Twenty minutes into Maryland baseball’s flight to Texas, coach Rob Vaughn knew his team’s season was in jeopardy.
The third-year skipper had been keeping track of the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on sports leagues. Fellow coaches messaged him too, informing him one-by-one as different conferences pulled the plug on their athletics.
When the Terps touched down, their upcoming series against TCU was still on but would be played in front of no fans. That changed a couple of hours later, though — Vaughn delivered the news to his team in a hotel breakfast room.
For Maryland (10-5), it was a season with a lot of promise and a lot of unanswered questions. The team’s freshmen class, ranked in the top-10 for the country, flashed its potential but never had a chance to experience high-stakes conference play.
“To look in the eyes of the kids that worked that hard and the seniors that have given so much to this program for four years, and to tell them 15 games in, ‘You’re done,’ was a really tough thing,” Vaughn said. “It was a meeting I hope I never have to have again.”
Those freshmen, led by Tucker Flint’s .462 on-base percentage and right-hander Sean Burke’s 1.99 ERA with 35 strikeouts, will have to find new ways to gain experience in the coming months.
“At-bats and maturity, some of that just takes time [for freshmen],” Vaughn said. “When something gets pulled away from you that’s kind of been part of your existence … it’s going to be really tough.”
It’s tough for the Terps’ veterans, too. And for the seniors Elliot Zoellner and Tyler Blohm, the abrupt ending is especially painful — both seemed poised to impress on the mound in the back-half of the season.
Zoellner, a right-hander, had been dominant out of the bullpen, not allowing a run in 11 relief innings while tallying a 0.64 WHIP, or walks plus hits per inning pitched. As for Blohm, the left-hander had just returned from a lengthy absence due to a shoulder injury and was slated to make his season debut against TCU.
“It was frustration, anger, sadness, every range of emotion you can imagine,” Vaughn said. “Blohm took it pretty hard because that kid’s worked so hard to get back and … he’s been through a lot.”
It is uncertain if their college careers are over, though. The NCAA will decide whether to grant an extra year of eligibility to all spring athletes next week.
That decision will be pivotal for Blohm and Zoellner, as well as Chris Alleyne, Randy Bednar and Justin Vought. The latter three all could have been taken in the MLB draft after this season, but that is also now an uncertainty.
Alleyne and Bednar formed a formidable one-two punch at the top of the Terps’ lineup, combining for 46 hits and 23 RBIs, while Vought had a solid first two weeks before getting injured.
But while more clarity will come soon, Vaughn and Maryland are settling into their new normal — a world with no baseball.
“You can’t do a lot of these things that you’re obsessed with doing,” Vaughn told his team, “so pour that competitiveness into your schoolwork and then see what happens.”