jogged home as the ball flew off first baseman Michael Pineiro’s bat and over the right-field fence. In consecutive swings, a tie game turned into a 5-0 Terps lead.

Neither Costes nor Pineiro touched the field last season — the latter watching the entirety of his first year in College Park from the dugout and the former still at The Gilman School in Baltimore.

But the young duo drove in seven of the team’s nine runs in the series finale against Maine, each breaking out in the Terps’ three-game sweep over the Black Bears.

“All we want is quality at-bats,” Costes said. “Get up there, do your job and do whatever you can to get on base.” 

And so far this season, with the Terps now on a four-game winning streak following an 0-2 start, the pair of first-year starters are doing just that.

About a quarter of the way through last season, though, head coach Rob Vaughn met with Pineiro, who hadn’t played in a game yet. That wasn’t going to change anytime soon. The coaching staff didn’t envision Pineiro receiving significant playing time in 2018, so he took a redshirt year to save eligibility as he further developed his skills.

IMG_8840
Photo credit: Maryland Athletics

After that conservation, Vaughn said, the rest of Pineiro’s year could’ve gone one of two ways.

“You [could] see a guy that kind of shuts it down for the rest of the year, and that guy usually doesn’t get any better and doesn’t turn into a player,” Vaughn said. “Or, you see what Mike did.”

The California native closely studied former Terrapin first baseman Kevin Biondic, who occupied Pineiro’s position in the infield. But when Biondic graduated and signed a minor-league deal with the Boston Red Sox after last season, that spot opened up.

Pineiro took what he learned in his season off and applied it to 37 games with the Kelowna Falcons in the West Coast League. When he returned to College Park in the fall he continued to improve, and thus earned an opportunity to start when the 2019 season began two weeks ago.

But he struggled to start strong during the Brittain Resorts Invitational, going 1-for-10 with four strikeouts in the opening weekend. Against Maine, however, he showed a dramatic turnaround with five hits, four RBIs and his first-career home run.

As much as Pineiro would’ve liked to play as a true freshman, his redshirt season prepared him for the large role he’s seeing in the middle of Maryland’s lineup.

“You can’t look back and look at it as a negative thing,” he said. “I look at it as a learning experience for me as a baseball player and as a person. I thought it was really good for me.”

While a year watching Maryland baseball from the bench preceded Pineiro’s first year as a starter, Costes spent three seasons watching from the stands before he got his chance. He cheered on the Terps while his older brother Marty was one of the team’s stars for the last three years.

Marty was drafted by the Houston Astros last June and forwent his senior year, which added to the lofty expectations for his younger brother — regardless of whether or not Maxwell has felt the weight of his brother’s achievements.

GameThreeFront
Photo credit: Maryland Athletics

But when Maxwell rocketed a two-run single in the bottom of the eighth on Sunday, he accomplished a Maryland feat last completed by Marty — recording four RBIs in a game as a freshman.

“Maxwell doesn’t get phased by a lot. That’s what I like about him,” Vaughn said. “You talk to all of our pitchers in the fall and those guys consistently said he’s the guy they least liked to face.” 

Costes went 4-for-9 with six RBIs against Maine last weekend, earning Big Ten Player and Freshman of the week honors.  He now has hits in five of Maryland’s six games this season, and in the game he didn’t get one, he still reached base three times.

Coming off a illustrious high school career, it can be difficult for young players to avoid getting caught up in statistics and individual results. For Costes, though, he’s much more concerned with playing his role, which he credits to his work with hitting coach Matt Swope.

“Being a freshman, hitting fifth, I’m stepping into a big spot,” Costes said. “My plan at the plate is to just have quality at-bats and find ways to get on base.”

That large role hasn’t been too lofty for a freshman like Costes, who leads the team in batting average (.350), doubles (3) and RBIs (7) six games into his college career. And while Pineiro has been asked to split time between the outfield and infielder, that role hasn’t been too much for him, either.

“When you start making it a science project, you’re not too good,” Vaughn said. “But when you go out and trust yourself and go compete, you got a chance to be pretty good.”

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

Maryland baseball’s chances of making the Big Ten Tournament looked slim less than a month ago after it was swept at home by Purdue. The weekend dropped the Terps’ conference record to 3-8 with three of the last four series slated for the road.

