With Maryland baseball eyeing a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017, coach Rob Vaughn knows the importance of midweek games in helping it reach that goal.
“I told our guys, you want to play baseball in June, you win the midweek,” Vaughn said.
The Terps did just that in their first midweek affair of the season Tuesday, topping a winless George Mason team, 13-3. And with Maryland sitting at 6-1 — the team’s best start since 2015 — winning those games will be crucial if it wants to get back to the postseason.
Since Maryland made its first super regional in 2014, the Terps have seen mixed success in midweek games. They went 9-4 in such contests last year, but just 5-8 in 2018 when they missed postseason play.
So, the Terps are stressing the importance of not overlooking those contests.
“We’ve just got to make sure we treat those as just as important as the weekend games and come out with the same focus and same intensity,” said right fielder Randy Bednar, the Terps’ RBI leader. “It’s the same amount of importance no matter what game we’re playing.”
That was not entirely evident to Vaughn on Tuesday. Despite Maryland overwhelming the Patriots en route to a 10-run win, the third-year head coach characterized his team’s performance as sloppy and took issue with their at-bats.
While George Mason issued 14 walks and hit four batters, the Terps also left 15 runners on base and continued to struggle defensively, committing two more errors.
“They took what we got given offensively,” he said, “but we just didn’t quite get that kill shot that we needed.
But while the offensive showing didn’t satisfy Vaughn, he was impressed with starter Zach Thompson on the mound. In his first outing, the redshirt junior right-hander held George Mason to one run in five innings.
That’s a positive sign for Vaughn, who has lacked starting options in past seasons due to injuries and poor depth.
“People want to talk about Friday night guys and this and that, but midweek starting pitching is huge,” Vaughn said. “Thompson going out there today was huge to see.”
This year, Maryland’s increased pitching depth will be a boon, as Vaughn has multiple solid choices for midweek starters going forward, including Thompson. Those options will only increase with left-hander Tyler Blohm’s imminent return from a shoulder injury, giving Vaughn the flexibility to tinker with his core rotation.
The Terps will need that depth against a handful of challenging midweek opponents this season, including West Virginia — which made the NCAA tournament last year — and VCU, which won at a .672 clip in 2019.
“If we can get a couple of those games, we get ourselves a chance to get in the tournament and play some postseason baseball,” said Maxwell Costes, the team’s leader in batting average and home runs.
But the Terps know they will have to clean up their performance going forward if they want to remain competitive against more formidable opponents.
And for Maryland, that starts this weekend with a three-game set against a high-quality Coastal Carolina team.
“We’re not going to be able to play baseball the way we did [Tuesday] and expect to have success,” Vaughn said.