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UMBC baseball gets surprise Div. I bid No. 1 Miami is foe in first game Friday


Its Division I legacy is rather skimpy, one reason radio announcers were dropping the location yesterday, telling audiences that Maryland had made the NCAA baseball tournament.

The pairings show on ESPN mispronounced the coach's name, but UMBC's John Jancuska knows the Retrievers have a reputation with the only critics that mattered -- the NCAA selection committee.

For the record, the University of Maryland Baltimore County was oneof 24 at-large teams selected to the 48-team NCAA field. The Retrievers will play Friday at Miami (49-7), the nation's No. 1 team, in the first round of the Atlantic Regional. The winner of that six-team tournament advances to the eight-team College World Series in Omaha, Neb., May 29-June 6.

"The sweetest part of this whole thing is that we didn't have an automatic berth," said Jancuska, whose team was upset in the East Coast Conference tournament final April 11. "We might not have the biggest name, but in baseball circles, people know about us."

Jancuska guided the Retrievers to Division II bids in 1979, 1980 and 1986, and his program has been UMBC's most consistent since the Retrievers moved to Division I in 1986. The school just concluded a title-less two years in the East Coast Conference, but now baseball will be the first Retrievers team to participate in an NCAA Division I tournament.

The school has had its successes in Division II -- the lacrosse team took an NCAA title in 1980 -- but swimmer Jacque Wisnauskas, in 1990, has been the only UMBC athlete to compete in an NCAA Division I championship event.

"I hope this is an omen," athletic director Charlie Brown said. "We have a young Division I program, but we've been knocking on the door in several sports."

UMBC takes a 37-11 record -- best in the East -- to Miami, but the Retrievers have split their past eight games, fumbling away the top ECC seed to Towson State by losing a doubleheader to Brooklyn, then dropping two straight to Rider to finish a distressing ECC tournament.

The NCAA bid, however, was earned in March and April, when they had win streaks of 13 and 10, and beat George Mason, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Providence, all conference champs going to the NCAAs.

"This is the toughest schedule we've ever played," Jancuska said."We did it to prepare for the ECC tournament. It didn't help there, but it did with the selection committee."

UMBC led Division I in hitting for three weeks, and the team average is .347. The Retrievers always have been able to score runs, and the primary reason they're still playing is an ERA that dropped from 7.87 in 1991 to 4.61 this year.

"The pitching's been awesome all year," said catcher Bob Mumma. "They've made it easy on me."

The No. 1 starter is Craig Grasser, a senior out of Archbishop Curley who has an 8-2 record. Reliever Kevin Loewe, a freshman left-hander from Perry Hall, has the best ERA, 2.57. Mumma, from Rising Sun, is one of five three-year starters. Shawn Shugars, a sophomore first baseman from Charlotte Hall, is hitting .425 with 62 RBI.

After losing to Rider, they took off three days, then practiced Friday while Jancuska was watching Essex Community College advance to the Junior College World Series. Final exams have kept them busy, but all were watching ESPN's telecast of the tournament draw yesterday.

"At least 10 of us were at [pitcher] Kevin Alarie's apartment," pitcher Kevin Buckley said. "The Atlantic Region was the second one announced, and as soon as 'Maryland Baltimore County' flashed on the screen, you couldn't hear anything else."

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