Maryland baseball begins 2023 season with high expectations

Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland baseball is ready to transition from a pleasant up-and-coming program to a team with expectations of contending this Spring, as their 2023 campaign will kick off against FSU on Friday.

“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?’” said Maryland coach Rob Vaughn at Maryland’s Spring Media Day. “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.”

The incoming pressure of being treated as a winning team is well-earned. Last year’s squad ripped off a surprise 44-10 regular season, good enough for the NCAA’s No. 15 seed. This netted the Terps’ first regular season conference title in 51 years and their first-ever Big Ten regular season title. Vaughn won Big Ten Coach of the Year, making him the first Maryland coach to do so in any conference.

A heartbreaking 11-8 loss to Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament regional round ended that breakout season. Maryland, at one point, trailed 9-1, with its heroic rally coming up just short. 

The Terps have retained the majority of their talent from that successful unit, and whoever they lost has been replaced in the lineup. A few sluggers, notably Chris “Bubba” Alleyne, who led the team with 24 home runs en route to his winning 2022 Big Ten Player of the Year, create a void, but the team boasts a number of power hitters.

Matt Shaw will take the mantle as the new top dog, and has stepped up his production every year. Last year, the junior shortstop slapped 22 home runs (second most in the conference, let alone on his own team) and knocked in 67 RBI. He batted .290, and his OBP of .381 and SLG of .604 combined for an OPS of .985, enough to buy him a spot on the 2022 First Team All-Big Ten next to Alleyne. 

Shaw was recently identified as a member of the 2023 Gold Spikes Watch List, bestowed to the best amateur player in the country, as well as coming in as MLB’s No. 20 overall draft prospect. Shaw most recently impressed last summer at the Cape Cod League, where he won MVP honors.

In the field, Shaw works alongside fellow 2022 All-Big Ten First Teamers Nick Lorusso at third base and Kevin Keister at second, and Luke Shliger as a Second Teamer for his contributions behind the plate. Pitcher Jason Savacool also made the First Team, and, a post on an All-American team, and fellow starter Nick Dean landed a spot on the Big Ten Third Team.

Lorusso brought in 70 RBI a year ago to go along with a .971 OPS, barely trailing that of Shaw. Keister joins the impressive infield sporting a 1.002 OPS of his own thanks to an OBP of .420 and an SLG of .582. Shliger, who will don #3 this season, the sign of a team captain, put up an unreal .353/.495/.602 slashline, which adds to a staggering 1.097 OPS. All three position players batted at least .313 last Spring, and bring versatility to a dynamic lineup.

Savacool was recently identified by Vaughn as the likely starter for Friday’s debut against FSU on the road. The junior righty averaged a 2.93 ERA and an 8-3 record in 2022. Senior Dean will take the mound the following afternoon after having piled up a 4.57 ERA, giving the lefty a 6-2 record. 

The third and final game of Maryland’s first series will see its first pitching newcomer, Nate Haberthier, get Sunday’s nod. The junior righty stacked up a 6.75 ERA over 13 starts last year at Ohio State, which is where he’s spent his collegiate career to this point.

The Terps are set to face off against FSU at their home territory on Friday afternoon, and hope to start the season off the right way by stealing a win on the road. The Seminoles are coming off a 34-25 season in which they won exactly half of their 30 conference matchups. They, too, lost in the Regional round of the NCAA tourney, with their defeat arriving at the hands of UCLA. If they’re anything like Maryland, FSU is antsy to wrap up Spring training and get the season rolling.

“We’ve been ready for like three, four…five…six weeks…I mean, we’re ready to go,” Shaw said. “It’s good to finally play someone else.”

Maryland baseball was ranked No. 13 in D1Baseball’s Top 25 about a month ago, and this week will see their first attempts at picking up the regular season success where they left off. 

“Our guys love it, to be honest with you,” said Vaughn on the warm weather South Florida has to offer for their season debut. “The reality is we gotta play three games against a really good USF team… but man, they’re excited to get going. Those guys are chomping at the bit to get on the plane and get out of here.”

They’ll travel to Dick Howser stadium in Tallahassee, where the first pitch throws at 6:30.