As the ACC tournament approaches, Maryland baseball’s first in nine seasons, the team still has not lost in May. The Terrapins are unbeaten this month, winners of nine straight since a rainy-day loss to James Madison on April 29, the nadir of a season since salvaged.
“I felt like as we played down the stretch, we played our best baseball in the last two and a half weeks,” Coach John Szefc said on Monday’s ACC coaches teleconference. “Every coach hopes that you finish stronger than you start.”
With the regular season over and exams behind them, the sixth-seeded Terps (34-19, 15-14 ACC) now look ahead to Greensboro, N.C., where juggernaut Virginia (43-11, 22-8 ACC), the No. 3 team in the nation according to Baseball America and No. 3 seed in the ACC, awaits. Maryland has not met the Cavaliers this year, but with a roster replete with players unfamiliar to the postseason, simply reaching the program’s first ACC tournament since 2005 would be enough cause for celebration.
Not for Szefc, currently in his second season in College Park.
“As far as the lack of postseason experience goes, I don’t think that’ll play into anything,” he said. “We’ve been playing good teams the whole year. It’s not like we’re going into the ACC tournament, playing elite-level teams for the first time. We’ve played them all year. We’ve played in good ballparks.”
Indeed, a strong strength of schedule (49th nationally, per WarrenNolan.com) has the Terps looking at their first NCAA tournament bid since 1971 (projected a No. 2 seed in the Columbia subregional here), and only the team’s fourth in history. Ace Jake Stinnett (6-6, 2.53 ERA, 113 strikeouts) has excelled atop the rotation, earning second-team all-ACC honors on Monday, and twirled a 2-0 shutout against Notre Dame on May 2, the Friday after Maryland lost to James Madison.
“That got us going, got us feeling good again,” Szefc said. “It wasn’t just how he was pitching. It was the things he was saying to guys, and how he ran the team for the last two and a half weeks. I think some of the other, older guys decided they wanted to stay together and keep playing.”
In the lineup, junior centerfielder Charlie White (.278/.393/.351 with team-high 24 stolen bases and 57 hits) earned second-team all-ACC honors, while second baseman and redshirt freshman Brandon Lowe (36 RBI, team-best .468 on-base percentage) was tabbed to the third team. This swirl of veterans and youth, Szefc said, has gelled over time, culminating in the critical stretch after Maryland got swept at Boston College and fell at home to the Dukes.
Since then, the Terps allowed four total runs in a three-game sweep of the Fighting Irish, pummeled VCU in Richmond, squeaked past Towson at Ripken Stadium, outscored Pittsburgh by 26 runs in another three-game ACC sweep and closed the regular season by beating West Virginia on May 13.
In Greensboro, the Terps will play in Pool B alongside Virginia, No. 2 Florida State and the winner of a play-in game between No. 7 North Carolina and No. 10 North Carolina State. After playing Virginia at 11 a.m. this Thursday, they face Florida State on Friday and the UNC-N.C. State winner on Saturday. The two teams that win each pool will advance to the title game on Sunday, with an NCAA tournament automatic bid at stake.
“We’ve talked about this for a long time since we’ve been here as a staff. I don’t think it will be an issue,” Szefc said. “It’s another game against really good opponents. That’s how we look at it.”