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College | Story | 2/28/2015

Experience is everything

Patrick Ebert      Frankie Piliere      Jheremy Brown      Mike Rooney     
Photo: Maryland Athletics

Contributing: Austin Bynum

Week 3 Weekend Preview | College ball returns to LakePoint

EMERSON, Ga. – The University of Maryland baseball team is off to a 6-1 start this year, which shouldn't be all that surprising considering they finished last year 40-24. They even advanced to the Super Regionals, losing to Virginia in Charlottesville, as that strong finish led to a No. 14 final ranking in Perfect Game's end-of-the-year top 25.

However, it was hard to ignore the losses the Terrapins suffered during the offseason, which included their Friday starter, Jake Stinnett, who was taken in the second round by the Chicago Cubs after a breakout season, building his ace-like reputation by out-dueling several high profile arms over the course of the spring. Also gone were productive lefthanded reliever Ben Brewster and two of their top hitters, Blake Schmit and Charlie White.

One key piece did return however, sophomore righthander Michael Shawaryn, who led the team in wins a year ago with a fabulous 11-4 Freshman All-American season.

I think it was huge,” Shawaryn said on Friday about his team's late-season run in 2015. “We were able to do a lot of things during the postseason that we weren't able to do in the regular season. I think it just showed us – it was kind of a confidence boost – that we can do these things. Going into this year we wanted to build off of last year and we come back with experience, and I think that's the biggest thing, and it's helped us so far.”

This year marks the first for Maryland in the Big Ten, as they opened the year 33
rd among the teams Perfect Game ranked in the preseason (out of 40), admittedly placing too much emphasis on the players that Maryland had lost, at least more so than focusing on the ones that were set to return.

We have a lot of juniors on this team that have been regular players since their freshmen year,” Szefc said of his team after their 4-2 win over Appalachian State on Friday. “Guys like (Kevin) Martir and (Jose) Cuas and a guy like Brandon Lowe, who's been here for three years but was hurt his first year. We have two really strong personality seniors in Bobby Ruse and (Tim) Lewis, and a guy like Anthony Papio who's been here for four years as a redshirt junior. We have a lot of guys who have been around for a while.”

Szefc and his club went on a near-magical run in the month of May a year ago, going 13-2 on their march to the ACC Championship prior to ousting Regional host South Carolina from the postseason before seeing their own season come to an end at the hands of the eventual national runner-ups. In just two seasons with Maryland, Szefc has 70 wins.

It's kind of speeding up the process, the whole building process,” Szefc said of his team's late run in 2014. “We were pretty average mid-way through the year last year and really kicked it in the last 40 percent of the season and it's really helped accelerate our program's progression.

The reason that we (advanced to the Super Regionals) is we have some pretty good players, and they just took a little bit longer to get comfortable and learn how to play from behind and we obviously tried to carry that through the offseason to right here today.”

Preaching a patient, controlled approach at the plate and an aggressive attack on the bases, Szefc's club is hitting .290 collectively on the young season and has stolen 10 bases in as many attempts while more than doubling their opponents' run production, 51-24.

Center fielder LaMonte Wade, who went 2-for-5 today with three stolen bases, is leading the team in hitting so far with a .464 average and nine RBI. Leadoff hitter and second baseman Brandon Lowe, who entered the day hitting an even .300 and yet saw his average drop to .261, eptomizes the approach that Szefc instills on his players with a .514 on-base percentage, leading to 11 runs scored already this year. Designated hitter Nick Cieri is hitting .370 with a home run and eight RBI, while shortstop Kevin Smith (.320) and catcher Kevin Martir (.304) are also on the sunny side of .300.

Third baseman Jose Cuas provides the power threat in the middle of the order, and while he's only hitting .179, with one swing of the bat today he gave the Terrapins a 3-0 lead in the third inning that they would never relinquish. Cuas received strong consideration to make Perfect Game's preseason All-American squad after hitting .279-5-42 a year ago.

That blast followed Lowe getting hit by a pitch with one out, which was followed by one of Wade's two singles. First baseman Andrew Bechtold tacked on another run in the third with a two-out RBI single, driving home Martir.

But the spotlight on Friday shone brightly on Shawaryn for his dominant performance.

Today it was just one of those days,” Shawaryn said after his dominant seven inning performance. “It was a long bus trip, weird circumstances, so I just wanted to get out, set the tone for the game, try to give some atmosphere. And I was able to do that by kind of getting out in the first inning, just 1-2-3, pounding the strike zone and executing pitches.”

