Maryland softball ended the 2018 season by getting swept by Michigan State and losing to Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, the exclamation point on a 10-game skid that sealed an ugly 18-37 overall record.
This year, though, the Terps’ series against the Spartans was indicative of their progress rather than their failures.
Maryland’s nine-run explosion in the first two innings of its season opener against Michigan State on April 5 powered the squad to its only win of the series, 11-9. It also pushed the Terps to their 18th win of the season, matching last year’s total with five series still left to play through team chemistry and a talented group of underclassmen.
“Our young group has brought a fun energy,” coach Julie Wright said. “That’s really been helpful when they get into challenging times. They do a good job of staying together.”
[Read more: Despite a series loss, Maryland softball bucked its Big Ten hitting woes]
Freshman Taylor Okada, who’s out for the season after suffering a knee injury March 15 against Bryant, was the Terps’ best hitter early in the year. Okada started the first 26 games of the season in the leadoff spot and led the team with a .426 average.
In Okada’s absence, the Terps’ wealth of new talent has stepped up, bringing periodic offensive production early in the conference slate.
Catcher Gracie Voulgaris, one of two freshman starters, provides stability on both sides of the ball, handling an inconsistent five-player pitching staff while also hitting cleanup with a .308 batting average and 19 walks. Second baseman Regan Kerr has filled the gap Okada left in the infield and also acts as a utility player when needed.
“Especially with what we’re going through right now as a team, with some players being injured,” Voulgaris said, “we can trust one another to fill in that next spot. We all want to do well for each other.”
[Read more: “Thrown in the fire”: Freshman Gracie Voulgaris has been vital for Maryland softball]
Trust has been a main focus for Maryland this year. Pitcher Sydney Golden said that’s been one of the biggest changes she’s seen in the team dynamic from season to season.
“We really have built a culture this year,” Golden said. “Comparing this year to last year, we’re really putting each other first, and it’s changed the way we play.”
Golden, one of the Terps’ three seniors, transferred to Maryland from Cal State Fullerton before last season with the intention of being a part of the program’s rebuild.
In Wright’s first season, Maryland staggered its way to 12 wins. In 2017, the Terps sank to 11 wins, before notching 18 last year, though none of those came after April 17. That offered Maryland a chance to play in the Big Ten tournament, but the Illini ended its season.
Now, having reached 18 wins with a month left, the Terps hope this season’s off-field camaraderie translates into on-field wins.
“When you gain that trust with your teammate,” Voulgaris said, “it just makes everything so much easier.”
Maryland will need to take advantage of its chances this weekend, facing an Indiana pitching staff boasting hurlers Tara Trainer and Emily Goodin, who both have ERAs below 2.00.
The Terps tallied 36 hits in last weekend’s series against Michigan State, but the next task will be plating them. After posting 11 runs in Friday’s matchup, Wright’s squad managed 10 in the last two games combined, resulting in another conference series loss.
“They’re about to go face a pretty good pitching staff,” Wright said, “and they’ll feel good about that going into it with all the success they’ve had … and we play good team softball, always.”