Terps embrace ‘Omaha Challenge’
Notes: Trinity’s Scannell becomes school’s all-time wins leader
Amy Farnum, NCAA.com
When Erik Bakich assumed control of the Maryland baseball program in the summer of 2009, it just didn’t need to be rebuilt – it needed to be rebranded.
The program has dwelled in the basement of the Atlantic Coast Conference for decades, winning its most recent league title in 1971. The Terrapins’ stadium, Shipley Field, had been neglected for years and was definitely not on par with other facilities in the conference, which are some of the best in the nation.
“When people thought of Maryland baseball, they didn’t think of winning and championships and development and nice facilities,” said Bakich, who is about to start his second season as the Terps’ head coach.
Bakich and his staff have attacked every aspect of the program to make it a contender in the league, beginning with recruiting top talent. Maryland’s 2010 signing class – consisting of 13 freshmen and nine junior college transfers – was ranked No. 25 by Baseball America, one of just three ACC programs on the list.
“I think we’ve got a lot more depth than we’ve ever had in the past,” Bakich said. “There’s good talent on this roster. It may not be the best in the ACC, but we’re certainly not going to be the last. Last year, there was a huge disparity in the physical talent level of Maryland’s roster and the rest of the ACC, and I think that gap is gone now. There’s no reason why we can’t be one of the eight teams that goes to the ACC Tournament and that’s the goal for this season.”
Facilities were also a main concern, and one of the first things Bakich and the staff were able to do was raise funds to build a 5,000-square foot indoor hitting and pitching facility. Maryland also replaced the infield with all-weather turf and moved back home plate almost 15 feet.
“It is a tremendous advantage to at least get on the same playing field,” Bakick said. “The infield turf which we installed is one of the nicest playing surfaces in all of college baseball now.”
Along with the new turf, the program also built a new brick backstop for the stadium, and included the players in the process.
“There hadn’t been any improvements to the concrete or the brick on the stadium since it was built in 1965,” Bakich said. “The facilities department agreed to build us a brand-new brick backstop if we helped with some of the labor costs. We turned it into a mental toughness exercise and created demolition derby, bought some sledge hammers and let the kids start whaling away.
“When the players take ownership in the total promotion of the baseball program, there is some investment there and commitment and they take a whole lot more pride in it. These guys can literally say they’ve helped build this facility.”
In addition to bonding while swinging sledge hammers, Bakich held the “Omaha Challenge” to conclude fall practice – a five-day strength and condition competition. Before taking the helm at Maryland, Bakich served as an assistant coach under Clemson’s Jack Leggett and Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin, where the Omaha Challenge was a key team-building exercise. Maryland’s OC includes unique events such as dodge ball, a monster tire flip, tug-of-war and an obstacle course.
“It’s been the blueprint of success for all the programs I’ve been involved with,” Bakich said. “It’s something that increases the players’ mental toughness exponentially. It’s a staple of those programs. It doesn’t have a darn thing to do with baseball, but I guess it kind of does because you are teaching these guys to overcome some adversity. They’ve got to do things that they probably thought they couldn’t do, and overcome those mental barriers.”
Maryland, which was picked to finish fourth in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, definitely will have a tough road ahead as the Terrapins open Feb. 18 at No. 6 Texas with a four-game series.
“As long as I’m here, that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Bakich said. “We’re going to open up on the road with the best opponent we can possibly play. It allows our players to experience playing in a big-time environment and allows them to play on the road. That can only help us with the ACC schedule which is very difficult as it is. It also helps promote our program in different parts of the country. I don’t think the folks in Texas know really what’s been going on in College Park, Md. This is a good way to make us a little more visible nationwide.”
• Related: Maryland accepts "Omaha Challenge"
Need to Know
• The University of California baseball program, in existence since 1892, will be eliminated as of July 1, leaving the Golden Bears as the only NCAA Division I school in the state without a baseball team. The cut of the baseball program originally was announced on Sept. 28 due to the UC system’s financial crisis, and despite a last-ditch fundraising effort to save the sport, the decision was finalized on Feb. 11. The Bears have advanced to the NCAA Tournament 11 times, including last season. Cal has appeared in the College World Series five times, winning the national title in 1947 and 1957. Ranked No. 17 nationally in the Baseball America Preseason Top 25, the Bears play host to Utah for a season-opening three-game series beginning Feb. 18.
• UC San Diego took over the No. 1 spot in the latest Collegiate Baseball Division II poll following a four-game sweep over then-No. 17 Mesa State last weekend. Previously top-ranked Southern Indiana lost two of three games to Armstrong Atlantic, falling to No. 13 in the rankings. Senior right-hander Daniel Simmons played a key role in the series, tossing a complete-game two-hit shutout in a 3-0 defeat of the Mavericks. A native of Encino, Calif., Simmons struck out seven batters, and retired the side in order in four of the first five innings as he improved to 2-0. Simmons was named California Collegiate Athletic Association Pitcher of the Week for his performance. He has two complete games in two starts this year.
• Trinity University head coach Tim Scannell became the school’s all-time leader in victories as the Tigers swept a two-game series against Austin College on Feb. 13. Scannell has collected 378 victories along with five Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference titles in 13 seasons at the head of the program. The No. 20 Tigers began their SCAC title defense with a 2-0 record last weekend.
• The Atlantic Coast Conference announced at least 44 games featuring league members will be broadcast this season, including eight Saturday afternoon telecasts on the conference’s Regional Sports Network. The season slate will begin with a non-conference matchup between Jacksonville at Florida State on Feb. 22 on Fox Sports Net Florida.
• North Georgia vaulted 14 spots in the Collegiate Baseball Division II poll to No. 8 this week after starting the season 6-0 following a three-game sweep of Stillman College. The Saints will attempt to tie the program’s best start of 7-0 (2005) when they take on Millersville on Feb. 18.
• For the first time since 1995, Oklahoma is the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 Conference. Last year, the Sooners posted a 50-18 record and advanced to the College World Series for the first time since winning the 1994 NCAA title. Three All-Americans headline the Sooners’ lineup – outfielder Elliot Blair, third baseman Garrett Buechele and infielder/pitcher Max White.
• Westminster College head coach Scott Pritchard will resign following the 2011 season. He has held the position since 1999, and has compiled a 207-196 record during the past 11 seasons.
• The Ohio Valley Conference announced a change to the league’s regular season series for next year.
Currently the OVC plays a three-game series spread across two days, with the teams playing a doubleheader on Saturday (with one of those games being a seven-inning game, the other a nine-inning affair) and a single nine-inning game on Sunday. Beginning in 2012, the series schedule will move to a three-game series across three days (Friday-Sunday), with a single nine-inning game being played each day. The main issues prompting the change were student-athlete welfare and weather concerns.
• After losing its season-opening series to No. 3 Georgia College, Tampa bounced back last weekend with a 3-0 mark at the Lander Baseball Invitational, knocking off two Top 25 opponents. The weekend, capped off by a 10-5 defeat of then-No. 5 Mount Olive propelled Tampa back to No. 5 in the latest rankings. The Spartans are batting .330 as a team, led by Taylor Wrenn at .545.
• North Alabama senior right-hander Trey Mitchell garnered Gulf South Conference East Division Pitcher of the Week honors after tossing a complete-game two-hitter in the Lions’ series-opening 11-0 win at Ouachita Baptist last weekend. It was Mitchell’s second consecutive complete-game victory this season.