Shawaryn finished the day striking out 12 batters, allowing only two base hits, one of which was a solo home run off the bat of Appalachian State catcher Zach Hummel in the top of the sixth. He attacked the strike zone and changed speeds effectively, routinely staying ahead of hitters and keeping the basepaths free of opposing baserunners.

That's been kind of the key throughout the whole year, coming out strong, and we've been able to do that so far this year,” Shawaryn added. “We've gotten down, but we haven't really given up. We grind through it, continue to put runs up on the board, and the next thing you know we're looking at a win. I think that's the biggest thing for us this year, just kind of grinding through. The circumstances may not be ideal, but we're a pretty experienced bunch from last year so we're able to handle the circumstances pretty well.”

The sophomore ace is now 3-0 on the season with a 1.80 ERA and impressive 20-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 innings of work, and leads a talented pitching staff, that like its offense, is very strong from top to bottom.

He's just very, very consistent,” coach Szefc said of his star pitcher. “Talk about knowing what you're getting with that guy. He's very reliable, very dependable; you could throw a lot of adjectives out there. But he's as good a young guy as I've been around as far as being a dependable guy, and we obviously know that. We feel great playing behind him and he's your quintessential Friday night starter.”

His stuff has matched his success so far this season, and on Friday Shawaryn sat at 90-93 with his fastball while also showing his continually improving slider. With three pitches in his arsenal he continues to build a case as one of the top pitchers projected to be eligible for the 2016 draft. He also recognizes the amount of work needed to put in to achieve his potential, and despite not pitching last summer after throwing 92 1/3 innings as a freshman, he knew it wasn't time to take off.

I just lifted, got stronger, stuff like that,” Shawaryn said of his offseason. “I had a plan going into the offseason; get stronger, faster, and in the fall work on some mechanical stuff on the baseball side, and so far three games into the season it's paid off.”

Shawaryn, coach Szefc and the entire Terrapins squad are playing at the PG Park South Fields at LakePoint Sports of course to the bad weather that has settled over much of the nation the past two weeks. Maryland and Appalachian State were actually pro-active about their decision to move their three-game series, recognizing a week ago that there was a good chance they would not get their games in as originally scheduled.

We're just lucky,” Szefc said about his team being able to play. “We're really really fortunate to be here. The Perfect Game folks have been great to us, letting us come here. I've been working with Taylor (McCollough) and Kevin (Herlihy) since last Friday and just the fact they've helped us put this together, I can't say it any other way, we're just really thankful.”

And Shawaryn was just happy to be able to play to continue their early season success.

It's always great when you don't have to bang a series. When they said we were going down to Georgia to play I was happy. The conditions up north are terrible right now, so I think a lot of us are just happy to be playing baseball right now, especially with the stuff going on back home.”

To read more about Friday's action at LakePoint visit the 'Scouting the Spring Swing' scout blogs:

Around the diamond notes

Oregon's West Coast offense rarely produces a big inning but it is designed to be able to beat a true ace. This proved accurate on Friday as the Ducks were able to defeat UCSB's Dillon Tate on a day when he was flat out dominant.

Tate solidified his spot in the first pick of the draft conversation with both premium stuff and an outstanding performance today. His fastball was 95-97 mph in the first inning and he showed a slider at 85-87. Overall, Tate threw four pitches for strikes and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. There were approximately 70 scouts on hand so it's safe to say that Tate made some money this afternoon.

Oregon tied the game in the sixth inning by going old school team offense against Tate. It started with J.B. Bryant's opposite field single, who advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt. Matt Eureste then chopped an infield single and Austin Grebeck drove in the run with a well executed safety squeeze bunt.

Oregon then chased Tate in the seventh inning with a single and a walk. The Ducks went on to score two runs in that inning and that proved to be the difference in the game. it was a vintage West Coast offense performance as Oregon handed Tate the loss by utilizing timely offensive execution despite very few well-hit balls.

This was a great start for the Ducks as they look to win a series against a NCAA Regional participant for the first time since 2012. Winning this series remains a great challenge as the Gauchos will run Shane Bieber out there for the Saturday game followed by Cape Cod all-star Justin Jacome for Game 3. Game 1 certainly proved that these two teams are strong Super Regional contenders.

Oregon's junior righthander Conor Harber and redshirt sophomore Cole Irvin have become an outstanding 1-2 punch on Friday nights in 2015. Irvin, who sat in the upper-80s in Friday's game, is 12 months removed from his Tommy John surgery and he is currently on a pitch count of approximately 50 pitches. Harber has finished all three of Irvin's starts this year and the two have combined to allow just one earned run over those 27 innings.

