When Maryland baseball coach Rob Vaughn walked into left field prior to Sunday’s series finale against Rutgers, he turned around to face the dugout and wiped his eyes.
In a position where wins and losses, postseason accolades and recruiting class rankings are used to evaluate success, Vaughn said Saturday that watching his players celebrate each other is the most satisfying part of his job.
During a season in which Maryland is below .500 and where a Big Ten tournament berth will depend on the Terps’ performance in the season’s final weekend, Vaughn stared into the Terps’ dugout as his seven seniors were greeted by the 25 other players on his roster.
“When Senior Day gets here, it doesn’t ever get easy,” Vaughn said. “When those guys walk across and shake your hand at the end, I tell you, it’s an emotional thing.”
Those seniors have fueled Maryland’s late surge toward conference tournament contention, and during their final home game Sunday, they produced in an 8-6 win, helping Vaughn’s team sweep the Scarlet Knights. It marked the first time the team won four straight since early March.
Still, that streak was in jeopardy in the ninth. Right-hander Ryan Hill allowed two runs before closer John Murphy entered to secure the victory.
With one conference series remaining against Indiana, Maryland’s sweep of Rutgers jockeyed the Terps into a good position for a decisive final weekend. At 24-27, an at-large bid is likely unrealistic, so Maryland’s lone hope for a repeat NCAA Regional appearance is through success in the conference tournament.
“Our careers could be over any day now,” first baseman Justin Morris said. “We’re all just trying to take full advantage of these last few games and just leave it all out there on the line.”
After starter Mark DiLuia allowed a second-inning solo home run to center fielder Jawuan Harris, he settled in to complete six innings, surrendering two runs on six hits while striking out four.
Third baseman Taylor Wright’s squeeze bunt scored left fielder Will Watson in the bottom half of the frame to even the score before a five-run third enabled the Terps to pull away.
Designated hitter Kevin Biondic leaped out of the dugout, crouched and pointed both hands at Morris at third following Morris’ two-out, three-RBI triple. Wright singled one batter later to establish a 6-1 edge. The Terps pushed one more across in the fourth, but the explosive third-inning gave DiLuia and left-hander Grant Burleson cushion to withstand a two-run double from designated hitter Milo Freeman in the eighth.
“In a situation like this when our back is so to speak against the wall,” center fielder Zach Jancarski said, “for our team to come out and respond the way it did right now, it says a lot about our character.”
For much of the year, it seemed Maryland would struggle to replicate last season’s success.
As the same veteran bats that were productive in Sunday’s win fell into offensive slumps, the Terps slipped down the conference standings and find themselves in a dogfight for the final qualification spot in the eight-team Big Ten tournament.
Fighting to extend its season, though, Maryland’s offense was dominant. And with the offensive outburst, the Terps swept their first conference opponent, keeping their postseason hopes alive.
“This is the time of year we need to be playing well,” Vaughn said. “And you know, we could’ve made our lives much easier if we were getting after it and doing some of this earlier in the year, but at the end of the day, if we can find a way to get into the tournament, who knows?”