‘This team could be something special’: Maryland baseball eyes NCAA Tournament run

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

After Chris Alleyne went unclaimed in both the 2021 MLB Draft and free agency, there was no question on what his next step would be.  

The answer was always College Park.

Once Alleyne officially made the decision to return to Maryland for a fifth year, his conversation with head coach Rob Vaughn was short and simple. 

“‘Hey, I’m coming back,’” Alleyne told Vaughn. “He [Vaughn] goes: ‘Glad to have you back. Let’s get started.’” 

The Terps are coming off their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2017, losing to East Carolina in the Regional Final. They finished the season ranked No. 25 by D1 Baseball. Going into last year, they had not been nationally ranked since that 2017 season.    

The pitching staff will look to fill the void of right-hander Sean Burke, who the Chicago White Sox drafted in the third round of the 2021 MLB Draft. Freshman phenom Jason Savacool returns for his sophomore campaign after leading the team in both wins and innings pitched. Junior Nick Dean also shined on the mound last season, finishing fourth among Big Ten starters with a 2.87 ERA. New to the rotation is reliever-turned-starter Ryan Ramsey, who finished the year with a sparkling 1.67 ERA and earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors. 

On the hitting side, the Terps bring back a large portion of last season’s high-powered offense, which finished top three in the conference in runs, hits, RBIs, home runs and on-base percentage. While they lost draftee Ben Cowles to the New York Yankees, the Terps are looking forward to having first baseman Maxwell Costes fully healthy for the first time in nearly a year. The 2020 third team All-American battled wrist and ankle injuries for most of last year. The club is looking forward to having him back at full strength.

“When he’s healthy, he’s a different animal,” reliever Sean Heine said. “Compared to last year, we had to do some other things to replace him from his injury but now having him at full strength is going to be huge in our lineup and give us real depth.” 

Alleyne is also coming off of a career-best season at bat, finishing with his first individual distinction on the second team All-Big Ten in 2021.  

Infielder Matt Shaw also returns to the Terps after an excellent freshman campaign. The Preseason All-American led the team in average and hits while coming up with a number of huge hits in the Regional Final, including home runs in his first two at-bats. Vaughn even made him a captain this season, a decision Vaughn does not take lightly. 

“Part of the reason I felt comfortable as a sophomore naming him a captain of our team is the fact that he’s not only improving himself but he’s helping instill that in others,” Vaughn said. “He’s talked about rooming with certain guys on the road, not because they’re his buddies but because he wants to help them.” 

While the Terps return most of last season’s core, they added a handful of players from big-name programs. Among those is Villanova transfer Nick Lorusso. Lorusso led the Wildcats with a .306 average and excelled in the Terps’ fall exhibition series, hitting a homer against Virginia.

The Terps face a tough non-conference schedule, taking on five teams that qualified for last year’s NCAA Tournament (including a rematch with East Carolina in early March). Vaughn hopes to use this as an opportunity to see where his club stacks up with some of the premiere baseball schools in the nation.  

“I would much rather kick some of the rust off and kick some of the nerves off against some really high quality opponents because you need that feedback,” Vaughn said. 

The Terps begin this season with a chip on their shoulder after last season’s heartbreaking Regional Final loss. This factored into Alleyne’s decision to return to College Park. 

“The combination of on-field talent that we have here and that we have unfinished business getting to a regional last year and not being able to follow through and win it…it always encouraged people to come back and do something special again the next year,” Alleyne said.