Maryland baseball looks to follow up historic season by taking the next step

Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

By Henry Brown and Ryan Colasanti

Maryland baseball ended last season in a familiar place, losing to UConn in the NCAA Regionals. Losing in the regional round two years in a row, the Terps hope to take the next step in their tournament aspirations, using their prior experience as a roadmap for victory.

“We have a lot of experience. I mean our whole infield is juniors or older. Our whole outfield is sophomore, senior, fifth year. And Luke [Shliger] obviously behind the plate as a junior,” said junior Matt Shaw. “We’re old. We have experience. We’ve been through it. We’ve lost twice now. Luke and I, we lost to ECU to the final game and then we lost, obviously last year against UConn. So with that experience, I think we’re ready to go.” 

Shaw is one of three Terps named preseason All-Americans by D1 Baseball along with catcher Luke Shliger and pitcher Jason Savacool. Maryland enters the season ranked thirteenth in the country, according to D1 Baseball. Despite the added attention the accolades bring, the Terps try to focus on what’s ahead.

“I think it’s nice to obviously get recognized for things you do both as a team and individually but besides that, it’s kind of day by day. None of that really matters when the season starts,” said Shliger. 

The added attention arises about more pressure, and the Terps are hoping to use the pressure and turn it into a positive.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize from the outside is that every sport has pressure on the player. Regardless of whether you’re the best player, the worst player, you feel pressure to be successful. You feel pressure to succeed,” said Shaw. “And I think something that’s gotten Luke and I to this point, is that we’ve been able to manifest that pressure into positive things. We’ve been able to use that and just say we need to be the best version of ourselves.” 

Shliger and Shaw at their best is a dynamic duo. The pair accumulated an OPS over .970 and crushed a combined 34 home runs. The two play a crucial factor on the field, but more importantly off the field as leaders of Maryland, who sees roster turnover.

The team faced some tough losses in the offseason at the hands of the MLB Draft, which saw Chris “Bubba” Allayne drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Troy Schreffler taken by the Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan Ramsey picked up by the Kansas City Royals and Maxwell Costes signed by the Baltimore Orioles. Still, head coach Rob Vaughn has no shortage of potential leaders on his roster.

“My job gets easier when it’s a player on the team Luke’s our captain,” said coach Rob Vaughn. “I have teams where coaches don’t want to put anybody in #3, nobody likes being captain. This year, I have five or six guys I feel comfortable tossing the reins to, making them kind of lead by committee is really important because they all bring good influences and leadership. Between Luke, Matty, Kevin Kiester, Matt Woods, Nick [Lorusso], those are the guys that can run this team.”

In Vaughn’s eyes, the months following their heartbreaking tournament loss have seen the mental fortitude of his players bolstered. Having the right players leading the way has proven one of Vaughn’s favorite subplots to have emerged in the preseason. 

“I’ll start with the mentality,” Vaughn said. “Coming off a year like last year, as a coach, you’re looking at it thinking ‘are these guys gonna start to believe we’ve arrived?’ Everybody around us is gonna tell us how good we are, whereas last year it was kind of the opposite. No one knew really anything about us. 

“You’re kind of curious what the mentality is gonna be, and the one thing I can say about this group is they’ve shown up every day, they’ve gone about their business extremely professionally. I think the leaders of this group have made sure that they’re not satisfied.”

Vaughn understands the presence of the media’s magnifying glass which places pressure on contending teams.

“I’m excited for this group to see what their story is like,” Vaughn said. “Last year, this team from day one was hot. That doesn’t always happen, and I think this year we’ll see what it looks like. Every coach loves coming out of the gate hot and writing their own story, but at the end of the day when June rolls around I think we’ll write a pretty special one.”

The Terps play their season-opener at USF in Tampa on Friday, Feb. 17.