It has taken three seasons to accomplish the goal, but Maryland coach Erik Bakich finally appears to have a club primed to compete for an NCAA postseason berth.
Bakich, of course, warns to tap on the breaks for now. But there’s no doubting the fact the Terrapins are much improved.
They made a first statement two weekends ago with a road series win over UCLA, before gaining headlines this weekend for their play in Greenville, N.C., where they defeated red-hot Purdue, solid East Carolina and Western Carolina.
The Terrapins headline our look back at Sunday’s college baseball action.
TEAM OF THE DAY: Maryland
The days of the Terrapins being an afterthought in the ACC might finally be over thanks to coach Erik Bakich and a much improved team. The Terps caught everyone’s attention last weekend with a road series win over UCLA. They earned even more respect this weekend with a 3-0 weekend in North Carolina, earning wins over Purdue, East Carolina and Western Carolina. In Sunday’s 2-1 win over host ECU, Terps starting pitcher Brett Harman allowed just a run in five innings. Maryland is 5-1 after two tough weekends.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: Brett Kay, ss, Illinois State
The Redbirds have been just OK so far this season, but they stepped up their offensive game in Sunday’s dominant 28-2 win over Tennessee Tech. Kay led the way with an amazing afternoon at the plate. He went 5-for-5 with a double, home run, five runs scored and four RBIs. For the season, Kay is now hitting .500 with a double, home run and four RBIs. He also has a fabulous .786 slugging percentage.
UPSET OF THE DAY: Appalachian State over LSU
We would’ve loved to be a fly on the wall of the LSU locker room following Sunday’s 11-1 loss to Appalachian State, which lost the series for the Tigers. The Tigers were stymied by Mountaineers starting pitcher Rob Marcello, who allowed just a run on three hits in 8 1/3 innings. For the Tigers, starting pitcher Kurt McCune was lifted from the game after allowing four runs on seven hits in just three innings. LSU should get back on track in the upcoming week with contests against McNeese State, Grambling State and Dartmouth.
FIVE BEST TEAMS
Texas Tech: Head coach Dan Spencer finally seems to have turned the corner with the Red Raiders. Tech had a fantastic weekend, capping things off Sunday with a pair of wins over St. John’s and Northern Illinois. Against the Red Storm, Red Raiders starting pitcher Shane Broyles allowed just two runs on four hits in 7 2/3 innings.
Florida State: Yes, it’s true, the Seminoles actually showed a resemblance of a good pitching staff this weekend against Florida International. FSU starting pitcher Peter Miller allowed just one hit in five shutout innings in a 2-1 win over FIU to clinch a series win. FSU reliever Brian Busch allowed two hits in two shutout frames, while Hunter Scantling and Robert Benincasa closed things out.
Long Beach State: Perhaps the Dirtbags are another team primed to turn the corner this spring. They pitched well throughout the weekend against California, winning the series finale 2-1. LBSU starting pitcher Ryan Strufing was fantastic, striking out five batters and allowing just a run on five hits in eight innings. Now it’s time to establish some consistency.
Southern Mississippi: After just looking OK against Nicholls State last weekend, the Golden Eagles redeemed themselves this weekend, and that’s even after losing the series opener to the solid Trojans. USM starting pitcher Boomer Scarborough allowed just two hits in five shutout innings as the Eagles took the series with an 8-1 triumph in the series finale.
San Francisco: The Dons will have some stiff competition in the WCC this season, but they might just be the league’s premier team. USF starting pitcher Christian Cecilio allowed just three hits in 6 1/3 innings of work, as the Dons captured a 6-0 win over Missouri to sweep the series on Sunday. Nino Giarratano has his club playing at an extremely high level.
FIVE WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE
LSU: The Tigers announced an attendance of 9,942 for Sunday’s embarrassing 11-1 loss to Appalachian State. Chances are good most of the natives were headed for the exits in the middle innings. The Tigers played a rough brand of baseball, with even starting pitcher Kurt McCune putting together a bad start. It’s back to the drawing board for the Tigers.
UC Irvine: The Anteaters haven’t been able to accomplish much so far this season from an offensive standpoint, and that finally caught up with them against Washington this weekend. The ‘Eaters dropped the series finale to the Huskies, 4-3. The Anteaters actually recorded 10 hits in the game, but also left 10 runners on base throughout the contest. That won’t get it done.
