Talkin' Baseball with Head Coach Erik Bakich

The Terps opened up their 2012 campaign winning two out of three against nationally ranked UCLA.

The smell of the fresh cut grass and the “ping” sound as the ball pops off the bat are all signs that baseball season is under way. The Maryland baseball program kicked off their 2012 season with a trip out west to visit #14 UCLA last weekend. The warm weather, long travel, and high caliber competition didn’t face the Terps one bit as they came over winning the series by taking two games out of three against the Bruins.

Maryland baseball teams in the past might have been intimidated facing such stiff competition, but not this team. This is a team unlike any Maryland team that we have seen in recent years. It’s filled with players who were drafted but have decided to come to college and be a part of something special. It’s a team full have players that have adopted their head coaches mentality. But more importantly, it’s a team filled with players that believe. They believe they can go out, play anyone, put themselves in a position to come out with the win.

The head coach of the Maryland baseball team, Erik Bakich took some time to talk about the state of the program, what this past weeks win meant as well as some other topics with TSR.

Talk about the going across the country to play #14 UCLA and coming away winning two out of three.

It was a great opportunity to challenge ourselves early and dive in against a great program like UCLA.  Obviously they have a lot of tradition and are very well coached.   For us, it was a good challenge to play an ACC caliber opponent on the road and see where we matched up.   Fortunately, we came out on the positive end of things a couple of times and it ended up being a good weekend for us.  We set a goal of winning the series before we left and we accomplished our goal.

It was a farily mild off-season which allowed you be practice on the field more, as opposed to practicing indoors compared to years past. Do you think that attributed to your ability to play so well, so early?

We talked about that.  The warmer weather certainly helped us.  I don't think we were inside one time over the last few weeks.  We have had a nice warmup.  Just in talking to the players and coaches everyone seemed to be very comfortable heading into opening day.

Last year,you open with Texas.  You take game two from them and in all honesty you could have had game three also but had a rough eighth inning.  What does that experience playing a program like Texas and then UCLA this year, do for the team?

It gives them the vision of what our long term destination is.  I have the mind set that if you want to be the best you have to play the best and that’s why we went down to Texas last year and why we went to UCLA this year.   It was a decision that we made that would help the total growth of our program.  Those decisions are made to schedule that way to serve as an accelerator for our program.  Not only do our players get exposure all over the country, and play different brands of baseball in different parts of the country, but they get to see what programs with storied traditions and great histories are doing so that they can get better.  

Depending on the lineup you go with, you could be starting up to four sophomores and a freshman.  Talk about the youth you have and just the overall talent that they bring to the program?

We tried to recruit very well.  We tried to recruit on par with some of the better teams in the country over the past few years and we have some highly touted kids in our program now. Some guys that have been drafted and have decided to forgo signing pro and come to college.  We definitely have some talent.  I think the separator for us is that all the kids that played last year, that went through last year and had to dive right into the fire as newcomers, there is a lot of experience returning.   K.J. Hockaday is the only new face on the field right now.  That is a big advantage for us.  He is down in the order a little bit and learning from players like Alfredo Rodriguez and other guys.  If you have that experience, which we do, it certainly helps us in close games and big pressure situations when we are on the road and when we are playing very good teams.   

Talk a little about Hockaday coming in as a freshman and hitting .364 in the first series.

He is a special player.  He is going to be one of the good ones in our conference over the next several years.  He is going to be a cornerstone for us in the middle of the lineup in the years to come.  He has done a great job.  I told him before the game that his heart is going to be pounding and he is going to be nervous and just to trust your instincts.  Don't go up there trying to hit home runs, go up there trying to get quality at bats and see your pitch.  There are a lot of good hitters in the lineup and he doesn't have to be a one man recking show.  He can just do whatever he can to help the team win.  He is a great kid, great teammate and great player.  He made the transition to the college game and the speed of it very well, so I think he will do very good.

Tim Kiene goes 4-for-12 over the series with two doubles and two homers, almost tying his total last year in one series.  Last year as a freshman he hit better in ACC than out of it.  What can you say about him and performing in big games?

