Bob Mumma must have wondered when it would ever get better.
The UMBC baseball program had languished for more than a decade, enduring its worst stretch since the Retrievers started playing the sport in 1967. When Bob Mumma took over for longtime head coach John Jancuska after the 2011 season, the Retrievers had endured nine straight losing campaigns.
"I wanted to re-establish some pride in the program and get back to competing for championships on an annual basis," Mumma said. "We needed to work hard and be excited about playing baseball."
The losing streak grew to 12 seasons by 2014. But Mumma could see the turnaround in progress. One year after the Retrievers finished with a 17-29 record, UMBC ended its lengthy losing skein. The Retrievers, buoyed by a 13-game winning streak, completed the 2015 season with a 34-20 record and 13-10 conference mark. The squad's 34 wins were the second most in the 48-year history of the UMBC program, behind the single-season record of 37 set by the 1992 team.
"It was a complete team," said Mumma, who was a UMBC catcher from 1990-92 before being drafted by the Chicago White Sox. "Guys would come off the bench and get big hits. Our upperclassmen proved to be great leaders. Last year, I thought we had a better ball club than our record showed. I don't know that we expected a 13-game winning streak and 34 wins this season, but I thought we'd be pretty good."
The Retrievers were a tough foe in the America East tournament. UMBC recorded the first two wins in its conference tournament history, defeating Maine and Hartford to reach the league championship game. The Retrievers took an early seven-run lead, but eventually bowed to top-seeded Stony Brook, 16-11, May 23.
"No one had been in big games before," Mumma said. "But they were very loose and played well in the tournament. We just have to find a way to be one or two plays better next season."
Can the Retrievers build on their impressive campaign and realistically expect to win a conference title and reach their first NCAA tournament since 2001 next spring?
The future certainly looks promising. The Retrievers will lose two impact players to graduation, senior shortstop Vince Corbi (.297 batting average and 36 RBIs) and senior right fielder Jake Barnes (.278, five home runs and 35 RBIs). They will welcome back five players who were consistent at the plate, led by junior outfielder Nick Naumann (.352 and 31 RBIs). Junior first baseman Anthony Gatto (.309 and four home runs), sophomore center fielder Andrew Casali (.315 and 42 RBIs), freshman designated hitter Jamie Switalski (.307) and sophomore catcher Hunter Dolshun (.293) rounded out a quality Retrievers lineup.
UMBC's best arms will also be back. Junior right-hander Conrad Wozniak (4-1 with a 1.48 ERA), freshman right-hander Matt Chanin (5-2 with a 1.96 ERA) and right-handed closer Denis Mikush (4-2 with six saves) gave the Retrievers a spark on the hill.
"It was fun to watch this group come together," Mumma said. "I was excited for the senior class to go out this way, because that's something that they'll remember forever."
Mumma is not only upbeat about the future of his program, but also sees the possibility that more than one team from the America East could qualify for an NCAA tournament bid. The league, which has been represented by either Stony Brook or Binghamton during seven of the last eight NCAAs, is getting better in Mumma's view.
"I'm a firm believer that the best teams in [the] America East are as good as the top teams in the Colonial Athletic Association and the Big South," Mumma said. "I'm not sure that our league gets the same amount of respect, but America East teams have done well in the [NCAA] tournament."
A deep and experienced Retrievers squad should be in the running for a conference title next spring. Mumma understands the bar has been raised for his program.
"The expectation is to get back to the championship game and win it," said Mumma, whose 42 home runs are the most in program history. "Sometimes, staying there is harder than getting there, but I'm really excited about what's going on here."