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Cheap Seats: Szefc Aims To Keep State Stars At Home

August 13, 2012

By Daniel Gallen

In late May, the University of Maryland baseball team was poised for a certain future.

John Szefc
Despite their status as a bubble team left on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament, the Terrapins were returning their core position players, had a quality recruiting class and -- perhaps most importantly -- thought they were headed to better things under coach Erik Bakich.

But on June 27, Bakich took the head gig at the University of Michigan, and pitching coach Sean Kenny followed him to Ann Arbor, Mich., one week later.

Less than one month after the future of the Terps program seemed so bright, it was clouded.

John Szefc, though, is there to clear things up.

Named coach of the Terps on July 18, Szefc joined Maryland after two years as an assistant at Kansas State. He brings experience from six stops during 22 years in college baseball to College Park.

Szefc hasn't been a head coach since 2002 at Marist College, but during seven years as leader of the Red Foxes, he led them to three NCAA Regional appearances.

The Terps haven't appeared in the NCAA postseason since 1971. But before tackling that end goal of the program, Szefc is taking care of the seemingly minor details that could play a huge role later.

"I'm really all about the little things in baseball," Szefc said shortly after he was hired. "Who can be on time, who can dress right, who looks the part, and, obviously, who can go out and get things done."

Bakich, a top recruiter who departed Maryland after three years and a 70-98 record, didn't leave the cupboard bare for Szefc. Returning are the team's top three hitters in average (catcher Jack Cleary, right fielder Jordan Hagel and third baseman K.J. Hockaday), its top power threat (first baseman Tim Kiene) and leader in ERA (left-hander Jimmy Reed).

"Players are players," Szefc said of his new team. "As long as you can relate to different people, you're fine. It's just a matter of accepting each other, working together, putting a plan in place and working towards the plan each day."

One area Szefc plans to follow Bakich closely in is local recruiting. Upon taking over the Terps in June 2009, Bakich pledged to get Maryland's top players to stay home. He did, gaining commitments from top recruits Kyle Convissar, a second baseman, and Alex Ramsay, a catcher, out of Severna Park in the class of 2010.

Last summer, Hockaday, a Joppa native who was a 14th-round pick of the Orioles, decided against playing professionally and started all 56 games for the Terps, batting .305. North Harford's Kevin Mooney was The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro Baseball Player of the Year this spring and is expected to help a Terps rotation that lost two of its three top starters.

"Baseball is the universal sport right now," Szefc said. "You have guys coming from all over the place. … It doesn't matter where guys come from, although moving forward, I put an awful lot of emphasis on making sure the best players in Maryland come to Maryland, and the surrounding areas also."

It's a strategy that has helped boost the Terps closer and closer to the postseason; they still haven't qualified for the ACC tournament since 2005. But for right now, it's about clearing things up and getting ready for the players' return to campus at the end of the month.

"It's very hectic when you're dealing with new players, returning players, trying to clean some things up," Szefc said. "It's been very hectic and busy but very rewarding, too."

More Cheap Seats:
Johnson Uses Hand Controls To Put Pedal To The Metal
Webster Lives His Fairytale As Coach Of Poly Engineers
Ex-Gilman Ace Miller Shoots For Golf Moon
Szefc Aims To Keep State Stars At Home
Wiseman Tournament To Aid Young Bowlers
Here's League Where Big Kids Get To Play

Issue 176: August 2012