UMBC gets to first base in Division I name game


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 one of 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 double-elimination 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. We've been frustrated, and I'm as impatient about it as anyone. A lot of things the public can't see are happening here, but now we have an NCAA team to trumpet."

UMBC's main stadium will be lighted at a cost of $220,000 by mid-June, and an indoor track and field complex will be completed in 1994. In 1995, the college will serve as host to NCAA basketball tournament games to be played at the Arena. Scholarship allotments have more than doubled from $330,000 in 1989-90 to $680,000 next year.

Jancuska has never had much of a recruiting budget, and second baseman Dan Sexton, a four-year starter from Trenton, N.J., is the only player on the roster who isn't from Maryland. The homegrown formula has worked, as Jancuska's 15-year record is 335-191-3.

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."

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