In their best start to a season since 2015, the Maryland Terrapin’s heads were held high after winning a closely-contested Sunday matinee versus the Rhode Island Rams.
While that 2015 squad was the last to make the NCAA tournament super regionals, the prospect of the Terps fully replicating that season doesn’t have head coach Rob Vaughn chomping at the bit.
“It’s so early,” said the third-year head coach las week, after a perfect 3-0 road trip to begin the season. “We sit here this weekend and we have a good weekend, the boys are on top of the world, they feel good, but you and I both know that this game can flip at the drop of a hat.”
Not one to jump to conclusions, Vaughn still saw the first weekend of the year as an early barometer for the remainder of the season, and Maryland outscoring opponents 23-6 in this three games, along with three stellar performances from the starting arms, certainly makes that barometer spike.
Before Maryland’s home opener versus Rhode Island this past weekend, Vaughn preached the importance of confidence to his team.
“He often says, ‘Do the right thing, it’ll pay you back,'” said senior pitcher Elliot Zoellner. “So we’re just trying to continue with that and head in with confidence into the weekend.”
Zoellner pitched once in the season-opening road trip a week ago, a perfect sixth inning to keep Charleston at bay, and this Sunday notched the final out in the top of the sixth to keep Rhode Island out of the run column.
While confidence has proven a vital tool for the young Maryland team in these first two weekends, this season’s squad has the most chemistry of any team in the past four years, according to Zoellner.
“We’ve bonded really well, the freshman class is great, all the transfers fit in really well,” said Zoellner. “The coaches have put together a really good culture over the past couple of years, and it’s great to be a part of.”
That sentiment of a strong team bond is felt by players across the board, including freshman Tucker Flint, who played a crucial role — hitting for a .545 average — in the Terps’ first three victories. Flint explained that the team’s chemistry has enabled some of the conficence Maryland has shown of late.
“I think everyone seems to know their role really well,” said Flint following opening weekend. “I think confidence-wise, having a great first weekend helps a lot. Going 3-0, it’s huge, and it makes us believe we can beat anybody going forward.”
While the Terps went only 2-1 in their second weekend — the loss being a near-comeback 11-8 slugfest — having a high level of confidence is crucial for such a young Maryland squad.
Sean Burke, a redshirt freshman who missed the 2019 season recovering from an injury, is an example of the innate power of confidence. The righty threw his second gem in as many starts Sunday versus Rhode Island, striking out eight batters over 5 1/3 scoreless innings en route to Maryland’s 3-0 victory.
“I’ve only been here for this year and last year, but I think this year our team obviously is very close,” Burke said last Wednesday. “We get along with each other really well off the field so I think that translates well on the field with us trusting each other and being confident in each other…I think everybody’s pretty confident.”
Maryland’s confidence will be put to the test on Tuesday, as the Terps play host to the George Mason Patriots in their first midweek matchup of the season. Last season Maryland went 9-4 in midweek matchups, a result the team hopes its confidence and chemistry — and abilities on both sides of the ball — will better this year.
On Saturday afternoon against Rhode Island, Maryland pitching and defense struggled mightily, allowing 11 runs and making two costly errors. On Sunday, the Terps showed almost immediately that there would not be a repeat of their poor performance, as pitcher Sean Burke, catcher Justin Vought, and shortstop Ben Cowles combined for a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play to end the top of the first.
The defensive highlight set the tone for a game that was well-played by both sides, standing in sharp contrast to the somewhat sloppy first two contests of the series. The Terps rode Burke’s strong start and Maxwell Costes’s two solo home runs to a 3-0 victory, clinching their first series win of 2020.
For the first time this season, the Terps did not make an error, which allowed them to make up for a poor offensive performance. While Maryland had 8 hits, the Terps failed to capitalize on big opportunities, going just 2-for-9 with runners on base and 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.
