Rob Vaughn had seen it before.
All it took for the 2014 Maryland baseball team to ride an eleven-game winning streak into an eventual super regional berth was a spark. Vaughn, who was there as an assistant coach and saw the inner workings of that team, believes the 2021 team isn’t too far off.
“It’s all about playing good at the right time,” Vaughn said.
The truth is evident for the Terps: the road will be arduous. Their schedule in the coming weeks will serve as a litmus test for whether Maryland has what it takes to move up into the upper echelon of the Big Ten.
With 9-5 Northwestern on deck, 11-4 Michigan in the hole and 11-4 Nebraska following, the team is sliding toward a crossroads that leads to two very different paths.
At 6-9 and in 10th place in the Big Ten, a few losses over the weekend to the Wildcats and Wolverines could send the Terps into the gutter of the Big Ten. If Maryland has any NCAA tournament aspirations, that can’t happen.
But Maryland making it out of the stretch with at least a .500 record would vault the team into the middle of Big Ten contention. Wins against quality opponents can keep the Terps ahead of the curve as they head into easier parts of their schedule, such as their three-game series against both 3-11 Purdue and 3-12 Minnesota.
As the warmer months creep closer and their playoff hopes grow stronger, Maryland needs a change to rise into contention. They haven’t reached their best yet, but Vaughn doesn’t see a reason why his squad can’t mature into the team he thinks they can be.
“There’s little things that nobody sees that guys are starting to do,” Vaughn said. “You can’t tell me that things aren’t going to start to shift.”
And those little things are coming at the right time.
“You’ve got guys in the dugout trying to pick signs, trying to pull tells off pitchers … Sean Burke, who’s our Friday night pitcher, trying to pick signs … that’s not normal,” Vaughn added.
If Maryland takes the next step, it’ll be behind the duo of shortstop Benjamin Cowles and pitcher Jason Savacool.
Cowles has recorded a .940 slugging percentage this season and was a big reason why the Terps still found success after losing Maxwell Costes for a few weeks. The junior has seven RBIs in his past four games — and that’s after a run earlier in the season that saw him hit five home runs in three outings.
Savacool has been the Terps’ best freshman player, posting a 4-0 pitching record this season as well as a 2.83 ERA — the lowest on the team among starters. Despite not being Maryland’s first option on the mound, he’s been reliable to fall back to when it’s in trouble.
Another key to their resurgence will be their taste for defeat so far. To be willing to step into a game and be brave against odds they’ve faced before.
“It’s about being able to step in the moment and not be one of those timid souls who neither knows victory or defeat,” Vaughn said. “We’ve tasted some defeat, and I told our boys to keep stepping into the arena.”
Inevitably, the Terps will have to face down this difficult stretch of their schedule with the courage Vaughn mentioned. With that and a little bit of luck, they might change the tide of an already unusual season.
“You’re going to look up in a month … and be like man, that’s not the same group,” Vaughn said.