Maryland baseball’s seniors look to make most of extra year of eligibility

Left-hander Tyler Blohm fires a pitch during Maryland baseball’s 10-8 win over Iowa on May 18, 2019. (Julia Nikhinson / The Diamondback)

When pitcher Tyler Blohm first heard news that Maryland baseball’s season was over due to the coronavirus pandemic, he couldn’t process his emotions.

The senior left-hander had just finished an arduous rehab of a shoulder injury and was set to make his season debut that upcoming weekend against TCU. But the season’s end meant he never got a chance to toe the rubber, and it seemed his college career had drawn to a premature close.

So, when the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to spring athletes in March, Blohm did not take long to make a decision about his future.

“I had a pretty good understanding that I was coming back to Maryland to finish my final year,” he said.

[Read more: After sudden finish to season, Maryland baseball is left wondering what comes next]

Though the NCAA extended eligibility relief to all spring athletes, there were some complications: It left financial aid decisions about student-athletes who exhausted eligibility in 2019-20 up to individual schools. For Blohm and Elliot Zoellner – the Terps’ only other senior – that meant waiting to hear from Maryland whether their scholarships would be extended.

So, when coach Rob Vaughn told his two seniors in late April the school would cover their extra year, Blohm’s decision was set.

“I’m forever grateful for [Maryland],” Blohm said. “Once they gave me a chance to come back, I knew I was going to jump on it, because I feel there is a lot of unfinished business with this team, and we’re all just getting started.”

Blohm has battled arm problems for much of the past two years: His 2018 season ended prematurely with shoulder soreness, and he only tossed 15 ⅔ innings in 2019. Though his shoulder is now fully healed, Blohm did not get a chance to showcase the talents that made him 2017 Big Ten Freshman of the Year this season.

But there is a silver lining. The southpaw now has extra time to work back to his pre-injury levels, which his coaches hope will allow him to get stronger and be fully prepared heading into 2021.

“I think that’s only going to serve to give him a better shot to be successful and get back to the Tyler Blohm we all know that’s in there,” Vaughn said.

[Read more: Maryland baseball’s four-game winning streak ends with 4-2 loss to James Madison]

While the decision was simple for Blohm, it was more difficult for Zoellner.

The right-hander had committed to a job at business services company Cintas after graduation. And when Zoellner learned the season was over, he didn’t know how to handle the news.

“It didn’t really sink in for a day or two because at first, you’re like, ‘I guess I just don’t have baseball today,’” he said. “But after a little while, you start to realize, ‘I don’t have baseball anymore.’”

Zoellner was then faced with a difficult choice. On one hand, he had job security; on the other, he had one more chance to compete with his teammates.

In the end, he fulfilled both desires.

Zoellner got into a graduate program in this university’s business school and was able to defer his employment with Cintas to the summer of 2021, clearing a path to stay with the Terps for a fifth year.

“Just being able to come back and play one more year with my brothers … is something you can’t really pass up,” he said.

His decision to return will boost Maryland’s bullpen. The sidewinding, junk-throwing right-hander tossed 11 scoreless relief innings this season, striking out 16 and walking just three while leading the team with a microscopic 0.64 WHIP.

“That was just like signing a big-time recruit, getting that guy back,” Vaughn said.

Now, both players are turning their focus to staying in shape while stuck at home. The team is treating the situation like any regular offseason, with players routinely working out, throwing and hitting in whatever way they can.

While the Terps are unsure when they will be able to hit the diamond again, Blohm and Zoellner said there is an eagerness to build on what was shaping up to be a promising 2020 campaign. And with the entire roster currently set to return, they could do just that.

“The potential of this group and the chemistry of this group is unprecedented, at least to me in my four years here,” Zoellner said.

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