The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland baseball is having the best season in school history and wants more

Maryland pitcher Ryan Ramsey threw a perfect game on April 29. (Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

Just over the left field wall that lists Maryland baseball’s modest assortment of accolades lies the Shell, a green complex that — despite what it lacks, including air conditioning and heat — has shaped the Terrapins’ program. The glorified tent — a “temporary structure,” Coach Rob Vaughn said, but one that has been there for more than a decade — serves as the team’s hitting facility, far from what some top programs enjoy.

Temperatures are blazing inside during the summer, and in the winter, portable heaters work to offer some reprieve. When it rains, the Shell floods. Once, while players were hitting, it collapsed because of snow.

Vaughn said a fellow Big Ten coach told him: “Rob, I know you want something nicer than this, but I’m telling you this building right here makes the wrong people say no.”

Still-perfect Maryland lacrosse plows past Virginia to reach Final Four

An indoor facility is supposed to one day replace the Shell, but that won’t change what Vaughn believes: Talent matters, but so does having the right kind of people — ones who care about building a program and are committed to his vision of a gritty team. Those are the players who are now the fabric of the team during a historic season.

The Terps (44-10) had never won this many games, and they still have the postseason to go. Maryland won a conference title for the first time since 1971 — ending a drought that spanned the lifetime of all members of the young coaching staff — and the group will aim to also win the Big Ten tournament in Omaha, where Maryland will face Indiana on Thursday as the top seed. The Terps have cracked the top 10 in some national rankings, along with the No. 3 slot in RPI. They’ve shown the school’s administration and fan base what this program can be.

Vaughn’s predecessor, John Szefc, lifted Maryland out of a decades-long stretch of irrelevance during his five-year tenure. The Terps had never reached the NCAA super regionals until Szefc led them there in 2014 and 2015. Szefc departed for Virginia Tech after the 2017 season, handing the program to Vaughn.

With an NCAA regional probably heading to College Park, the Terps have an opportunity to go further than the school ever has. This is new territory for the Terps, who have never hosted games in the NCAA tournament. With a 68-year-old stadium that seats 2,000, Maryland plans to use bleachers to increase the capacity to 3,000, improve lighting and add an auxiliary location for media, according to Josh Kaplan, who oversees facilities for Maryland’s athletic department. The school explored hosting games at other nearby ballparks but decided to make its on-campus stadium work.

“Do we wish we had bright and shiny? Sure,” said Vaughn, who was named Big Ten coach of the year Tuesday. “But we’ve won two regionals in this. This is who we are. This is us. It doesn’t matter if we’re in a $20 million stadium; this has to remain who we are.”

Maryland women’s lacrosse crushes Florida to get back to Final Four

Vaughn developed what he calls the pillars of the program — ownership, toughness and a growth mind-set. Those drive recruiting, and then once players reach campus, they inform everything else. Stars haven’t filled each recruiting class, but some of the recent high-schoolers who landed at Maryland rather than a storied program have had standout careers while fueling the team’s rise.

Ryan Ramsey, a junior left-handed pitcher, threw a perfect game last month — the second in school history and just the 20th nine-inning perfect game in Division I history. The feat led to a flood of texts, custom T-shirts and an invitation from the Orioles to be honored at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

Ramsey, along with fellow weekend starters Jason Savacool and Nick Dean, sparked confidence heading into this season, and a high-scoring offense has turned into the ideal complement. The Terps average 9.3 runs, and they’ve scored at least 12 in each of the past five games entering the conference tournament.

“I’m just sitting in the dugout, and it’s like, bam, home run, bam, home run,” Ramsey said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, this again.’ It’s awesome to see. These guys are absolutely mashing the ball. It’s almost like video games for some of these guys.”

Sophomore shortstop Matt Shaw has emerged from an early-season slump to slug 21 home runs, and he’s battling teammate Chris Alleyne, a center fielder with 22, for the Big Ten lead. Alleyne had hit just 14 home runs in his first four seasons at Maryland. He attributes his newfound power to offseason work with hitting coach Matt Swope and better vision because of new contacts. Alleyne, who also has stolen 23 bases, was named the conference’s player of the year Tuesday.

Alleyne, a Philadelphia native, knew Zach Jancarski, who played for the Terps until 2018, so he started following the team around eighth grade. During the recruiting process, Alleyne connected with the people in Maryland’s program, and he said he wanted to be somewhere he liked “what they’re building rather than just having cool facilities.” Alleyne committed to Szefc, and the coach left Maryland just before Alleyne’s class enrolled. He stuck with Maryland anyway. He already felt comfortable with Vaughn, who, at 29, was promoted to the top job.

Vaughn and Szefc had worked together at Kansas State. As a volunteer assistant coach not far removed from his playing career, Vaughn nearly became the hitting coach at a community college, but then Szefc, a former Kansas State assistant, asked Vaughn to be part of his staff at Maryland. Vaughn accepted the job before he saw the campus. By the time Szefc left five years later, Vaughn hoped to take over the program.

Brenda Frese downplays high-profile transfers, restocks Maryland’s roster

“I wanted it really bad,” Vaughn said. “I thought we could do what we’re doing right now. I thought this was very feasible here. It didn’t feel like a pipe dream.”

Vaughn experienced a steep learning curve his first season, finishing the 2018 campaign 24-30. When he assessed what went wrong, Vaughn realized he tried to copy the approach of Szefc, who let his assistants essentially serve as the head coaches of their area.

“I really like being hands-on,” Vaughn said. “I feel like Year 1, I kind of pulled back and was just kind of: ‘Hey, let’s manage everything. Let’s CEO this a little bit.’ And it’s just not my personality.”

Since then, the Terps have gradually built toward success they hope is sustainable. After the coronavirus pandemic cut short the 2020 season, Maryland lost in the regional final last year — the first time the team made it there under Vaughn.

With solid pitching and experienced players, Vaughn thought this team could be good, but he didn’t imagine it would venture as far as it has into the realm of “special,” he said. The more the Terps win, Vaughn said, the more the staff believes they’ll get it done each time. Now there are not-so-far-fetched dreams of Omaha, where the final eight teams play in the College World Series.

Vaughn hasn’t had much time to appreciate what his team has accomplished. After lifting the Big Ten regular season trophy, the Terps already had shifted their focus toward more. Soon, that title will be listed on the outfield wall, but there are other spots where 2022 could earn a permanent place in the shadow of the Shell. The other short lists celebrate NCAA regional and super regional appearances. But maybe, these players hope, Maryland will have to add an entirely new category.

“There are whispers,” Ramsey said, “where it’s like: ‘We could definitely do this. We could make a run at it.’ ”

Loading...