In the bottom of the first, with Maryland still buzzing after Vought’s strong throw, Chris Alleyne started off the Terps’ offensive afternoon with a bang, lining a double to deadaway centerfield. After taking third on a wild pitch, Alleyne scored on an RBI groundout by Tucker Flint. Costes doubled the Maryland lead in the third when he ripped his first home run of the season to left-centerfield.
Burke was nearly unhittable in the early-going, allowing only 2 hits and punching out 8 in his first two trips through the order. Burke’s only early jam came in the third inning, when the Rams put runners on first and second with two outs. But Burke won a seven-pitch battle with center fielder Austin White, getting a strikeout and keeping Rhode Island off the board.
“On Sunday you’ve just got to set the tone, and it starts on the mound.” said Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn. “I thought he did an unbelievable job.”
Burke finally ran into real trouble in the sixth inning, when the Rams used back-to-back singles to put a man in scoring position with one out. After a deep flyout moved the lead runner to third, Vaughn lifted his redshirt freshman and brought on Elliot Zoellner to escape the jam. The sidewinder got Mark Coley to fly out to center, escaping the inning and keeping the shutout intact.
After getting the big out, Zoellner’s afternoon was over, as he gave way to Connor Staine, who worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning and stranded a runner on second in the eighth to keep the Terrapin lead at two. After Costes’s second blast of the day extended the lead to three, Staine got two outs in the ninth before allowing a single and a walk to bring the tying run to the plate and being relieved by Mark DiLuia. DiLuia fanned pinch-hitter Thomas Summers, getting the save in the Terps first shutout of the season and moving the team to 5-1.
Costes’s home runs were his first two of the season and both were very impressive. The first was a line drive shot over the left centerfield fence, and the second a towering drive down the left field line.
Despite the change in result, Costes said that “nothing really” changed in his approach.
“I talk to [assistant coach Matt] Swope a lot before the game, a lot after games, he kind of keeps my mind in things,” Costes said. “He tells me I’m swinging at good pitches and it’s going to come together at some point, and today we needed it in a couple big spots and it came together for us.”
When Maryland second baseman Austin Chavis blasted a fly ball to right-centerfield in the sixth inning of Saturday’s game with Rhode Island, it was initially unclear whether Rams’ center fielder Austin White had brought it back or if it had cleared the fence for Chavis’s first career homer.
When it became clear that White had come up short, the Maryland bench exploded, as the Terps’ ninth hitter had just put them back in the lead for the third time in a back-and-forth slugfest with the Rams.
But the euphoria was short-lived, as the lead changed hands for the sixth time in the very next inning, when two Rhode Island runs scored on an error by Troy Schreffler, giving the Rams a 9-8 lead they never relinquished en route to an 11-8 victory.
The Rams jumped out in front almost immediately, when three-hitter Jackson Coutts took Nick Dean deep over the left-centerfield fence for a two-out solo homer in the first. The lead was short-lived, as Maxwell Costes ripped a single back up the middle in the bottom of the frame to bring Chris Alleyne in from third and tie the game.
Ben Cowles put the Terps ahead in the second with the first home run by any Terrapin this season, depositing a 2-2 pitch over the batter’s eye in center field.
Coutts struck again in the third inning. After Rhode Island loaded the bases with two walks and a single, the designated hitter laced a 2-0 fastball from Dean down the right field line for a go-ahead two-run double. The Rams broke it open on the very next at-bat, when Xavier Vargas ripped a three-run home run to right field to push the score to 6-2.
Coutts and Vargas carried the Rams’ offense, combining for six hits and driving in 8 of Rhode Island’s 11 runs. The Terps relied on a more balanced attack, with six different players driving in at least one run. Maryland also made the most of its opportunities. Five of their seven hits went for extra bases, and the Terrapins went 4-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
The Terps closed the gap in the fourth, scoring on an RBI groundout by Matt Orlando and a run-scoring bunt single by Chavis to cut the Rams’ lead to 2. Tavin Shahidi, making his first start of the season, closed the gap to just one in the fifth with a two-out, RBI double to dead centerfield.
