COLUMBIA, S.C.—Not that long ago, Maryland wasn’t going anywhere. Now it’s going to a super regional.
The Terrapins finished off a perfect run through the Columbia Regional with a 10-1 demolition of host South Carolina on Sunday night, claiming Maryland’s first regional title in program history. It’s the culmination of a run that began after the Terps hit their lowest point—when they were swept at Boston College in late April. Maryland was 9-14 in the ACC and its postseason hopes looked dead.
After Maryland’s first win against South Carolina on Saturday, Terps coach John Szefc spoke of the atmosphere following that BC series.
“If you’d been around the bus ride with us when we’re coming back from after getting swept at Boston College,” Szefc said, “it was kind of, ‘We’re going North or we’re going South.’ Those guys decided we’re gonna go North.”
The Terps have gone 14-3 since.
Unlike Saturday’s game when the Gamecocks put themselves in an early 4-0 hole and couldn’t come back, South Carolina did get the early jump on Sunday, getting on the board with an RBI double from Kyle Martin in the bottom of the first inning. Terps starter Jake Drossner lived dangerously, continually falling behind in counts, but timely hitting eluded South Carolina for the rest of the night. The Gamecocks stranded 10 runners, six of them in the first four innings. South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said afterward that he knew his team should’ve gotten ahead by more than 1-0.
Momentum turned in the top of the fourth. South Carolina’s Joel Seddon, normally the closer but pressed into duty as a starter, was a strike away from extricating himself from a second-and-third, no-out jam as he got ahead of senior shortstop Blake Schmit 0-2. Seddon had been going to his slider often to great effect, but in trying to finish off Schmit, he missed his spot.
“I got down early—I think it was 0-2—and I was just trying to do my best to put the ball in play and make them make a play,” Schmit said. “(Seddon) left a slider over the plate, and I got enough of it.”
Schmit pulled a single through the left side and both runners raced home, the air coming out of Carolina Stadium along with them.
The Gamecocks simply ran out of gas as the game wore on, while Maryland looked like it could’ve kept running for miles. After Schmit’s go-ahead single deflated the Gamecocks and their usually imposing crowd, the Terrapins would spend the rest of the night tacking on runs, scoring in five of the final six innings. And with each Maryland runner to cross the plate, more fans trickled toward the exits beyond the center field wall.
Reliever Bobby Ruse retired South Carolina in order in the ninth and the Terrapins dogpiled in front of the pitcher’s mound, capping a surreal night in Columbia. The locals hadn’t had to watch a visiting team dogpile in more than a decade, since Louisiana-Lafayette won a super regional in Columbia in 2000. The Gamecocks hadn’t failed to win a home regional since 1976.
And they were being done in by Maryland.
In the information handouts each school distributes to the media, the “NCAA Tournament History” section in Maryland’s takes up about three inches of one page. South Carolina’s required a two-page spread.
“I’m sure there are teams that have come in here and have more talent than we have,” Szefc said. “I know how good the SEC is. The one thing I can tell you is that we have some tough kids and kids that, in the last 40 percent of the season, have showed some things that I rarely see in college baseball in 20 years–very, very mentally tough kids, very driven kids and also kids that can perform on a high level under duress.”
The Terps showed the toughness their coach referred to in spades all weekend in Columbia. They never blinked when games were on the line, but they also didn’t have any letups. The Terps committed one error in three games; their opponents made four. Maryland’s pitchers walked six hitters compared to nine by the opposition, not to mention the two game-deciding, hit-by-pitches in the ninth inning on Friday against Old Dominion.
You might beat the Terps, but they won’t help you do it. To knock them out, you’ll have to be the sharper team for 27 outs. And while they might not have the most talent, they’ve got their share of it, too.
“They have athletes running around that field out there,” Holbrook said. “It was impressive. And the pitching, obviously with (Jake) Stinnett out front and the freshman they threw yesterday (Mike Shawaryn), they have arms. They’re physical. They’re athletic. They were very impressive.”