The team then won two of three in East Lansing against Michigan State — a series that might determine the final seed in the tournament — before losing two of three against Nebraska. Maryland’s record still sat at 6-11 and outside the tournament.

The probability of the postseason still looked minimal heading into last weekend against Rutgers, likely needing a sweep — something the Terps hadn’t accomplished all season — to keep their hopes alive. But then, with potentially six games left in their Maryland careers, the seniors led a charge that now has Maryland in a position to control its own destiny heading into the regular season finale on the road against Indiana.

Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 2.27.56 AM
Big Ten baseball standings (as of 5/16/18)

Maryland’s four starting seniors — Kevin Biondic, Will Watson, Zach Jancarski and Justin Morris — finished their final series at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium a combined 19-for-43 (.442) with 14 runs scored and 17 RBIs to lead the Terps to their first sweep of the season. The results moved Maryland from 11th place in the Big Ten to eighth, which would earn them a trip the tournament.

“We’re playing with that chip on our shoulder right now,” Morris said on Sunday. “I mean, our careers can be over after any day now so we’re all just trying to take advantage of these last few games and just leave it all out there on the line.”

DSC_5689
Senior catcher Justin Morris waiting for a call. Photo by Amanda Broderick/Maryland Baseball Network

The Maryland native started all three games at first base against Rutgers, relinquishing his primary role behind the plate to provide assistance as Biondic nursed a bruised foot. In addition to his 4-for-10 weekend at the plate, Morris’ defense was strong despite playing the position on just one other occasion this season.

“He did an unbelievable job out there, just unbelievable. What that is, is just big-time unselfishness from that young man. Big time,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “He’s been our catcher here for the last couple of years but our team needed him to play first base and that dude stepped up and did his thing both offensively and at first base [last] weekend.”

While Morris’ defensive boost was a pleasant surprise, Jancarski’s performance in center field was nothing out of the ordinary. His full-extension grab in the ninth inning Friday night potentially saved the game with the tying-runner at the plate. A day later, with his team much more comfortably up 15 runs, he dove backward and crashed into the wall to corral a fly ball.

IMG_3042
Senior center fielder Zach Jancarski scores for the Terrapins last season against Northwest. Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network

Jancarski — who also went 5-for-10 at the plate in the series —  has played in 183 games in his Maryland career, including starts in every game of the last two seasons. Putting his body on the line while up 15 runs in the last inning of his last weekend series in College Park shows what kind of seniors Vaughn has playing for him.

Biondic, despite not pitching, didn’t let his minor injury keep him from the batting order for the finale home series of his career. He assumed the designated hitter role for all three games, going 3-for-10 with two RBIs. The typical first baseman’s time in College Park began with playing 42 games in the Terps’ run to the NCAA Super Regionals in 2015, including all 10 starts in Maryland’s postseason games during his freshman year.

DSC_5497
Senior first baseman Kevin Biondic mid-swing. Photo by Amanda Broderick/Maryland Baseball Network

He started just 16 times two years later as a junior when Brandon Gum replaced him as a redshirt senior. Biondic’s adaptability has exemplified senior leadership, working hard to earn 50 more games this season with 23.1 innings on the mound as a first-year pitcher.

However, Maryland’s offensive surge began with the senior that has spent the least amount of time in College Park. Will Watson, who transferred from LSU-Eunice after his sophomore year, went 7-for-13 with 10 RBIs against Rutgers in three games. He hit two home runs with seven RBIs in the third inning alone on Saturday, helping earn national recognition and the Big Ten Player of the Week.

“Not one of us wants to be done playing so we want to extend the season as long as we can and we know what’s at stake,” Watson said Saturday. “We know that every inning, every pitch is important so we just kind of try to relay that message to the whole team.”

Despite a below-.500 season the Terps didn’t anticipate, they have a chance to extend their season in Bloomington. It’s simple: win all three games and they’re in the tournament. Anything other than that will require some help from around the conference.

The Terps are playing inspired baseball right now, going 6-3 in their last three conference series. That success, orchestrated largely by their seniors and starting pitching, has earned all one can ask for going into the final three games of the regular season: the right to control one’s own destiny.

“We could’ve made out lives much easier if we were getting after it, doing some of this earlier in the year,” Vaughn said. “But at the end of the day, if we can find a way to get to the tournament, who knows? I think when people are playing fearless and people are playing like there’s no tomorrow, then they become really, really dangerous.”

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.