Feature photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics
Maryland baseball fans can count on four things when coach John Szefc fills out the day’s lineup card: Zach Jancarski in center, Nick Dunn at second, Marty Costes in right and Kevin Smith at short. The rest of the roster gets thrown in the blender to fill in the remaining positions, and Szefc’s lineups may as well be snowflakes: no two are the same.
“Our team’s a little unique this year,” catcher Dan Maynard said. “I don’t even remember us having the same lineup two days in a row.”
Even more lineup juggling could be approaching, as three Terrapins made their season debuts at new positions in the team’s chaotic 12-11 win over Richmond Tuesday.
Brandon Gum, recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered last year playing for George Mason, played third base; Will Watson manned first and Maynard served as the designated hitter.
For the first half of the game, the Terps made it readily apparent they were using a new defense. Maryland committed four errors in the first five innings, leading to seven unearned runs before Szefc plugged in AJ Lee at third base to restore defensive order.
With catcher Kyle Schmidt gaining three bases in the seventh on an Andrew Miller throwing error and coming home on a Ryan Selmer wild pitch, Richmond crossed the plate a ninth time in unearned circumstances. Maryland had never won a game in program history giving up that many unearned runs.
Gum, Dunn, shortstop Patrick Hisle and catcher Nick Cieri were all charged with errors for their mistakes. But they all had hits as well, three coming in the game’s most important inning.
Down 11-8, Gum led off the eighth inning by lining a single past third base. Watson walked, and two batters later, Cieri evened the score by pulling a hanging changeup over the right field wall.
Hisle then drove a two-out double off the batter’s eye in centerfield and scored the go-ahead run when Jancarski singled.
Offensively, the game accurately depicted Maryland’s success through versatility in 2017. The Terps have enlisted plenty of platoons, and whoever ends up starting often succeeds that day.
“Guys when they’re in the lineup, they make it count, so it’s making it tough on the coaches, honestly, to see what lineup works the best,” Maynard said. “But I think it’s a good problem to have, for sure.”
Maynard is part of a three-man group at catcher, where he’s split time with Cieri and Justin Morris. Cieri’s been on-base more than 46 percent of the time, Morris has hushed the opposition’s running game and Maynard has hit .333, with his first college home run coming Tuesday.
“We’re fortunate enough to have three guys that could play any day and would be playing every day at any other school,” Jancarski said. “I think they’ve done a great job of kind of accepting the roles and coming in when their name is called and doing a good job. They’re three unselfish guys who have tremendous talent.”
The two-run homer Maynard hit, which pulled Maryland to within one run in the fifth inning, didn’t surprise Jancarski.
“Danny’s got some juice, it was only a matter of time,” he said. “If you watch [batting practice], the kid puts on a show sometimes … It’s not gonna be his last, I promise.”
Szefc has seen the sophomore catcher’s pop as well and decided he would be a good fit in the lineup for Tuesday’s contest.
“If you look at the scores of our midweek games, they’ve been pretty high,” he said. “You’re trying to put some offensive guys in there and he fit that description.”
The decision worked out for Szefc, and Maynard’s first foray into designated hitting may not be his last.
Watson has been the team’s primary designated hitter but could see games at first or in left on occassion moving forward. If Cieri keeps reaching base at his near 50 percent clip and powers a few more long balls, he might force himself into the lineup more often as well. Then the team has to think about how often Gum should give Lee a break at third.
“It’s hard to get sometimes nine guys in this lineup because we have more than nine good position players,” Szefc said. “You try to match it up as best you can, position player-wise, pitcher-wise.”