Maryland baseball cleared out of its dugout at TD Ameritrade Ballpark in Omaha, Nebraska after getting knocked out of the 2019 Big Ten Tournament by Michigan.
The Wolverines, who defeated the Terps 10-4, continued on an improbable run that had them one game away from winning the College World Series. The Terps, on the other hand, finished 29-29. They had to sweep Iowa in their last regular season series to even make the tournament.
Maryland beat Illinois before two straight losses to Ohio State and Michigan ended their season. But that feeling in the dugout stuck as the Terps prepared for 2020, now just one day away.
“At the end of the year, losing like that, that’s heartbreaking. Nobody wants to do that at all,” outfielder Randy Bednar said. “Moving into this season, we used that as motivation and inspiration to see what we can do better and regroup.”
This new-look team is without several key leaders, including shortstop A.J. Lee, third baseman Taylor Wright, reliever John Murphy and starting pitcher Hunter Parsons. New names will have to step into bigger roles, including Bednar, a preseason First Team All-Big Ten selection this season and a First Team All-Big Ten selection in 2019.
“Me as well as the upperclassmen tried to do our best to set the standard every day,” Bednar said. “When you’re able to lead with your actions and lead with your words, the younger guys are going to start looking to you for the way we do things here.”
The 2020 season comes with further question marks, especially on the mound. With Parsons gone and senior left-hander Tyler Blohm still recovering from an injury that sidelined him last season, Maryland has holes to fill.
Returning starters Trevor LaBonte and Zach Thompson are expected to feature in the rotation frequently. LaBonte has some flexibility to fit into the long reliever spot, a big help during midweek games.
However, head coach Rob Vaughn said he expected some new faces to see time on the mound, such as freshmen Sam Bello, Nick Dean and redshirt freshman Sean Burke.
“We’re going to try to put guys in the right spots,” Vaughn said. “We do have some experience on the mound. We just don’t have tons of experience.”
Vaughn described a “Starter A, Starter B” type rotation, especially for weekend starts, where he’s expecting to throw out as many as six starters for a three-game series. It’s something that’s been on the backburner for a few years, but now, with some flexibility, Maryland can experiment with that.
That also shines a brighter light on Maryland’s proven starters, especially Blohm, who, when healthy, is a potential ace, a Freshman All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year back in 2017.
“If he gets anywhere even within shades of where he was from a velocity standpoint, we’re gonna run him out there,” Vaughn said. “He knows how to win. He’s a winner. He’s not afraid. He’s been there.”
As for the starting lineup, nothing is set in stone, but don’t expect the same nine players to take the field every game. Vaughn has some flexibility with his returning starters and a new group of freshmen, the seventh-best recruiting class in the nation according to D1Baseball.com.
“We’re going to do a good job as a coaching staff sitting down, putting our best lineup together, giving that lineup a chance to do some things,” Vaughn said. “I think we have some more depth, so you’ll see 10-12, 13 regular position players involved, which as a coach, is great.”
Given this year’s freshman class and the relative success of last season, a certain expectation has been put on the team.
That hasn’t phased the Terps at all as they gear up for a stronger conference showing and a dark-horse run at the NCAA Tournament.
“A lot of people are going to have different opinions, good or bad, and that’s fine, but I think the most important thing is at the end of the day, all that matters is what we got within this group,” Bednar said. “All we’ve got to worry about is what we’re doing day in and day out to prepare for Game 1.”