New guiding hands covering all bases for 16-5 Maryland

2nd-year coach Rupp making right moves as Terps' confidence builds

College Baseball

March 22, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

When Terry Rupp took over Maryland's baseball program last season, the experimenting began.

In dire need of pitching, his entire coaching staff was on the lookout for strong arms. This year's closer, side-arming senior Ken Beck, was a reserve catcher found tossing the ball one day in the outfield.

"I was messing around, throwing on the warning track before an intrasquad game, and the pitching coach [Ben Bachmann] said, `Come on down, let's check that out,' " said Beck, a Hammond grad who has one win and four saves, with only one earned run, in 11 innings this season.

"Later that day, I threw an inning and gave up one hit and no runs. I really saw that as my opportunity to play a significant part for this team and just went with it."

Rupp, settling in after a 17-37 inaugural season, has quickly found the right mix, with his Terps at 16-5 this season after a 10-4 win over UMBC yesterday and a program-best 12-game winning streak in the books.

He took the Maryland job after spending five years at Tampa, where he led the team to the national NCAA Division II championship in 1998.

"When we first came in, our goal was to get our system in place," he said. "The first thing was letting the players know they need to take care of their responsibilities off the field and, if they can do that, it takes those distractions away when they step on the field.

"We're a firm believer of sticking to details and we have our team rules we adhere to - it gives the team a sense of unity."

With 15 returning players to go with 15 newcomers - eight from the Baltimore area - chemistry has come surprisingly easy this season, and with it, wins.

"This year, the team is clicking really well. Everyone likes each other and we're playing well together," said junior shortstop John McCurdy, an Arundel High grad who is considered the top college prospect from the state of Maryland by the scouting service Prospects Plus.

"The intensity level is a lot higher than other years and that carries over on the field and we've been able to get results from it."

While Beck has been doing his part with near-flawless work on the mound late in games, McCurdy's work at the plate has provided most of the Terps' leads.

Hitting third in the lineup, he's batting .506 this season, with 11 homers and 45 RBIs.

"Yes, I'm seeing the ball pretty well," McCurdy said with a smile. "It's the best feeling, sort of hard to explain, but the ball just looks like a watermelon coming in from the pitcher. I'm getting myself good pitches and hitting the ball pretty hard."

Spending plenty of time in the weight room during the offseason, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound McCurdy has added 15 pounds of muscle and improved his speed - he has a team-leading 11 stolen bases in 12 tries.

"We knew he had all the tools to be a great player and it was just a matter of maturity and time before he put it all together," said Rupp.

"He's got great power and I think the big thing for John this year over last is he's driving the ball to the opposite field very well. That's something you don't see in many players."

Beck, among others, has noticed.

"Every time John comes up to the plate, you expect him to hit a homer and when he doesn't, it's like, `What's the matter with you?' He's just on an incredible tear," he said.

Another goal Rupp laid out at the start is attracting in-state talent to Maryland. He's having success, with this year's rookie crop including Jason Maxey (Hammond) and Joe Sargent (Mount St. Joseph) among the 13 freshmen on the roster.

Maxey, a first-team All-American at Hammond, has adjusted particularly well, hitting .341 with four homers and 14 RBIs while spending most of his time as the designated hitter.

"You couldn't ask for a better situation as a freshman - it's a great place to play. You're in the best conference [Atlantic Coast Conference], right now we're playing some great ball and we've got great coaches," he said.

The Terps, aiming for their first winning season since going 29-27-1 in 1991, hope to have more good days once they get into the thick of their demanding ACC schedule. They saw their 12-game winning streak end at North Carolina last weekend in a big way, losing three games to the Tar Heels.

"This has been a blast," said senior catcher Kevin McDonald. "In years past, we struggled to get wins early in the season, but now with this team we're just out there playing hard and expecting to win. It builds our confidence going into conference play. We know how to win and that's a great thing."

Big help

Four Baltimore-area players have played prominent roles in the Maryland baseball team's fast start.

Pitchers

W-L ERA S IP K

Ken Beck 1-0 0.82 4 11 12

(Hammond)

Brooks Norris 1-0 0.87 0 10.1 9

(Curley)

Hitters

G Avg. HR RBI

Jason Maxey 15 .341 4 14

(Hammond)

John McCurdy 20 .506 11 45

(Arundel)

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