Vaughn's Ready For His Moment
(Photo courtesy Maryland Athletics)
When John Szefc left Maryland to take the head coaching position at Virginia Tech, he handed the ball to Rob Vaughn, to put it in terms we all understand here on this site.
Vaughn isn’t coming into a six-run lead in the ninth inning, and he’s not in line for a save with his new Terrapin club. But he’s in a good spot, let’s say something like a one-run lead, coming into a clean sixth inning. He credits the transition from Coach Szefc to himself for that.
“Big picture, my goal was to be a head coach by the time I was 35. I didn’t know it would happen at 29,” Vaughn said. "The transition to Coach Szefc leaving, to being in the athletic director's office talking about the job, to getting the job, it happened really quickly and really smoothly."
The lead Vaughn has comes from what Szefc left for the 30-year-old first-time head coach: a roster that includes both the 10 Innings Preseason Pitcher and Player of the Year, Taylor Bloom and Marty Costes, and depth behind them both on the mound and in the field.
"I’ve recruited a lot of these position players, and we're working on more depth at those positions. But when you can roll a No. 1 and No. 2 like Taylor Bloom and Tyler Blohm out there, that’s comforting. We have two very reliable guys to throw out there…guys that have a lot of experience. It’s rare in college baseball to have good, experienced seniors…we have lots of those guys."
Vaughn could blow through the final few innings for a win, if a check in the win column was what he is after. It could be a Big Ten title. His team certainly has the talent. It could be making or hosting a super regional.
But to hear it from him, wins and losses and tournament berths aren’t exactly how he is going to measure success. He wants those things to be a byproduct of something much bigger.
“We have a vision for where we’re going…we have our steps along the way,” Vaughn said. “My goal has nothing to do with the end product. We spend so much time getting [the players] to buy into the process and trusting the results will take care of themselves. We want to play with freedom, unafraid to crash and burn. [Wednesday] night we got beat by a good William & Mary team, but it was one of those things where I thought the energy was great…we just didn’t execute.”
The loss evened Maryland's record on the young season after the Terrapins took two out of three in Knoxville against Tennessee last weekend, a statement series win for Vaughn to open with. Eight months after Szefc handed the ball to him, Vaughn got to hand the ball to Bloom to get the season rolling, a welcoming arm to get his head coaching career started. Bloom did nothing other than strike out nine Volunteers over seven scoreless innings and second baseman Nick Dunn pounded three home runs.
The non-conference slate doesn’t get any easier from here, with series against Bryant and East Carolina coming up, as well as games versus Coastal Carolina and No. 6 North Carolina. And the conference schedule includes Indiana, Michigan, Purdue, and Nebraska.
Vaughn said the most important thing he can do this season is build bonds with his guys, especially the pitching staff, who he hasn’t had a ton of contact with during his time in College Park. After that happens, things start to fall into place.
"I caught in college, I’ve caught professionally, I’ve caught my whole life, so I’ve spent a ton of time working with pitchers,” he said. "…knowing them on an intimate level, talking about things as a staff, knowing pitchers really well, that’s important. [I want to] spend a lot of time just hanging out with them, getting to know them, what makes each guy tick. that’s the root of everything."
It’s a lot to take on in year one for a 30-year-old head coach, but Vaughn is in a good position to succeed. He said himself before the season he wouldn’t have accepted the position if he had felt it wasn’t the right position to be able to succeed.
And so it’s so far, so good. But then again, it’s only the sixth inning for Vaughn. And we all know the later into a game it gets, the harder it is to get outs.
Webb's Words: The Big Ten is a worthy foe to the Pac-12
In the summer of 2013, I spoke to Erik Bakich on his experience over his first year in Ann Arbor. I asked whether the season had gone as expected, what the program needed to do to return to its past glory, the state of Michigan recruiting.
Each topic also reflected the state of the Big Ten. Meeting expectations was dependent on the team reaching the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2013 and how the Wolverines stacked up against their conference foes. Returning to the top of the conference would require Michigan bringing in players better than their conference peers. At the time, more and more Big Ten programs were gaining traction in recruiting and finding the right players to make
Indiana captured the attention of the country with their run to Omaha, and the Big Ten produced two NCAA Tournament teams that year, Illinois was the other, for a second straight year. Prior to 2012, the Big Ten only sent multiple teams to the tournament in twice of the previous six seasons.
The conference was getting better and Bakich spoke to how it was becoming a destination for top baseball players throughout the country. His sentiment was reflected in one bold statement, stating he believed the Big Ten not only could be a conference viewed as one of the best, but have a deserved place at the Power 5 table that one wouldn't bat an eye towards. Bakich alluded to the depth of the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences and how they'll have a leg up, he previously coached within both conferences, but stated the Big Ten could and would hold its own against the Pac-12 and Big XII.
That time has come.
When it comes to placing teams in the NCAA Tournament, the ACC and SEC will always be 1-2 or 2-1. Geographically advantages will carry the day, less road games, more time outside in a natural practice element, the excess of state lotteries to aid recruiting, those are all advantages Big Ten programs will never have.
But for the other Power 5 conferences, the Big Ten can and has been an equal, if not better peer. Outside of the ACC and SEC, the Big Ten is the only conference to have at least five teams make in the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three years, sending 13 teams, from eight different programs, to a regional.
