John Szefc

Coach John Szefc has brought a business-like demeanor to Maryland's baseball program. (Grant Halverson, Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics / May 25, 2014)

Maryland baseball coach John Szefc paused and looked forward, trying to articulate just how special it was to be part of the Terps' first NCAA tournament team in 43 years.

Szefc was just 4 years old when Maryland lost its first two games in Gastonia, N.C., in the 1971 national tourney.

"It's kind of hard for me to wrap my mind around that," Szefc said.

Since then, the program has endured 27 losing seasons in 43 years, failing to compete with perennial Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouses such as North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Florida State.

This year, though, the Big Ten-bound Terps swept N.C. State in March, took two of three from Georgia Tech in April and shocked Virginia and Florida State in the ACC tournament last week. Maryland (36-21, 15-14) finished with a winning record in the ACC for the first time since 1981 and has won more games overall than ever before. And after reeling off 11 wins in the past 13 games, the Terps earned the No. 2 seed in the Columbia, S.C., regional of the NCAA tournament.

They will face Old Dominion on Friday at 1 p.m. with hopes of capturing the program's first tournament win since 1970. One team emerges from the four-team, double-elimination regional, in which host South Carolina is the top seed.

"It's crazy," senior pitcher and Baltimore native Ben Brewster said. "It's just surreal, watching on TV every year, seeing these playoffs, and now to finally be a part of it."

The current crop of seniors — a group that finished 5-25 in conference play in 2011 — has helped catapult Maryland baseball back into the national landscape. With a revamped, business-like coaching staff in its second year, a mix of young and veteran talent, and a newfound swagger, the vision the players and coaches shared has become a reality.

"It's no longer a long shot or a hope," said Brewster, who starred at Park School. "This thing's actually happening. I'm ready to go do some damage in this tournament."

'Trouble recruiting'

Elton "Jack" Jackson coached the Maryland baseball team from 1961 through 1990. He remembers struggling to lure top local talent to College Park.

It was a tough sell — a program with a track record of inconsistency in an unrelenting conference. The Terps made the NCAA tournament in 1965, 1970 and 1971 but couldn't transform their short-term triumphs into long-term results.

"At Maryland, you've got to be good enough to get a lot of the local kids," Jackson said. "The tough part is that everybody wants to go south."

In 1986, when Maryland basketball star Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose, Jackson saw an effect on his baseball program. Some parents were unsure about the culture in College Park.

Jackson remembered one player in particular who was a top pitcher from Baltimore. The pitcher's plan was to come to Maryland, but the news of Bias' overdose made his family rethink the decision, and he chose to attend UMBC.

"The Len Bias thing really turned everything upside down," Jackson recalled. "From that point on, for a long period of time, we had a lot of trouble recruiting at the University of Maryland."

Since Jackson retired in 1990, four coaches have taken the reins at Maryland. Tom Bradley finished 243-306-4 (.442) in nine seasons. Terry Rupp was 227-271 (.456) in nine of his own. Erik Bakich started 38-74 (.339) in his first two years, Maryland's worst two seasons since 2001.

Bernie Walter, the legendary former Arundel High baseball coach who worked on Maryland's staff under both Bakich and Szefc, said there were 13 players on other ACC and Southeastern Conference schools from the state of Maryland in 2009. If the Terps had been able to land at least some of those top recruits, Walter suspects the team wouldn't have struggled as much.

"I think the key to improving your program is keeping the better players home," said Walter, who is now retired.

Eventually, Bakich started to glean some of that local talent, paving the way for Szefc (pronounced CHEF) to take over a deepeer, more talented team when Bakich left for Michigan in 2012