Photo courtesy of UM Terps

A rollercoaster of a season – Maryland baseball 2019

The Maryland Terrapins’ stay in the Big Ten Baseball Tournament was brief. After an early upset win over third-seeded Illinois, they dropped two straight against Ohio State and Michigan, ending their season. However, considering their position halfway through the campaign, and even two weeks prior to the final series of the regular season, Terps fans could conceivably take some pride in their 39-39 overall record and sixth seed in the tournament.

  • Batting order

While the Terrapins’ offense was not the most reliable in the Big Ten, there were some key components of the batting order that could usually be counted on to produce results. In fact, their powerful offensive core propelled them

For power, Maryland turned to freshman phenom Maxwell Costes and sophomore outfielder Randy Bednar. Costes tied for second in the Big Ten with 15 home runs, and Bednar wasn’t far behind with 12 of his own. Bednar also led the team with 55 RBIs and 21 extra-base hits.

The Terrapins’ jack-of-all-trades player was A.J. Lee, the senior second baseman who showed speed, power, and most of all, resilience. He returned in top form following a mid-season ankle injury, leading the team with a batting average of .317. Among his seven home runs was the game-winner in the opener of the three-game sweep against Iowa which propelled Maryland into the tournament.

While the trio of Costes, Bednar, and Lee sustained the Terrapins’ offense late in the year, they could not fully patch the holes in the batting order. Despite the trio’s efforts, Maryland still ranked ninth out of 14 in the Big Ten with a team batting average of .250.

Freshman infielder Benjamin Cowles displayed flashes of brilliance during the season, including three separate three-for-four performances. He could not keep this up on a regular basis, however, and his batting average just barely stayed over the Mendoza line at .200. Justin Vought, despite his excellent play at catcher (including a heroic effort against Louisiana-Lafayette that single-handedly kept the Terps in the game for another two extra innings), took more chances than necessary when he stood on the other side of the plate. While this led to ten home runs, it also produced 77 strikeouts, trailing only Indiana’s Cole Barr for most in the Big Ten.

  • Pitching rotation

The undisputed leader of the Terps’ pitching rotation was senior right-hander Hunter Parsons, who led the Big Ten with ten wins. More than anything else, his endurance and ability to stay on the mound for long periods may have been his biggest merit to the team – his shortest start lasted five full innings. In fact, one could easily rename the pitching rotation for the 2019 Maryland Terrapins to “Hunter Parsons and his Amazing Friends”.

The trouble for Maryland is that Parsons has graduated, leaving quite a hole for Vaughn to fill.

The coach seemed to realize this, which may explain why he experimented early in the season with frequent pitching changes. An 8-6 loss to Creighton in March saw the Terps bring in seven pitchers, four of whom lasted a full inning.

Aside from Parsons, there were two main starters sharing the load. Trevor LaBonte won only one of his fifteen starts, and was on the hook for a pair of dismal home losses to Indiana and Michigan. Still, as a freshman, there is time for him to improve his game.

The third man of the rotation fared better, but faced his own set of issues. If ever there was proof that the win-loss record is an inaccurate measure of a pitcher’s worth, Zach Thompson would be it. While his game is far from flawless, the redshirt sophomore’s 3-6 record reflects less on his skills than on bad timing and even worse luck.

On many of his better days, such as March 16th against nationally-ranked East Carolina where he threw 8 innings and only allowed four hits in a losing effort, he pitched well enough to earn what would usually be a win. Unfortunately, he happened to take the mound on the days when the offense did not have their best stuff, and even the few hits Thompson let slip were enough to tip the balance.

Control was something that Maryland’s hurlers struggled with all season, and not even Parsons was immune. One statistic laid this bare; all three Maryland starters were guilty of more than ten hit batsmen this season. In fact, Thompson (18 HBP) and Parsons (14 HBP) claimed the top two spots in the conference for that dubious category.

  • Home…sweat…home

While the past year at College Park was not the most pleasant one for various reasons we don’t need to repeat, that still doesn’t explain some of the Terrapins’ ghastly performances at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium in 2019.

Among their lowlights were two straight blowout defeats at the hands of the conference regular season champion Indiana Hoosiers in late March by a combined score of 39-9 – and the score masks the true scale of the defeat, as four of the Terps’ runs in the first game came in the bottom of the ninth. In early May, Maryland suffered another humiliation at home to a conference rival – this time to the Michigan Wolverines, who outscored the Terrapins 33-12 in a three-game sweep.

But the true quality of a team can be measured by how well they play on the road, and without their 16-11 road record, Maryland simply could not have entered the Big Ten Tournament. While they did not sweep a series away from home – aside from a two-game set against Elon which they dominated by a combined 23-8 – they pulled off some impressive series wins. One of the true success stories of the season was their two-out-of-three over Illinois in Champaign at the start of conference play, a triumph that helped turn their season around after the Indiana debacle.

Perhaps the Terps performed so much better on the road because they were glad to get off campus.

  • Streaks can be deceiving

Things started out so well for Maryland. And then they just…didn’t.

When the Terrapins won six straight after an 0-2 start, it was hard not to think of them as a national contender once again. After losing two of three to the dismal Louisiana Lafayette, and a painful sweep at the hands of East Carolina, reality set in that this would not be that kind of season for Rob Vaughn and his boys.

From there, no one knew what they were going to get when they saw the Terps play. They could put up eleven runs on the road one day and then get shut out at home two days later. Yet in the middle of the season, even as the team struggled through inconsistent play, the losses piled up more than the wins, stamping out the glow of the early winning streak.

Unexpectedly, conference play proved to be a boost for the Terps, as they claimed series wins over Illinois, Northwestern, and Penn State to climb back into tournament contention. With one series remaining and four teams competing for the last spots in the Big Ten Baseball Tournament, Maryland was guaranteed nothing at home against Iowa – third in the conference at the time.

But the Terrapins brought their A-game, punching their ticket to the tournament with a three-game sweep of the Hawkeyes which included Lee’s ninth-inning walk-off home run to end the first game. As a bonus, the Terps also knocked the Hawkeyes all the way from third to eighth place, where they would be knocked out by Minnesota.

Considering the roller-coaster nature of this season of Maryland baseball, where the team could be capable of some of the best and worst performances in the same week, a .500 record is the only one that could make any sense. But while this certainly was not the best baseball team Maryland has produced, they will be remembered for how they saved their best for when it mattered most, and the young talent in their lineup will make for a promising 2020 season.

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William Pitts

Hello, I'm William Pitts. I'm the Maryland Terps baseball beat reporter for The Left Bench (well, one of them), and I also do some photography for Stories Below the Shell.
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About William Pitts 21 Articles
Hello, I'm William Pitts. I'm the Maryland Terps baseball beat reporter for The Left Bench (well, one of them), and I also do some photography for Stories Below the Shell.