Starting Gun O'Neill helps Terps out of blocks of baseball mediocrity

May 08, 1991|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Evening Sun Staff

COLLEGE PARK -- When Tom Bradley, Maryland's new baseball coach, suggested last fall to Tim O'Neill that he take his fastball to the bullpen, the pitcher took umbrage.

"Coach, I can start," O'Neill protested.

Bradley liked that response. And start O'Neill has.

Although he went only 2 2/3 innings and wasn't credited with Maryland's 11-6 victory over James Madison yesterday, O'Neill has tied the school single-season record with eight wins. In 14 starts, he's 8-4.

O'Neill, who came here by way of Parkville High and Essex Community College, is a key figure in what may well be a revival of Maryland baseball. The Terps have a school-record 28 victories.

The euphoria may end for the season this weekend in Greenville, S.C., however. Maryland will play mighty Clemson Saturday in the opening round of the double-elimination Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Clemson, 46-7 and No. 6 in the country, is the class of the ACC. Maryland, 28-25 overall but 5-15 in the ACC, is seeded last. O'Neill is scheduled to start Saturday.

"Tim was a great pickup," said Bradley, a Maryland alum who won 55 games during a major-league career with the Angels, White Sox, Giants and A's. "Any time a pitcher wins eight games at this level, he's doing a good job.

"Tim has a great attitude. He's probably sorry he's a pitcher. He'd like to go out there every day."

Less than dazzling at Essex, pitching mostly in relief, O'Neill posted a 7-1 record for Putty Hill in the Baltimore Metro League last summer. That looked good to Bradley, although he had no scholarship money available.

"I could have gotten some at Florida Atlantic University, but I got financial aid [based on need] here, so this is a better deal," O'Neill said. "I knew I could play Division I, and I like the ACC. We're seen by scouts."

Brett McGonnigal, the Terps' junior centerfielder from Loch Raven High, says Bradley has had a hand in Maryland's revival.

"It helps having a former major leaguer as coach," said McGonnigal, who's batting .332 and leads the team with 21 stolen bases. "He's done little things to improve the pitching staff. We have more winning spirit this year, too."

Junior infielder Ken Noe, the ACC's second-leading batter (.379) who hit a grand slam yesterday, calls Bradley a "players' coach." He and three teammates went with Bradley to an Orioles game against Seattle last week with tickets provided by Jeff Schaeffer, a former Terp who plays shortstop for the Mariners.

"We feel comfortable enough to do that with him," said Noe, a junior infielder from Roosevelt, N.Y. "We can joke around with him like he's a teammate."

Noe's handsome average includes an ACC-record 27 doubles and eight triples that tie the school record set more than 50 years ago by the late Charlie Keller before he moved on to the Yankees.

Noe probably would be acclaimed the ACC's top second baseman were it not for Clemson's Jim Crowley, son of former Orioles player and coach Terry Crowley, who is in the ACC's top five in batting, home runs and hits.

Bradley has few laments about the season. Oh, it rankles that the Terps let a few victories slip from their grasp, maybe five in ACC play alone. For example, they led N.C. State, 7-3, only to lose in extra innings and squandered a 4-0 lead over Wake Forest.

"They were used to losing in the ACC. They wondered when it [something bad] was going to happen. You can't teach how to win in one year."

Bradley and his players feel their modest success is an indication they're at least headed in the right direction. Indeed, they still have a chance to finish .500 or better for the first time since 1984.

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