Maryland baseball wanted to cap off its 2022 season by dogpiling on the field after a victory. Only one team that makes the College World Series can win its final game. It wasn’t the Terps.
They instead watched UConn celebrate on their own turf. The Huskies advanced out of the College Park Regional last season, winning the deciding game, 11-8.
The defeat signaled the end of a record-setting season. Maryland won its most regular season games ever, claimed its first Big Ten title and hosted a regional for the first time in program history.
Despite a premature ending, the Terps’ 2022 season pushed the program into the national spotlight in coach Rob Vaughn’s fifth year. He’ll face a new challenge this spring as he aims to maintain the same level of success: playing as the team being chased, rather than doing the chasing.
“Nobody knew really anything about us,” Vaughn said. “It’s going to be the polar opposite.”
The coach has the luxury of facing the challenge with an accomplished lineup and starting rotation. He’ll lean on the returning players frequently, trusting them to be able to handle an increased level of scrutiny. Five of eight starting position players, two-thirds of the rotation and a handful of trusted relief arms returned from last season.
Shortstop Matt Shaw and catcher Luke Shliger headline the group of position players back for 2023. Both juniors spent last summer in the Cape Cod League and were named preseason All-Americans by D1 Baseball. Shaw is one of two Terps on the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list.
Infielders Nick Lorusso and Kevin Keister return to Shaw’s right and left, respectively. Vaughn doesn’t envision using Lorusso in the same two-way role he did last year, mostly due to a deeper pitching staff. The third baseman would rather exclusively hit, too, giving him more time to work on hitting and defense and taking a load off his arm.
The trio will be the beneficiaries of a second-straight season together, giving them a new level of chemistry that wasn’t there in 2022, Lorusso’s first as a Terp and Keister’s first season as a full-time starter.
“We’ve had great timing throughout this whole offseason,” Lorusso said.
The outfield won’t have the same level of cohesiveness as the infield does. Vaughn dug into the transfer portal to replace center fielder Chris Alleyne and right fielder Troy Schreffler Jr. He came out of it with Elijah Lambros and Matt Woods.
Woods enjoyed one of college baseball’s all-time best seasons in his senior season at Bryant. He hit .384, slugged 32 extra base hits and tallied the fourth most hits in a single season in Division 1 history en route to being named the NEC Player of the Year.
Lambros experienced a far-different 2022. He rarely saw the field and struggled immensely at the plate as a freshman at South Carolina, hitting .152 in 36 games. He hit the portal searching for a hitting coach who could improve those numbers.
He asked his former travel team coach for advice on where to go. He pointed him to Matt Swope, Maryland’s hitting coach. The center fielder knew the Terps were his best bet after a conversation with Swope.
“[I was] trusting and hoping that he will turn out to be what I heard,” Lambros said. “Swope is the real deal.”
Jason Savacool and Nick Dean return for their third and fourth seasons in the weekend rotation respectively, each coming off clashing seasons.
Savacool led the staff with a 2.93 ERA and 123 strikeouts and was named to the Golden Spikes Award watch list along with Shaw. Dean struggled to overcome forearm tightness that persisted throughout the spring and pitched to a career-high 4.57 earned run average.
Together, they’ll lead a pitching staff littered with new faces. Ohio State transfer Nate Haberthier won the competition for the third rotation spot after a battle with several others throughout the preseason, most notably freshman Kyle McCoy.
McCoy needed to be built up, ultimately keeping him in the bullpen for now. He’ll be used as a multi-inning option and could close some games, Vaughn said.
“We believe that we need you in May and June,” he told McCoy. “We’re gonna keep building a pitch count. If either of those three ever go down or miss a start or anything you have a fourth guy built up and ready to go.”
Players like Woods, Lambros, Haberthier and McCoy weren’t a part of last season’s uber-successful squad. They’ve heard stories and are only now beginning to understand what propelled that team to 48 wins. They hope to experience that for the first time.
Players like Shaw, Shliger, Savacool and Lorusso were some of the biggest contributors to those achievements. They’re part of why the overall excitement surrounding Maryland, the No. 1 team in the Big Ten preseason coach’s poll, has never been higher.
Maintaining the success from a season ago is a challenge, especially in the team’s current position. With many impactful returning players, Vaughn can ride his experienced team to a third-straight postseason appearance.
“The leaders of this group … they’re very not satisfied with watching UConn dogpile on our field,” Vaughn said. “When it starts with that, you’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”