One batter later, Maryland’s comeback was complete, as Troy Schreffler blasted his first collegiate home run, scoring Shahidi and putting the Terps up 7-6. However, the lead was short-lived as Rams’ second baseman Joe Fortin re-tied the game with two-outs in the sixth with an RBI double off the top of the wall in right field.
After Chavis’s blast and the run-scoring error, the game briefly settled down, as neither side scored in the eighth. Vargas’s second homer, a two-run blast in the ninth, gave the Rams some breathing room and Tyler Brosius worked three scoreless innings for Rhode Island to slam the door on the Terps and hand them their first loss of the 2020 season.
When Sean Fisher walked off the mound with one out in the seventh inning against Rhode Island he was exiting his second straight solid effort and his second ever start for Maryland. While Fisher was excellent, escaping multiple jams and punching out four batters, the most dramatic aspect of his start was the contrast in free bases issued between him and the Rams’ pitching staff.
After spending his first two seasons in College Park as a reliever, Fisher was named the Friday night starter entering the season, and has excelled in his two starts, allowing just one earned run in 11 ⅔ total innings.
While Fisher issued one walk and hit one batter, Rhode Island’s pitchers lack of control, coupled with costly defensive miscues, defined the game, The Rams beat themselves badly, walking 12 Terrapins, hitting 7 batters, and committing two run-scoring errors in the 9-3 Maryland victory.
When they did find the strike zone, the Rams pitchers mostly held Maryland in check, allowing only four hits, all of which were singles. However, the free bases allowed Maryland to score eight or more runs for the third time in four games
The Terps got on the board in the second, when second baseman Aaron Perez walked in a run after Rams’ starter Justin Cherry loaded the bases with a single and two hit batters. Cherry’s control issues continued in the third, as he walked two batters before leaving with an injury. Reliever Ryan Twitchell had no better luck finding the plate, sandwiching an RBI single by Bobby Zmarzlak between two HBPs as the Terps tacked on three more runs.
After the long wait between trips to the mound, Fisher lost no rhythm, setting the Rams down in order on just five pitches in the top of the fourth to keep the Terps’ lead at 4-0.
In the bottom of the frame, reliever Ryan Picone continued Rhode Island’s trend of finding Maryland batters more than the strike zone, as he loaded the bases with three hit batsmen. However, unlike Cherry and Twitchell, Picone managed to keep the Terps off the scoreboard, escaping the jam by striking out Zmarzlak on three pitches.
The Rams’ offense finally broke through in the fifth. After getting two outs, Fisher walked center fielder Austin White on four pitches. After stealing second, White moved to third on an infield single by third baseman Tino Salgado and scored on a single to right field by second baseman Josh Brodeur.
Maryland got the run back in the bottom of the fifth, when Rhode Island shortstop Alex Ramirez dropped a sky-high, two-out popup by Chris Alleyne, allowing Benjamin Cowles to score from third.
The Terps added further insurance in their final two offensive innings, scoring three times in the seventh and once in the eighth to put the game firmly out of reach.
The win moves the Terps to 4-0, their best start since they started with the same record in 2015.
After a 3-0 road trip to kick off the 2020 season, the Terrapins will be opening up their home schedule when they host the Rhode Island Rams this weekend. Maryland returns to College Park after dominating a trio of Charleston Southern, Iona and College of Charleston, outscoring the three teams 23-6 on the weekend.
Rhode Island wasn’t as fortunate as Maryland in its first three games of the season, putting up a 1-2 record, including two blowout losses (7-3, 8-2) versus Lamar on the road last weekend.
The last time the Rams clashed horns with the Terps was in a similar fashion, facing off in the teams’ second series of the 2016 season. Maryland bagged two of the three games, the first of which featured an eight-inning shutout performance by former Terp and current Boston Red Sox pitcher Mike Shawaryn.
With Maryland’s pitchers showing nothing but pure dominance in its opening series, they’ll look to replicate Shawaryn’s past work against Rhode Island and keep the train rolling. Despite the Terps’ rotation not being set in stone, they’ll run out the same starters this weekend — Sean Fisher, Nick Dean and Sean Burke — according to Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn. Between the three, they only surrendered three total runs over 15 innings pitched while racking up 19 strikeouts.