This weekend, for a second year in a row, the Big Ten - Pac-12 Baseball Challenge brings Nebraska and Ohio State together to take on #2 Oregon State and Utah, in Surprise, Ariz. In Nebraska and Oregon State, the respective reigning conference champions square off. In Ohio State and Utah, two 2016 conference champions can be found (Ohio State won the 2016 Big Ten Tournament, Utah were the Pac-12 champs.)
As the Big Ten looks to avenge a 2-6 showing last year, the eight games are just 21 games between the Big Ten and Pac-12 over the next two weeks. This year's Dairy Queen Classic doubles as another Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge, with Illinois, Michigan State and host Minnesota taking on #26 Arizona, #12 UCLA and Washington.
Next weekend, after they have their own game this Saturday against Arizona in the Town Gwynn Legacy, Michigan caps their spring break with a trip to Stanford for a four-game set in Palo Alto.
And about the Cardinal, Stanford is the storied Pac-12 program that Bakich declined a summer offer to become their next head coach, following the retirement of legendary coach Mark Marquess, opting to stay in Ann Arbor.
That's what Bakich saw five years ago, a conference going toe-to-toe with a conference like the Pac-12, coming out on top as the place to be.
What to watch for this weekend
Can Penn State and Purdue stay perfect?
Penn State and Purdue opened the season with perfect 3-0 records, respectively sweeping Elon and Western Michigan. The competition picks up in week two, with both heading to tournaments which features at least one tough test.
For Penn State, the Nittany Lions return to North Carolina, headed to Cary and the USA Baseball Complex for games against Maryland-Baltimore County, Monmouth, and St. John's. St. John's, enters the weekend the No. 27 team in the country, coming off a midweek win over #8 North Carolina. It will be a tall task for Penn State to duplicate it's 3-0 weekend, but a strong showing in Cary will give further credence to a turnaround year in State College.
Like Penn State, Purdue will have an opportunity to showing their spotless opening weekend was a true sign of things to come 2018. In Alamo Irish Classic, hosted by Notre Dame in San Antonio, Purdue will take on Saint Louis, Incarnate Wood and the Irish, with a championship or consolation game on Sunday. Notre Dame is on the outside of this week's NCBWA poll, but the Irish took two of three from then No. 11 LSU in Baton Rogue last weekend. The Boilermakers aligned their rotation so ace Tanner Andrews will be on the bump Saturday against their in-state foe.
Who excels in regional-type field?
Penn State and Purdue aren't alone in preparing to take part in a quality tournament this weekend. Throughout the country, stout competition will put Big Ten teams to the test this weekend, resembling could be found in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
In Myrtle Beach, Illinois will see if it can match Indiana's 3-1 showing in a Coastal Carolina-hosted tournament. The Illini will play the Chanticleers twice, as well as face West Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth in the Brittain Resorts Invitaitonal.
In the All-State Sugar Bowl Baseball Classic, Iowa joins a four-team field alongside Ball State, New Orleans and Virginia Tech, looking to build off of their 3-0 weekend.
Out west, Michigan will face San Diego, Arizona and Cal Poly in the Tony Gwynn Legacy in San Diego.
Can Michigan State rebound?
Michigan State's first trip this season to California was a forgettable one. Last weekend, the Spartans dropped all four contests at Fresno State, three by one run. Michigan State returns to the Golden State this weekend for three games at Pepperdine (2-3), looking to reverse course on the young season. Junior right-handed pitcher Riley McCauley shined in his weekend debut, striking out 12 batters in six innings, allowing only one run off two hits. But timely hits alluded Jake Boss' club. Michigan State batted .203 for the weekend, leaving strong starts by McCauley and senior right-hander Ethan Landon (6.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 9 SO) fall by the wayside.
Burke Granger & Chris Webb-
The Big Ten’s top pitching prospect is set to be under a heavy scouting eye this weekend. Transitioning into the Friday starter role for Ohio State, junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Feltner will square off against #2 Oregon State in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge.
Splitting time between starting and reliever, Feltner was inconsistent in 2017, going 1-5 with a 6.32 ERA. Fortunes turned in the Cape for the 6’4, 195-pound hurler, as the Russ Ford Outstanding Relief Pitcher winner did not allow an earned run, recording eight saves in 13 appearances.
An above-average athlete with projectable frame, Feltner can sit 93-95 with a fastball that garners plus grades for its sheer velocity, though he has yet to show consistent command with it or any of his secondary offerings. As a Buckeye, Feltner has struck out 124 batters in 136.1 innings but has walked 61 batters. Thrown in the low-80s, his best off-speed pitch is a slider with sharp two-plane break, while a mid-80s changeup gives him a useable third pitch.
"His changeup is OK," said an longtime AL scout. "But he needs to get to it," he added, alluding to Feltner's trouble of locating his fastball and falling behind in counts.
While his in-game showings has caused some scouts to take an approach of wait-and-see, one NL cross-checker spoke to the things that are going to show up no matter what as reason to consider Feltner as a potential top-three round pick.
"You look at the body and the arm," the cross-checker said. "He's a good athlete, the arm works, it isn't impeded in his delivery, and the body can probably add on another 10 pounds, and think of what that will do to his ability to pitch with the velocity he has."
Oregon State features three potential top-two round draft picks, led by second baseman Nick Madrigal, who may be the most talented collegiate hitter in this class. A strong showing against the Beavers can cement Feltner’s place as a top prospect in his own right.
"Teams won't forget this game when debating in the draft room," the AL scout said. "If he does well, they'll use it to support why they should take him. If he does poorly, they'll use it to argue why they shouldn't."
10 Innings' Scouting Grades