New to the BIG10 Conference, Alex and the team travel throughout the mid-west prepared to put the conference on notice. The Dirty Terps have arrived.
Having grown up in New York, more specifically Long Island, I thought Maryland was in “the south.” I probably felt that way because it was over four hours from my parent’s house and as a 16-year-old it seemed like traveling there took days rather than hours. Playing in the ACC, we played most of our games in warm-weather states like Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Now that we were in the BIG10 Conference we would be traveling north to Michigan and Nebraska. The weather didn’t really matter to us, once it got to a certain temperature it all felt the same. The opening series was played in College Park against the University of Minnesota, unfortunately I was forced to miss that series.
Two days before the series with Minnesota, I was taking practice a little too seriously when the pitchers were acting as base runners during team defense. I slid headfirst into a bag and jammed my left pinky. Bone head move on my part for sure. I spent the next two days in the training room doing everything I could to get the swelling down but after a few days of ice and stim treatment I was unable to pitch that series. In a convincing manner, we handled the Gophers and swept the series. The following week we were off to Ann Arbor, Michigan to play the Wolverines and the coach who recruited more than half of our current roster, Erik Bakich.
Coach Bakich left for Michigan in the summer of 2012, just before I entered my freshman year at UMD. I understood why he left, it was a great opportunity for him and his family, and I was happy for him. Part of my decision to commit to Maryland was because I wanted to play for Bakich, which was the same for many of my teammates. College baseball analysts and reporters had pinned Maryland and Michigan to compete for the BIG10 title that season. We had that weekend circled on our schedule for quite some time and to say we were excited was an understatement. There was no way I was going to miss another conference series, let alone one against Michigan. Of course, it snowed on Friday, so we played a doubleheader on Saturday. The game temperature was 25 degrees, and the wind was not helping. We split the doubleheader, winning game one and losing game two. In game three we gave up the lead early and couldn’t get the bats going and lost by a close score. I was able to come in and pitch a clean inning with no effects from my finger injury, reestablishing my role as a reliable back end of the bullpen arm for our team.
After the series loss to Michigan, we regrouped back in College Park sweeping Nebraska. The following weekend we played Iowa and lost two out of three. That was a tough series because we had won the first game and lost the next two by one run. Iowa was a good team, but we should’ve won the series at the very least at home. I didn’t get to pitch that series and that frustrated me. I had been throwing the ball well, but the coaching staff communicated the reason I didn’t throw was that there wasn’t an opportunity for me to hold the lead late in the game because we never had one. If we had taken the lead or gone into extra innings, I would’ve been the guy to throw. As a player, I respected my coach’s decision although I didn’t like it. I wanted to selfishly be in the game as much as I could with the game on the line. The following weekend we played Cal State Fullerton, an out-of-conference opponent. I came in the game on Friday night in the top of the ninth with runners on first and second, no outs, mad and fired up. I was mad that the prior weekend I didn’t get to pitch against Iowa, and I wanted to prove to my coaches and teammates that I was built for the role to shut the door at the end of a game. After a double-play ball and strikeout later, we were high-fiving, celebrating the victory. From that point forward, I maintained my backend of the bullpen role for the rest of the season.
We were streaky the remainder of the BIG10 season. After Fullerton, we went to Purdue and swept them, followed up by Indiana sweeping us at home. We’d go on to take two of three from Ohio State in Columbus and lose the series to Northwestern in Evanston. It seemed like when the pitchers would throw well the hitters would go cold, and when the hitters would score runs in abundance the pitchers weren’t able to hold the lead. We chalked it up to baseball happening, a saying that we would often use. Sometimes the ball wasn’t going to roll our way and we understood that. The thing that we took away from these unfortunate losses was that we would respond with an abundance of wins. As a group, we knew that if we stuck to our process and continued to approach each day with an unsatisfied work ethic, especially at a time when the lights were brightest, we would rally and prevail. As the regular season concluded, we finished third in the BIG10 behind Illinois and Iowa. We finished the season in Evanston, Illinois and the BIG10 tournament was scheduled to be played in Minneapolis, MN at Target Field. Postseason play was a different animal and we were hungry from last season’s loss in the ACC Championship. We felt we were more prepared now than ever before. Our blue collars were showing.