Saturday, May 7, 2011

Checking in with Terps Baseball: Ping!

"Wait, we're watching college baseball?" asked My Wife, The Exasperated.

Indeed we were. I have to admit that I've never paid much heed to the college game - certainly not during the regular season and most definitely not the University of Maryland's team. The Terps are not exactly a powerhouse program on the diamond. They've not been to the NCAA tournament since 1971, also the year of the team's last ACC title. But with no Orioles games on in the near future, I thought I'd see what else was on offer on our DirecTV schedule. What do you know, there was a Maryland-North Carolina game on today. So, why not college baseball?

Bakich Photo via PressBox

The college game is very different. The most obvious rule change is the use of aluminum bats, outlawed in the pros but the overwhelming preference in the college game. It is also a pretty steep drop in talent, even from low-level minor league teams. Each team in Division I is only allowed 11.7 scholarships so a sizable portion of the roster is composed of walk-on players.

But the sport is no less entertaining at this level. In fact, today's was a pretty good game. The North Carolina Tar Heels are the far more established program, having reached the College World Series in four of the past five seasons. They entered today's game ranked #17 in the nation. As such, the Heels were the heavy favorites but the Terps put up a good fight. Terps starting pitcher David Carroll gave the team a quality start, allowing three runs over six innings, but the offense and bullpen were not able to get him the win. Ultimately, UNC won 5-4 in ten innings.

I did my best to keep a scorecard for the affair but my work was cut out for me. Given the low number of scholarship players on each team and the resulting talent disparity on a given squad, one tends to see personnel moves which one would never see in a professional game. Case in point: UNC reliever Greg Holt pitched the last out in the top of the seventh, then pinch hit for the designated hitter in the bottom of the inning. He pitched the first out of the eighth before being pulled but remained in the game in the batting order, ultimately hitting a game-tying RBI double in the bottom of the ninth. On the Maryland side, center fielder Korey Wacker, in addition to having a great baseball name, is the Terps' closer. In the ninth inning, he came down from the outfield to try to save the game. Sadly, it didn't work out.

The game got exciting enough toward the end that My Wife asked me if I knew who won (I DVR games so I can skip commercials and keep score more easily). "No, I'm only about 15 minutes behind with this one. Are you saying you're actually taking an interest?"

"No, no, just wondering," she replied, suddenly sheepish.

I hate to see a great game end on a mistake, as it did with Wacker's throwing error in the tenth. Nonetheless, I'm glad that I tuned in, and certainly won't turn my nose up at college games in the future. Even with today's loss, the future for the Maryland program looks bright. This is head coach Erik Bakich's second year with the program and this year's freshmen represent the 25th best recruiting class in the country. They're getting playing time, too, with as many as five frosh taking the field in any given game. I'll look forward to checking in with them again sometime.

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