As for Maryland’s offense, the plus-17 run-differential last weekend speaks for itself. But, the biggest highlight from the opening weekend was the hitting prowess displayed by freshman outfielder Tucker Flint. Flint, ranked the No. 1 recruit out of Rhode Island, paced the Terps with a .545 batting average in 11 at-bats and currently leads the Big Ten with a .667 on-base percentage.
“That’s a really competitive kid,” said Vaughn about the Rhode Island native. “He’s got a really high level of confidence and that’s what you need to be a good hitter in this league.”
Meanwhile, Rhode Island’s bats weren’t as strong, combining for a .194 batting average through their three games, although redshirt-sophomore Joe Fortin (.400 average) and freshman Alex Ramirez (.300) seem to be the early offensive leaders.
Rhode Island finished the 2019 season with a 24-29 record but going 14-9 within the Atlantic 10, good enough to make it into the conference’s tournament. But as the No. 6 seed in the tournament the Rams suffered a first-round loss to the Dayton Flyers.
Starting the season 1-2 isn’t the start that Rhode Island likely wanted, but one win is better than none. With a collective .569 on-base plus slugging percentage through three games, the Rams’ offense seems to be having some early struggles.
Hitters to watch
Rhode Island only has three hitters with an OPS greater than .750: Fortin, Ramirez, and junior Jackson Coutts. Coutts is right on the fence with a .250 OBP and .500 slugging percentage, but Fortin and Ramirez have carried the offense so far with a .971 OPS and .800 OPS, respectively, in the early season.
Pitcher to watch
“Their Friday night guy can really, really pitch,” said Vaughn of Rhode Island sophomore Justin Cherry. “He’s only a sophomore, but he’s got a really, really good feel for what he’s doing.”
Cherry threw 6 1/3 innings in his start against Lamar, striking out seven batters while giving up just one earned run.
But the Rams also have some solid arms in their bullpen; after its opening weekend Rhode Island boasts three relievers with 0.00 ERAs after throwing at least one inning, including redshirt-senior Tyler Brosius, who tossed six strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings over two relief appearances, including one save.
Probable Starting Pitching Matchup
Friday, 4 p.m. ET
So. RHP Justin Cherry vs. Jr. LHP Sean Fisher
In 2019, Cherry only spent half of his time pitching, as a two-way player he took reps in the infield as well. But what’s important is that Cherry made nine starts last season, pitching to the tune of a 2.93 ERA over 55 1/3 innings.
Fisher kicked off the 2020 season in quality fashion, pitching 5 1/3 innings with zero earned runs to go along with five strikeouts. After struggling out of the bullpen in 2019, Fisher will look to continue his success as a starter.
Probable Starting Pitching Matchup
Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
Sr. RHP Nick Robinson vs. Fr. RHP Nick Dean
Robinson spent the earlier half of his college career pitching out of the pen, but he was given the opportunity to start ten games in 2019 where he went 2-7 with a 6.13 ERA. In his first start this season, he was lit up by Lamar for three runs, six hits, and a walk over just 3 1/3 innings. Robinson is also the younger brother of former Maryland left-hander Alex Robinson.
Dean’s first career start went just as well as a freshman could imagine, as he struck out six batters while limiting Iona to only two runs over 4 2/3 innings. With a foundation to build on, Dean will seek to repeat that performance versus the Rams.
Probable Starting Pitching Matchup
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Sr. RHP Vitaly Jangols vs. R-Fr. RHP Sean Burke
After posting a stellar 2.23 ERA over 60 2/3 innings in his freshman year, Jangols has seen that number increase each year since, as his 2019 ERA reached 6.61. While he spent his first three years at Rhode Island pitching half of his appearances out of the bullpen, Jangols received the ball versus Lamar and pitched 4 2/3 innings, giving up just one earned run.
