Justin Morris and Brian Shaffer embrace after the last out of the top of the eighth inning against Michigan. (Paige Leckie/ The Left Bench)

Maryland baseball takes on Tennessee in season opener

When the Maryland Terrapins take the field in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, the team will consist of a mix of new and old.

Following the 2017 season in which the Terps finished 38-23 and made a trip to the NCAA Regionals, the team has experienced a decent amount of turnover, including a change at head coach.

Starting with Rob Vaughn, former assistant and associate head coach, taking over as the head man for Maryland after John Szefc took a job at Virginia Tech in June. Vaughn, who is entering his sixth season within the Terps, is the eighth head coach in program history.

Besides Vaughn, there are a few players who fall into the category of “new” for the Terps.

The left side of the Maryland infield will look different come Friday. With the departure of shortstop Kevin Smith, who is now part of the Toronto Blue Jays organization, junior AJ Lee will become the new middle infielder for the Terps. Lee isn’t necessarily a new face for Maryland, as he spent his strong sophomore campaign as the team’s starting third baseman, but with Smith gone Lee can now play his natural position while trying to build off his .307 batting average.

Lee’s move to shortstop means that another new Terp will take over the hot corner. Colorado Northwestern Community College transfer Taylor Wright is that man. Wright is coming off two stellar seasons at CNCC and a strong performance in the West Coast League where hit 12 homers while batting .337.

Freshmen outfielders Randy Bednar and Richie Schiekofer will both see time in the outfield in what will be their first seasons sporting the red, black, yellow and white. This young duo could provide some instant pop in the Maryland lineup, as both are coming off fantastic seasons in high school. Bednar, who committed to the Terps during his freshman year of high school, was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 27th round of the 2017 MLB Draft, but opted to forgo the pros and come to College Park.

The rest of the Terps lineup along with the rotation will be filled with experience. Senior and junior outfielders Zach Jancarski and Marty Costes bring both a veteran presence and some pop to the Maryland outfield, and junior second baseman Nick Dunn will do the same for the infield.

Behind the plate, senior catcher Justin Morris will continue his duties as the team’s main backstop. Morris, who has the ability to provide some offense, will also be key in helping the Terps’ pitching staff perform at an elite level.

The rotation’s success will start and end with two men who have very similar names. Senior Taylor Bloom and sophomore Tyler Blohm will most likely be the Terps’ Friday and Saturday starters throughout the season. Blohm is coming off a fantastic first year in which he led Maryland in wins with eight. The Terps’ Sunday starter will be junior Hunter Parsons, who has been putting in a lot of work over the offseason, according to Vaughn. Parsons boasted a 12.05 ERA in 21.2 innings pitched last season, but Parsons has gotten back to where the team needs him, Vaughn said.

Moving to the bullpen, Maryland will rely on junior right-hander John Murphy as its closer. Murphy proved reliable last season, with a 1.71 ERA in 31.2 innings pitched. During the Terps’ postseason run, Murphy struck out 12 players in nine innings. Other relief pitchers for Maryland will be senior Ryan Hill, redshirt senior transfer Alec Tuohy, and right-handers Mike Vasturia and Elliot Zoellner. The team will also look to junior Billy Phillips for relief.

Hill pitched 46.2 innings for the Terps last season, often coming in as early relief for struggling starters. He averaged 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings. Tuohy, a transfer from SUNY Buffalo, brings experience to the bullpen and will look to get back to his 2016 numbers when he pitched 93.2 innings with a 2.98 ERA.

Vasturia spent last season recovering from a shoulder surgery last year but will take to the mound this season as part of the Terps’ relief staff. Zoellner made one appearance last season against LSU, where he gave up 3 earned runs, but he saw action in the Fall World Series and should be an option Maryland in the bullpen.

Phillips is “going to be a guy who’s not just a feel-good story but a guy who’s going to throw some innings for us that matter, and hopefully develop into a good guy to depend on,” Vaughn said at spring sports media day. Phillips returns to the team this year after beating Leukemia.

This weekend the Terps face the Volunteers, a team they haven’t seen since May 4, 2016, when they beat Tennessee 10-9 in Greenville, North Carolina. Last season the Vols went 27-25 overall.

Tennessee enters the season with 21 returning players, seven of which started double-digit games as position players. While they lost their top two hitters coming into this season, the Vols will look to sophomores Pete Derkay, Andre Lipcius and Justin Ammons to propel their offense.

The Volunteers’ returning pitchers are sophomores Zach Linginfelter and Garrett Stallings and junior Will Neely, all three right-handers. Tennessee has two up-and-coming freshmen pitchers, left-hander Garrett Crochet, and right-hander, Chase Wallace.

Maryland’s season-opener against Tennessee begins at 3:30 pm on Friday, Feb. 16, with a game on Saturday, Feb. 17, at 2 pm, and Sunday, Feb. 18, at 1 pm.

Fans can listen to the Terps’ games via the Maryland Baseball Network (http://mixlr.com/maryland-baseball-network/) and can stream the games live via the SEC Network. (http://www.espn.com/watch/_/id/3296270/maryland-vs-tennessee)

Ryan Homler and Paige Leckie contributed to this story.

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