Rob Vaughn constantly tries to add high-level programs to No. 13 Maryland baseball’s nonconference schedule every season. This year, that meant agreeing to a weekend series with No. 4 Ole Miss.
The defending national champions represent the Terps’ biggest test of the regular season and perhaps the best team they’ve faced during the Vaughn era. He’s gone on the road to the SEC before but never against the reigning title winners.
The Rebels, a perennial college baseball power, are a program the Maryland coach wants to emulate. In his sixth year leading the program, Vaughn is still chasing a similar level of success as his next opponent.
The results this weekend will let him know how close he is to achieving that goal.
“We want to go out and measure ourselves against the best,” Vaughn said. “I think Ole Miss is definitely one of those, ‘If things go well, it’s huge for us. If things don’t go well, what can we learn from it and how can we move on from it?’”
Maryland’s most recent trip to the SEC came in 2018. It won two of three games against Tennessee in Vaughn’s first season as head coach.
But Ole Miss reminds the coach more of a different opponent from the year before. The Terps played LSU in their opening series of 2017. They were swept and outscored by a combined 29-6 over three games.
Those series, like the upcoming Ole Miss one will, gave Vaughn an early understanding of what he had in his roster those seasons.
“[LSU] was pretty dang special,” Vaughn said. “But [Ole Miss is] one of the more talented teams we’ve played in a long time.”
The Rebels enter the weekend undefeated on the heels of a sweep over Delaware and a thrashing of Arkansas State Tuesday. The hot start is a continuation of the one they had to close last season.
Ole Miss turned a lackluster 32-21 regular season campaign, a 14-16 record in conference and a first round exit in the SEC tournament into an unexpected postseason run. It entered the bracket unseeded before dominating the Miami Regional, handling Southern Miss in a Super Regional and losing just once in the College World Series.
Vaughn respects Rebels’ coach Mike Bianco, who he called a “hall of famer,” and considers assistant coaches Mike Clement and Carl Lafferty good friends.
“They recruit the right kind of kids, they play the game the right way, they’re fundamentally sound, they’re talented,” he said. “So they check every box.”
There will be takeaways from the weekend regardless of the outcome. Vaughn expects a series win. He isn’t interested in discussing moral victories in the event of a disappointing showing — there’s only one outcome he’d deem an unquestioned triumph.
“Success is clearly going to take all three of them,” Vaughn said. “We never step into a game … saying ‘Hey guys, I hope we go 1-2 this weekend.’ That’s just never gonna be a thing.”
The coach will know significantly more about his team following the series, possibly Maryland’s biggest of his six seasons in College Park.
The Terps continue to chase the peak of college baseball and seemingly inch closer every season. The series with the Rebels will soon show whether they can compete with the nation’s best or still have a considerable way to go before reaching the heights Vaughn expects.