Maryland Coach John Szefc experienced a full-circle moment when the charter bus emblazoned with “Maryland” pulled into the parking lot at Virginia’s Davenport Field on Friday afternoon for practice ahead of this weekend’s super regional series against the Cavaliers.
After completing his first season in College Park a year ago, Szefc saw the Cavaliers, coming off their 10th straight NCAA tournament appearance under Coach Brian O’Connor, as a program he could emulate.
So he made the 120-mile drive to Charlottesville, took O’Connor out to lunch and picked his brain on everything from facilities to scheduling. Less than a year later, Szefc and the Terrapins have turned in an historic season and now sit just two wins away from the College World Series.
“If you’re gonna have major, major success, it’s not bad to copy somebody having major, major success,” Szefc said Friday. “The trip was a little different this time. The reason was a little different this time. These guys set a pretty good model for what’s going on, but the reality is when the first pitch is thrown tomorrow, that doesn’t make any difference.
Maryland’s magical run through the NCAA baseball postseason resumes Saturday at noon with Game 1 of this weekend’s best-of-three series against Virginia. Game 2 is scheduled for noon Sunday, and if necessary, Game 3 would be played Monday at 4. All three games will be televised on ESPN2.
A sold-out, and pro-Virginia, crowd will be on hand to witness the Terrapins first-ever appearance in the super regionals and the first-ever super regional between two ACC teams. The Cavaliers, meantime, are in search of their third trip to Omaha since 2009 after beginning this season atop the national polls. They are the highest national seed remaining after a wave of upsets during the first weekend of the NCAA baseball tournament.
And of course, with Maryland entering the Big Ten next month, this also represents the final time these two border rivals will square off as members of the same conference.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. Here’s a preview of what else to watch for this weekend:
Projected Game 1 starters
1. CF Charlie White (.284, 2 HRs, 29 RBIs)
2. 1B LaMonte Wade (.255, 2 HRs, 25 RBIs)
3. 2B Brandon Lowe (.339, 1 HR, 39 RBIs)
4. 3B Jose Cuas (.271, 5 HRs, 42 RBIs)
5. SS Blake Schmit (.313, 1 HR, 29 RBIs)
6. LF Tim Lewis (.287, 0 HR, 14 RBIs)
7. DH Nick Cieri (.248, 0 HR, 18 RBIs)
8. RF Anthony Papio (.271, 2 HRs, 28 RBIs)
9. C Kevin Martir (.275, 4 HRs, 25 RBIs)
RHP Jake Stinnett (7-6, 2.65 ERA, 130 Ks)
1. 2B Branden Cogswell (.294, 0 HR, 17 RBIs)
2. SS Daniel Pinero (.252, 0 HR, 17 RBIs)
3. 1B Mike Papi (.297, 11 HRs, 51 RBIs)
4. RF Joe McCarthy (.303, 6 HRs, 45 RBIs)
5. LF Derek Fisher (.288, 3 HRs, 23 RBIs)
6. DH/3B Kenny Towns (.257, 2 HRs, 28 RBIs) or Nick Howard (.261, 1 HR, 20 RBIs)
7. DH/3B John La Prise (.383, 1 HR, 14 RBIs)
8. CF Brandon Downes (.218, 7 HRs, 35 RBIs)
9. C Nate Irving (.241, 1 HR, 17 RBI)
LHP Nathan Kirby (9-1, 1.36 ERA, 102 Ks)
Key matchup: Jake Stinnett vs Nathan Kirby
Game 1 will feature a battle of each team’s ace. Stinnett, picked by the Chicago Cubs with the No. 45 pick in the 2014 Major League Baseball draft Thursday night, has been Maryland’s workhorse all season. He ranks third in the nation with 130 strikeouts and led the ACC in innings pitched and complete games. He did, however, allow 10 hits and three runs when the Terrapins defeated Virginia, 7-6, in the ACC tournament.
But Maryland and its lineup of six lefties did not have to contend with Kirby, the co-ACC pitcher of the year, when they hit four home runs against the Cavaliers last month. Kirby, a sophomore, showed off electric stuff throwing eight shutout innings against Arkansas in the regionals last weekend and O’Connor declared this week the sophomore “has made the biggest jump from one year to the next on the mound of anybody since we’ve been the coaches here.”
The winner of Saturday’s pitching duel will have a decided advantage in this series.
Stat to consider Part I
Maryland’s bullpen pitched nine scoreless innings in last weekend’s Columbia, S.C., regional
Stat to consider Part II
Virginia went 14-6 in one-run games this season.
Virginia 3B/DH John La Prise — 7 for 12, 3 runs, 2 RBIs in three regional games.
Maryland C Kevin Martir — 6 for 13 with two home runs and four RBIs in three regional games; hitting .400 over his last 16 games.
“Our guys are swinging the bat the best they have all year, by far. Our intrasquads we’ve had this week were also really good. We’re as prepared as ever to face anybody right now. As good as [Kirby] is, we’ve got a pretty good guy, too. I like our chances with the guy we have on the mound.” — John Szefc
“They’re the highest seed. Everybody expects them to be successful. It really doesn’t matter to me. We’re just gonna come in here playing hard, getting after people and see what happens when it’s all done.” — Szefc