South Florida: The Bulls appeared to make some serious strides last weekend with a strong showing in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge, but things definitely didn’t work out as planned this week, as USF dropped the series finale and series to Bethune-Cookman, 2-0. BCC starting pitcher Rayan Gonzalez tossed seven shutout innings in the win over the Bulls.
San Jose State: The Spartans hoped to rebound this weekend after failing against San Francisco on opening weekend. That didn’t happen, as the Spartans were swept as a result of Sunday’s 5-2 loss to UC Santa Barbara. SJSU had issues getting anything going against UCSB’s pitching staff, particularly starter Austin Pettibone, who allowed just two runs on five hits in six innings.
Connecticut: The Huskies definitely were expected to go through some growing pains early this season after losing several key cogs from last year’s NCAA Super Regional team. The Huskies are now 2-4 on the season after dropping a disappointing 2-0 decision to Rhode Island. UCONN starting pitcher Anthony Marzi was the lone bright spot, allowing just a run on two hits in 6 2/3 innings.
FIVE QUICK THOUGHTS
* Boston College caught everyone’s attention the first weekend of the season with a trio of wins over Virginia, James Madison and Coastal Carolina. Some thought the 3-0 opening weekend was a fluke. Others thought perhaps the Eagles were legitimate, but wanted another weekend to reevaluate the situation. Well, after the weekend series against UCF, I think it’s safe to say the Eagles will be a legitimate postseason contender, unless of course they drastically change their style once ACC play begins. The Eagles dropped the opener of the series 6-5 before winning Game 2 8-7, and losing a 5-4 bout in the latter innings in the series finale. Unfortunately, the Eagles have a tough road until they open their home slate against Holy Cross on March 20. They still must go to Florida Gulf Coast this coming weekend, Florida International in a midweek bout, Miami for a three-game series then at Clemson for a three-game series. We’ll see if the Eagles can somehow survive that stretch.
* Definitely have to admit something, UCLA showed me something this weekend against Baylor. The Bruins showed signs of breaking out of an offensive lull in the midweek with a 19-7 win over Cal State Northridge. But they resorted to their old ways in the series opener against Baylor with a brutal 15-3 setback. At that point, it was thought the Bruins might be in trouble the rest of the weekend. Well, they apparently didn’t get that memo, as the Bruins finished the weekend with wins by scores of 9-3 and 8-6. Trust me, taking a series from a sizzling Baylor team like that was incredibly impressive. Beau Amaral stepped up in the second game, while Pat Valaika rose to the occasion in the series finale. Perhaps this will get UCLA rolling.
* There are some interesting things happening in the Big West right now. Cal State Fullerton actually looked like a solid club at Florida last weekend despite earning a series loss to the top-ranked Gators. But this weekend, first-year coach Rick Vanderhook earned his first series win as the Titans skipper … UC Irvine hosted an improved Washington club over the weekend and once again sputtered offensively. The Anteaters must learn to take advantage of runners in scoring position. In the series finale against the Huskies, the Anteaters left 10 runners on base … Cal Poly continued its incredibly impress start by sweeping a four-game series from Loyola Marymount, while Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara recorded series wins over California and San Jose State, respectively. For now, it’s looking like the Big West is better than expected from an overall standpoint.
* If you’re an LSU fan, there’s absolutely no doubt you’re disgusted with the way your team played over the weekend against Appalachian State. But this season is far, I repeat, far from over, so step away from the ledge a little bit. With that said, the Tigers could go either of two ways from here on out. In 2009, the Tigers lost an early-season home series to Illinois. They finished the season with the program’s sixth national title. Last season, the Tigers were swept at home by Florida to begin SEC play. They pretty much never recovered from that series. Now, we’re not saying this LSU team has national title potential. Far from it right now, unless its offensive drastically improves. But the early slip up in ’09 proves that you shouldn’t take too much away from one series. Now, if the Tigers struggle big-time again this weekend against a rather weak slate … then you might have a point.
* Color me not so surprised that Maryland coach Erik Bakich is creating a winner in College Park, Md. Having lived in Nashville for a couple of years while he was at Vanderbilt, including the highly touted 2007 campaign, it was even easy to see then that Bakich would be a successful head coach, at least eventually, whether it was at Maryland or another stop in the road. He’s a relentless recruiter with a quiet confidence off the field. On the field, he was a very fiery assistant for Vandy, but has since cooled his rhetoric a bit. Still, you have to love the type of fire he showed back then. Time will tell if Maryland continues at this pace and is able to reach the NCAA postseason. But again, if that happens, I won’t be surprised at all.