Tim is a proven guy now. Just from last year, through the summer and now, he is a guy that teams look at in our lineup and say don't let this guy beat you with the long ball.  Tim was a guy who started off last season as a true freshman and was thrusted into the four hole. He didn't get a lot of good pitches to hit right away so that transition was a little tougher than say K.J’s where we have the opportunity to put him down in the order a bit.   It took Tim a little longer to get acclimated to the type of pitching he was facing and how they were attacking him and once he did make that adjustment he was one of the best hitters in the conference down the stretch.  He carried that into the summer and had a great summer.  He has done the same in the fall and the start of the spring.  He is a scary hitter because he can change the game with one swing.  He is also a good hitter because he can use the whole field and takes what the pitcher gives him.  He is certainly developing at a great pace.

How encouraging was Brett’s outing Sunday, both for the team and for him coming off of rehabbing Tommy John and he was able to go five innings and strikeout eight and walk one and only giving up two hits?  He threw about 2/3’s of his pitches for strikes, could you have asked for a better start by him?

It is very encouraging because Brett is a leader. Brett has a lot of talent. It’s been tough for him mentally to have to adapt to sit out for an entire year.  I think that has fueled his fire even more for this year.  The rehab process has gone really well and he has been extremely aggressive with his routine and has made sure that he has done everything he has had to do to get through the Tommy John process.  He is a good 15 months out of surgery now and he is probably not yet at 100% with velocity but we tell him that his second, third and fourth pitches look pretty good.  His pitch ability is better than it was before.

What does an outing like that do for his confidence?

It is confirmation for him, he knows he is back.  He hasn't lost anything and he is going to come back stronger.  Watchng baseball for a year and not playing may have given him a different perspective.  He has always understood the importance of being able to command second and third pitches and he now has four pitches so he really is up there looking like he can put the ball where he wants to with four different pitches.  For him that confirmation that he is better than he was before the surgery does nothing but give him a tremendous boost of confidence and gives our team a boost of confidence.

The entire staff pitched well this weekend. I mean in 27 innings you held the #14 team in the country to eight runs.  Take away five innings on Saturday and you held them to two runs in 21 innings.  

UCLA has some dangerous hitters and there are some savvy veterans that can do some dangerous things.  They went out and scored 19 runs on Tuesday or Wednesday.  They are very capable of exploding at any time.  Our guys did a good job of letting our defense work.  It was a good team win because our pitches threw a lot of strikes.  We also caught some breaks as well.

You return your entire starting lineup from last year, have 3 out of five starting pitchers returning, plus you get Harman back who was a weekend guy in 2010.  They guys have a year of your system under their belt, what is the mentality of the team, how pumped are they for the potential that this season holds?

It’s the progression of our program.  Our first year we inherited a program and they are all great kids.  There are some guys form that first year that are on this team and a lot of guys that are still connected to the program.  There was a lot of disperatity in talent between us and the rest of the league.  We took our lumps.  We have brought in a lot of new faces.  Last year we had to re-teach a new system to 23 guys all over again. For the first time this year everything wasn't brand new.  There was a lot of consistency in the program with everyone coming back and mixing in a few new faces.  That helps our leaders develop because our leaders know what to expect and how to go about their business.  They can be good role models and teachers for the younger players.  We hit our stride throughout eh fall and preseason practices.  We weren't teaching everything new so we could simplify our process and focus on the things the need to do to win.

Tell fans what they can expect from the Terps baseball team next year?

The play is going to speak for itself. The time has come for us to go out and do it.  It is the approach we took this past weekend and the approach we are taking from here on out. I think what they will see is a lot more consistency.  Not as many highs and lows but more consistent play.  Hopefully we will be able to stay on a flat line on a high level both with our performance and with our mentality.  

The Terps head down to Greenville, North Carolina to play in the Keith LeClair Classic where they will face Western Carolina on Friday (1 pm.) , Purdue on Saturday (11 am.), and East Carolina (2 pm.) on Sunday. All three of those teams have opened up the first week of the season undefeated.

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