Last spring, for the eighth straight season, the Terrapins baseball team missed out on a postseason berth.
Despite earning 11 conference wins — their most since 1971 — and recording a second straight season with 30 or more wins for the first time in program history, the Terps didn’t qualify for the ACC tournament.
But with the return of several key contributors from last season’s team and the addition of young talent, especially on the mound, the Terps are poised to return to the conference tournament for the first time since 2005.
“We’re talented, and with what we have right now, the ACC tournament just seems like it will happen,” center fielder Charlie White said. “Obviously we are excited to end the drought, but we kind of expect to end the drought this year at the same time.”
Three key starters, including top left-hander Jimmy Reed, graduated after last season, and a number of additional players, including first baseman Tim Kiene and third baseman K.J. Hockaday, left the program because they did not fit into the up-tempo, small ball style of second-year coach John Szefc.
After a full offseason under Szefc, the Terps have a set of players who understand what’s expected of them by the coaching staff and fit into Szefc’s system.
White, an All-ACC second team selection, is expected to anchor the lineup once again after he led the Terps in batting average and on-base percentage while setting the single-season record for steals in 2013. On the pitching side, right-hander Jake Stinnett will pick up Reed’s former role as No. 1 starter after coming on strong in April and May.
“I’ve spoken to Jimmy pretty recently and throughout the fall,” Stinnett said. “He just talked to me about leading the pitching staff, but at the same time, don’t think too much into [it]. Don’t let the pressure get to you.”
Following Reed’s advice, Stinnett worked on becoming more of a leader this season, and the Vista, Calif., native emphasized becoming more vocal as well. Leading by example, he said, doesn’t always work.
“One thing we’ve really been working on is everybody trying to be leaders and holding everybody accountable,” Stinnett said. “Leadership’s been something we’ve really been working on, and I think we’ve really done a good job at developing that throughout this fall semester.”
It helps that the Terps have twice as many seniors this year and return six of their top seven hitters from last season.
While injuries hurt the Terps last season and forced underclassmen into crucial roles, the Terps now have a plethora of experienced starters and backups, such as first baseman LaMonte Wade, who have had a year to adjust to Szefc’s philosophies.
Wade started all 55 games last season as a true freshman, hitting .260 with a team-high 38 RBIs, after Kiene, the projected starter, played just eight games because of injuries. With Kiene’s departure, Wade enters the season as the Terps’ top option at first.
Wade will be one of eight sophomores who played extensively in their first years in College Park, including catcher Kevin Martir, infielder Jose Cuas and left-handers Jake Drossner and Alex Robinson.
The youth contributed to a solid offensive showing in Szefc’s system. The Terps were third in the ACC in steals (94), first in defensive fielding percentage (.977) and improved in multiple offensive categories, including batting average and on-base percentage.
Those performances helped create the foundation the Terps will look to build upon this spring with the addition of a few newcomers, such as right-hander Mike Shawaryn and catcher and infielder Nick Cieri, both of whom were selected in the MLB draft in June.
Last summer, Stinnett and White were both taken in the 29th round of the MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees, respectively. But the duo chose to return to College Park for another shot at ending both a conference tournament absence that has lasted since 2005 and a 42-year NCAA tournament drought.
So tomorrow night when the Terps take the field at McKethan Stadium to face No. 23 Florida in Gainesville, Fla., they’ll still be more than three months removed from the ACC tournament. It’s on their minds, but they recognize what they need to do to get there.
“We talk about the postseason quite often because it’s what we are looking towards. But to get there, you have to take care of all the preparation now.” Szefc said. “Initially, we’re just kind of worried about the first few days. It’s a long year. You can’t look too far ahead.”