Vaughn perfectly described Burke’s start against Charleston as “electric,” after the redshirt freshman showed his team what they missed last year while he recovered from an injury. Burke tallied eight strikeouts over just five innings, setting a great first impression heading into the Terps’ home opener and the remainder of the season.
On this episode of the Maryland Baseball Network Podcast, Zach Solon catches up with Terps’ southpaw Sean Fisher, as the pair breaks down Maryland’s 3-0 start to the season and preview the team’s home opener against Rhode Island.
Plus, Fisher discusses his transition from the bullpen into the starting rotation. Give it a listen!
The Terrapins won their first two games of the weekend by generous margins, outscoring opponents 19-4, but on Sunday they rallied back late in the ninth to secure a 4-2 victory over the College of Charleston in the biggest comeback of the year.
Maryland tallied just three hits through the first eight innings, all of which came from the first three frames. In the ninth alone the Terrapins matched that hit total as center fielder Chris Alleyne started it off with a single, followed by freshman Tucker Flint who shot a double down the line.
Flint, who appeared as Maryland’s designated hitter on Sunday, has started all three games to start the season and leads the team with a .667 on-base-percentage at the end of the weekend.
A sacrifice fly from right fielder Randy Bednar plated Alleyne, bringing in his team-high fifth RBI of the season.
Following Bednar was first baseman Michael Pineiro, who replaced sophomore Maxwell Costes as a pinch runner. In his first at-bat of the season, Pineiro dropped a suicide squeeze that scored Flint to tie the game in an electrifying way.
The Terrapins wasted no time in extra innings, scoring the go-ahead and insurance runs quickly in the 10th. Third baseman Tommy Gardiner, who earned two hits on the afternoon, scored from second on a wild pitch to give the Terrapins their first lead. Pinch runner Austin Chavis followed with a wild pitch run of his own to put the team up 4-2.
With the win, Maryland stayed perfect on the weekend, going 3-0 for the first time since the 2015 season. In that season, the Terrapins made a Super Regional, the last time the team appeared in the tournament.
The unsung hero of the game for the Terrapins was starting pitcher Sean Burke. After being redshirted in 2019 due to injury, the righty was dominant in his first career start.
In five innings, the righty fanned eight batters, four of which came in the first two frames. Burke was the third Maryland starting pitcher to debut in as many games. He went five scoreless, and left in the sixth with two runners on, one of which scored on a fielder’s choice for the game’s first run.
Three arms came out of the bullpen for Maryland, the most that coach Rob Vaughn has had to use all season. Mark DiLuia tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit. Trevor LaBonte came in for the close in the 10th and earned a 1-2-3 inning to give the Terrapins the win.
For the second consecutive day, a slow start in the batter’s box was wiped away in one inning for the Terrapins. A 10-batter inning in the third proved to be the turning point in Maryland’s second straight win to start the year, defeating Iona 8-2.
Center fielder Chris Alleyne led the inning off with his third double of the year that shot down the line and dribbled to the left field wall. The Terrapins dealt with a few free bases to load the bases for a majority of the inning.
Right fielder Randy Bednar tied the game for Maryland with a sacrifice fly into left, bringing in his first RBI of 2020. The junior is hitting a solid .333 through the first two games of the season.
Following Bednar was first baseman Maxwell Costes who stroked his second single of the day, the other coming in the first inning that brought in freshman Tucker Flint for the team’s first run.
Flint, who made his debut as the designated hitter, moved to left field and up to the two-hole for the Terrapins on Saturday after reaching base four times on Friday. The freshman was hit by Iona pitchers in his first two plate appearances, and later doubled to left field. He reached base a total of four times on the day, keeping his OBP to .800 on the season.
An oddity of sorts that is starting to become a theme for the Terrapins is the statistic of 11 hit-by-pitches in just the first two games.
Adding to the list of freshmen making their debuts for Maryland this weekend was designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak. The No. 1 ranked prospect in the Big Ten, according to Perfect Game, earned a hard-fought walk on a full count to bring in his first RBI as a Terrapin in the long third inning.
