Maryland baseball coach John Szefc has insisted ahead of the team's first NCAA Super Regional appearance Saturday in Virginia that his squad is comfortable and loose, despite having entered the year with no postseason experience.
It certainly helps that his squad is traveling to the familiar Davenport Field, home of Atlantic Coast Conference rival Virginia.
"It's kind of a cool way to leave the ACC, playing them one last time," said junior outfielder Charlie White, who was named the most outstanding player of last weekend's Columbia, S.C., regional. "I've been to Davenport Field quite a bit … and it's a great environment. We're looking forward to it."
Maryland (39-21) is coming off three wins, including two over powerhouse South Carolina, last weekend in the Columbia regional to earn a spot in the Super Regional. The winner of this weekend's best-of-three series with Virginia (47-13), who was ranked No. 1 in the nation in all major polls this year and is now a consensus top-three team, will advance to the eight-team College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
In Virginia, the Terrapins face a tough test in what will be the school's last ACC matchup in any sport. Were Maryland remaining in the ACC — they join the Big Ten on July 1 — they would have likely aspired to become what Virginia has on the diamond. Maryland is in its first tournament since 1971, but the Cavaliers have made two of the last five College World Series and are hosting their fourth Super Regional.
When Maryland players spoke to the media Tuesday, they regarded their opponents with respect, but showed no fear.
"We're looking at the positive part about it," freshman pitcher Mike Shawaryn said. "We're not trying to look into how many times they've hosted it, because they are an experienced team. I'm sure that'll help them, but for us, we have to look at what we can do best."
The current crop of Terps hasn't fared well against the Cavaliers since arriving in College Park. Virginia swept Maryland in Charlottesville in 2011, then took two of three from the Terps in College Park in 2012 and in Charlottesville last season.
Virginia was one of three ACC teams Maryland didn't play a series against this year, though they faced the Cavaliers and won, 7-6, in the opening game of ACC tournament pool play.
Szefc believes that game last month in Greensboro could have an impact on the series.
"I think it sets up really well for us," Szefc said. "We have a lot of information on them, we've already seen them, so it's kind of just the next step on the road for us. … It's not like we're getting them off a scouting report. We have our own information on them, save for a few pitchers who we didn't face. We kind of know what we're getting."
Whether scouted on paper or seen first-hand, the Terps know they'll face a talented Virginia squad. Three Cavaliers were selected on the first day of the MLB Draft — infielder and Olney native Nick Howard (No. 19 to Cincinnati Reds), outfielder Derek Fisher (No. 37 to Houston Astros), and outfielder/first baseman Mike Papi (38th overall to Cleveland Indians).
It will come down to the Terps pitching staff to shut down those three future pros and the rest of the Virginia lineup, which averages 5.5 runs per game to Maryland's 5.4. The Terps will send senior right-hander Jake Stinnett, who was drafted No. 45 overall Thursday by the Chicago Cubs, to the mound Saturday in Game 1. Shawaryn (11-3, 2.81 ERA) and sophomore Jake Drossner (4-1, 2.45 ERA) are the team's other two starters, with Shawaryn starting Game 2.
Stinnett will face off with Nathan Kirby, the Cavaliers' sophomore left-hander who is an early candidate to be the first overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft. Kirby leads a Cavalier pitching staff that ranks third in the NCAA with a 2.29 ERA, over a run below Maryland's team ERA of 3.36.
"Those guys are good," Szefc said of Kirby and the Virginia pitching staff. "[Virginia pitching coach] Karl Kuhn does a really good job with their pitching staff. That might be one of the best pitching staffs in the country, but I feel like we've faced a lot of good arms this year in a lot of really pressure-packed situations."
More so than having familiarity with their opponent, the Terrapins believe their experiences in Greensboro for the ACC tournament and the regional in Columbia have prepared them for what's ahead at Davenport Field in Virginia. The series sold out on Monday, before game times were even announced.
"We were new to the ACC tournament, we were new to the NCAA tournament last weekend, so we've proved that we can handle the new environment pretty well," White said.
"It's not going to be anything new," first baseman LaMonte Wade (St. Paul's) said. "We're ready to go, It's UVA and the big rivalry and everything like that, but we have to take it like another weekend series and just keep doing what we do."
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