The Dirty Terps head to Los Angeles to face the #1 team in the country in the 2015 NCAA Regional round.
After returning from Minneapolis without any hardware, we quickly had to prepare for wherever we would be heading the following week for the NCAA Tournament. Losing the conference tournament back-to-back was a tough pill to swallow, losing to Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship in 2014 and now to Michigan in the BIG10 Championship. The only memory that any of us had from those two losses were the feelings that came as we watched the other team dogpile in celebration. The past was the past, and we were looking towards the future while making the most of what we had at that moment. As the annual NCAA Selection Show was being televised, my teammates, coaching staff, and administration watched it live at Loonies Bar and Pub, a small staple restaurant in College Park that we all enjoyed. Watching the reveal of the teams that would play in what regional, we saw our name pop up in the Los Angeles, California Regional, hosted by #1 UCLA. We erupted in celebration, cheering, and hugging one another. The seeding order was #1 UCLA, #2 Ole Miss, #3 Dirty Terps, and #4 Cal State Bakersfield. We expected to be in a regional after the year we had had and the players in our clubhouse, but a three seed was lower than we expected and that fired us up. We would have a little less than a week before we left for California, so our day-to-day was business as usual. It felt like we were in winter preseason. No one was on campus, no classes, and it was baseball all day long with my brothers. We had a great week of preparation, reminding ourselves that 64 teams in the country are still practicing, and we would practice like this was our last practice.
We flew out to Los Angeles three days before the regional was set to start. While we were there, we did some sightseeing, walking around downtown LA and the Santa Monica Pier. We had a few days to practice at Jackie Robinson Stadium and I was in awe. The stadium wasn’t the flashiest, nor state of the art but it had a lot of character and culture. It had a field of dreams feel, its rich history with the aesthetic, it was a special moment. Growing up I idolized Jackie Robinson and wore 42 in his honor. The adversity he endured while moving mountains was something that always captivated me, I wanted to make a difference in the game one way or another, using Jackie as a role model of perseverance. We opened up against the #2 seed Ole Miss on Friday. We had a history of playing SEC schools during my time at Maryland, going up against LSU, Florida, and South Carolina. My freshman year we would’ve been on the more hesitant side when playing a school in the SEC, but to us experienced junkyard dogs, we looked at them as an obstacle we would choose to go through. Staying true to our nature of grit and detailed approach we beat Ole Miss 3-1. UCLA beat Cal Bakersfield on day one, so we would prepare to play the #1 team in the country at their park on Saturday.
Saturday’s game against UCLA was one of the most complete games we had played as a team the entire year. Looking on paper we felt we were better than UCLA and thought that it was an insult to the guys on our roster to be made a three-seed and have to fly out to California to prove that we were legit. We used those feelings as fuel to stay hyper-focused and carry ourselves with a chip on our shoulder, determined to play a clean nine innings and make our opponent earn every out they received. Starting one of our talented freshmen, he gave up a run in the bottom of the first inning, but after that UCLA couldn’t string anything together. With pitching and defense, the backbone of our team, we defeated the #1 seeded Bruins 4-1 and became one win away from returning to a Super Regional. Bakersfield would go on to beat Ole Miss and play UCLA on Sunday morning, while we were waiting to play the winner later that day. UCLA beat Bakersfield in convincing fashion while we watched from the hitting tunnels beyond right field at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Playing a doubleheader is always tough, it’s both mentally and physically draining, so we felt confident that we could impose our will early and let the #1 seed know it was going to be a long game.
Game three was a staff game, meaning we would throw all relievers at UCLA and go at them with the strength of our bullpen. Throughout the year our bullpen had kept us in games and held leads. Our relievers took a lot of pride in coming into a game with runners on base, and not letting them score. We were determined to be consistently reliable and through our work ethic and preparation, we were able to come out on the right side of a lot of games. However, in-game three we surrendered four runs, losing the game 4-2. Sometimes that just happens, you do all the right things and still don’t come out on the right side of the game, that’s baseball. The best part about baseball is there are more times than not, a game tomorrow. In football, games are a week apart, sometimes longer, basketball games a day or two apart, but baseball you play almost every day in season. The amount of time to wallow in self-pity and overanalyze information is limited because less than 24 hours from the end of one game, you’re preparing to begin another. So, we tipped our caps to the Bruins and prepared for the regional crowning game on Monday.
Game 4. This was the game we had prepared for all year, win or go home. Who would deliver the first punch, and how would that punch be returned? We started another talented freshman who had been consistent and reliable all season for our team. He gave us six clean innings while we did what we had been doing all season, playing great defense, and allowing our abilities to take over. A massive outfield assist from current San Francisco Giants Outfielder, LaMonte Wade saved a run and a big inning from unfolding. We knocked current Oakland A’sStarter, James Kaprielian, out of the game with a 2-0 lead. From there, our bullpen would continue to shut down UCLA and the score would finish 2-1. We stormed the field as we had grown accustomed to in the NCAA tournament and dogpiled. There’s no better feeling in sports than a dogpile, not many teams get to do it. The Dirty Terps were the winners of the 2015 Los Angeles Regional after taking down the #1 team in the nation, on their home field. The junkyard dogs were still hungry, and who else would we draw in the Super Regional, but the team that eliminated us the year before, the University of Virginia.