The North Carolina pitching staff flexed their collective muscle today in a doubleheader sweep of Rhode Island. Benton Moss peaked at 95 as the starter in Game 1, going seven innings. Usual Friday starter Trent Thornton closed out both games, collecting a pair of saves in two 1 2/3 inning performances, striking out seven is his 3 1/3 innings on the day.

Kevin Duchene made his season debut on Friday night for an Illinois team that was already looking like a highly intriguing rising contender in the early weeks of the season. And a healthy Duchene proved to be an enormous lift for the Fighting Illini, as he was strong from pitch one against Ball State. Duchene tossed seven innings of shutout baseball, striking out nine batters, allowing five hits and walking none. Duchene worked mostly at 88-89 mph, touching 90 consistently. But, more importantly, as is usually the case with Duchene, he had outstanding feel for his vast array of secondary pitches. Illinois was a dangerous team before Duchene's return, but returning a true Friday night ace like him makes them a fascinating commodity to watch moving forward.

UCF has been making a lot of very strong statements in the early part of the 2015 season, and they made another one on Friday night, toppling a tough Ole Miss team, which was led by one of the best Friday night starters in the nation, Christian Trent. UCF is now 9-0 on the young season and would send a serious early season message with another win over Ole Miss this weekend.

Speaking of statement games, Clemson opened eyes in a big way on Friday night with a convincing victory over South Carolina. Despite consistently topping at 95 mph with his fastball in this game, the typically lights out Gamecocks' ace, Wil Crowe, was given a difficult night by the Tigers. Clemson tallied nine runs (eight earned) off Crowe in six innings, on their way to an 11-4 victory. The win can be credited to Clemson's high upside bats suddenly coming to life, as Chris Okey busted out of an early season slump with a 2-for-4, four RBI night. And Tyler Krieger stayed hot with a three-hit performance.

Prior to tonight's game, the Gamecocks had won 13 of the last 16 meetings, including two heartbreakers in 2014 in which Clemson held significant leads late in the game. The best cure for a fragile confidence is a blowout victory and that is just what the Tigers, which last advaned to a Super Regional in 2010, got on Friday night.

After throwing just 10 pitches and leaving with a minor injury last weekend against the University of Miami,  Florida Gators ace Logan Shore returned this weekend and made his presence felt in a big way in a 1-0 win over the Stony Brook. Shore threw 6 1/3 shutout innings, allowing just a double to the first batter of the game and locked it in from that point forward. Though he walked three, he also struck out three while living in the low-90s with his fastball, peaking at 94 mph while improving to 2-0 on the season. Lefthander Bobby Poyner picked up the two-plus inning save and pounded the strike zone by throwing 20 of his 28 pitches for strikes, punching out two while allowing just one base hit.

The lone run scored in the game came from a familiar offensive duo for the Gators as freshman J.J. Schwarz hit a double down the left field line, plating Harrison Bader who is as hot as any hitter in the country. Bader finished the night going 3-for-4 with three singles, showing the ability to hit to all fields while raising his average to .412.

The win marked head coach Kevin O'Sullivan's 300th with the Gators, whose list of achievements includes three trips to Omaha in just seven seasons.

Grand Canyon swept Wisconsin-Milwaukee in a doubleheader on Friday, moving their overall record to 9-1. This includes an impressive road sweep of a banged-up Cal Poly team last week. The 'Lopes are led by head coach Andy Stankiewicz whose impressive resume include Major League service with the New York Yankees and three Pac-12 championships as an Arizona State assistant coach.

It is no surprise that Grand Canyon is one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the country. The 'Lopes excel at the bunting game, run the bases aggressively and their opposite field hitting and two-strike approach are exhausting for opposing pitchers. Their victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Game 1 Friday culminated with a fitting walk-off safety squeeze bunt.

On the mound, Grand Canyon's front of the rotation emphasizes pitch-making over raw stuff. Crafty lefthander Andrew Naderer pitches off of his changeup and keeps hitters honest with a mid-80s fastball that he busts in on rightys with regularity. Senior righthander Coley Bruns follows with a classic college sinker-slider mix and he also touches 88 mph but works in the mid-80s.

Veteran middle infielders Paul Panaccione and Chad De La Guerra steady defense and also provide steady production in the middle of the order. The 'Lopes are ineligible for the postseason as they continue their transition period into Division I but it is clear that a mid-major power is building in west Phoenix.

Senior Seth Heck of Mississippi State may be the most underrated shortstop in the country. On Friday, Heck reached base safely for the 40th straight game, good for the second-longest streak in the country. Heck is a plus defender and made a mere four errors in 55 starts at shortstop in 2014 while fielding at a .984 clip.

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