Junior Tommy Gardiner also earned an RBI with a bullet up the middle to plate a run in the inning. The third baseman has been productive out of the nine-hole for the Terrapins, holding a .500 average through the first two days.
Maryland tallied nine hits on the afternoon in its second consecutive win, while the Gaels also had nine. Iona, who had just 14 wins a season ago, dropped its first game against the College of Charleston on Friday night and continued to struggle against the Terrapins.
On the other side of the ball, more newcomers made their debuts in a Maryland uniform. Freshman Nick Dean took the mound for the Terrapins and in 4 2/3 innings he fanned six hitters and forfeited just two earned runs.
In relief for Maryland was freshman Ryan Ramsey. The lefty tossed 2 1/3 innings from the bullpen, not allowing his first hit until the eighth inning. Ramsey finished with four strikeouts and just the one hit on a scoreless outing.
Sophomore Sean Heine made his first appearance of the season to close things out on the mound. In two innings of work, Heine fanned three and allowed two hits.
After four players made their debuts in the game on Friday night, three more Terrapins suited up for Saturday’s game for the first time.
After five runners were stranded on base through the first five innings, the Terrapins found a way to use some two-out magic in the sixth to regain a lead they would not again forfeit. In Maryland’s first game of the 2020 season, it was the four Terrapins making their debuts who carried the team to a 11-2 win over Charleston Southern.
The rally began with none other than freshman Tucker Flint, who in his Maryland debut found his way on four out of five times he came up to the plate, including three hits and an RBI. The Terrapins’ designated hitter shot a single into center and was followed by shortstop Ben Cowles, who earned a walk with two outs.
Another newcomer to the Maryland roster, junior transfer Austin Chavis, poked a ball to third that ended up thrown over first baseman Ryan Stoudemire’s head and brought in Flint to tie the game at two.
Maryland third baseman Tommy Gardiner looped a single into the infield grass that couldn’t be picked up in time, bringing in Cowles and giving the Terrapins the lead.
Gardiner, who lacked playing time in his sophomore season due to injury, found his way into the Maryland starting lineup for the season opener.
Freshman left fielder Troy Schreffler used his arm in the beginning of the game to throw out a Buccaneer at home, and then in the ninth joined the offensive onslaught with a two-RBI triple.
The Terrapins finished with 10 hits on the night, compared to Charleston Southern’s four.
Southpaw Sean Fisher started on the mound for Maryland on Friday night, making it his first career start in his junior season. Ace Hunter Parsons left the team after last spring and was drafted by the New York Mets, leaving the weekend opener slot wide open for the taking.
In 5 1/3 innings, Fisher tossed 92 pitches and earned five strikeouts. Two runs crossed the plate with the lefty on the mound, neither of them earned as they both came from Maryland errors in the second inning. Fisher finished the game with his first win of the year.
In relief for Maryland was freshman Sam Bello. In his collegiate debut, the right-hander stranded two Buccaneers on base with a strikeout to end the inning and hold on to the lead in the sixth. He followed his first inning with six more strikeouts in three additional innings of work, including striking out the side in the eighth.
The Terrapins literally started right away as leadoff hitter Chris Alleyne dumped a ball into left field that ended up as a double in what was the first pitch of the season. Two batters later, right fielder Randy Bednar dribbled a ball to the left side of the infield that brought in Alleyne for the game’s first run.
In the back half of the contest, the Terrapins really broke things open in the seventh as three straight players earned free passage to first via hit-by-pitches.
Catcher Justin Vought brought in a run after being pegged on the foot, and was followed by an RBI single from Flint’s third hit of the night. Gardiner drew a walk later in the inning, bringing in his second RBI on the night.
Alleyne finished things off in the inning with his second double of the night that brought in Vought and Flint, increasing the Terrapin lead to six runs.
The dominant start by Fisher followed by the closing by Bello saved Maryland’s bullpen for the remaining two games of the season, both of which will be started by freshmen.