Friday, April 18, 2014

Wizards Clinch First Winning Season Since 2007-08 With Win Over Bucks

by John Vittas

Originally Published for Terp Report (April 12, 2014)

John Wall has never played on a winning NBA team, until now. Wall’s Wizards picked up win number 42 with a 104-91 victory over the Bucks on Saturday night at the Verizon Center, and clinched their first winning season since 2007-08.

“I’ve been here since 2010 when the tough times came and we won twenty-some games two years in a row,” Wall said. “It was tough. The organization did a great job of picking people and going out to get veteran guys and I think all the young guys did a good job of developing.”

This is only the sixth time the franchise has made the playoffs in the past 26 years.

“It’s important for our players number one, but for the town too,” Washington head coach Randy Wittman said. “This is a town that hasn’t seen that in a while and they’ve shown great support through some down times.”

Saturday’s 13-point win came against a Milwaukee team that played Washington tough despite sporting the worst record in the NBA. All three of their previous matchups were decided by eight points or less.

Bradley Beal did not play in the first two clashes and proved to be the difference Saturday. Beal scored a game-high 26 points on 12-for-22 shooting, and added three rebounds and five assists.

“Bradley was just being himself, making shots,” Al Harrington said. “That’s what he needs to do as our starting two-guard. He was aggressive and able to get it done for us.”

Milwaukee made their first four shots of the third quarter to take their first lead of the night. But Beal traded baskets with the Bucks, canning all four jumpers he took in the first five minutes of the second half.

“I was just shooting the ball with confidence, taking advantage of what the defense was giving me and how they were playing me,” Bradley Beal said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me and I was able to knock down a couple.”

Beal’s sharp shooting ignited the decisive 20-7 Wizards run, and they never led by less than 11 after that spurt.

“How we played in the third quarter, that’s how we have to play for 48 minutes,” Wall said. “We got them out of their rhythm.”

Washington got strong contributions from their veteran role players. Martell Webster, Al Harrington, Drew Gooden and Andre Miller all played 13 minutes or more off the bench. Each has at least eight years of NBA experience.

“I thought our bench was solid for us again, which is going to be important,” Wittman said. “It’s important to have contributions from everybody and the last two nights I felt they really stepped up.”

The Wizards will need strong contributions from those veterans no matter who they play in the postseason, with Chicago and Toronto the most likely opponents. Wittman said he wasn’t concerned with matchups, and dismissed any thought of trying to avoid a series with the Pacers or Heat.

“Whoever we’re going to play, it’s going to be a tough matchup. I don’t care who we play,” Wittman said. “We’ve beaten anybody that we’re going to have to face. I’m not worried about that.”

The Wizards are scheduled to end their home regular season on Monday night at 7 p.m. against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

“Everybody’s putting on their better outfits, getting their car cleaned that day,” Al Harrington said about playing the Heat. “You just try and give it your all. That’s what Miami brings out in all the other teams.”

Makeup to the Max: Maryland Freshman Mike Shawaryn is Made of Moxy and Ready to Turn the Program Around

by John Vittas

Originally Published for Terp Report (April 10, 2014)

It was only his fourth career start, but Maryland freshman Mike Shawaryn was already at the top of the college baseball world. Just minutes removed from stifling and defeating the nation’s number two team, Shawaryn looked through the Florida sunshine into the left field bleachers to find his parents, who had made the trip down to Tallahassee to witness their son’s crowning achievement. As you would expect, the Shawaryn contingent was all smiles, as was their budding superstar.

But as is the case in baseball, there are up and there are downs. The last two weeks for Shawaryn fall into the down category. After beginning his college career with five straight wins, including three against ranked opponents, Shawaryn has hit the proverbial wall.

The lineups of Clemson and Wake Forest dispatched Shawaryn early each of the past two weekends, roughing him up for nine runs in seven and two-thirds innings. While the stout ACC batting orders may have gotten to Shawaryn between the lines, his mental clarity remains in tact.

The day after, you look back at it and realize it’s a real learning experience,” Shawaryn said. “I didn’t know I was going to have this much success this early and this is the first time I’ve really struggled at the college level. You have to make adjustments now, so that later in the season you don’t let those mistakes happen again.”

If the first five starts by the 19-year-old impressed you, it might be his response to the two most adverse that amaze onlookers.

“You have to be the same guy every day. Whatever happens on the field, leave it on the field. Especially as a pitcher, you’re the focal point of the whole game. If you get down or have bad body language, everyone is going to see that. Getting down on yourself is not going to help you get the next pitch over.”

While Shawaryn’s ability to manage failure may appear refined, he hasn’t had to do it very often. He won four Non-Public A state titles during his time at Gloucester Catholic in New Jersey, while also adding multiple All-American accolades and an American Legion World Series title to his resume. Perfect Game USA ranked him the No. 4 prospect in the state.

“He’s strong mentally,” sophomore catcher Kevin Martir said. “He’s the kind of kid who wants the ball. He’s the kind of kid who gets outs.”

He has really good makeup, he doesn’t get messed up mentally,” Maryland head coach John Szefc said. “He can reset himself and get back in the zone quick. He’s pitched in big situations before he got here, he has a good feel for pitching in pressure situations and he’s the kind of kid who welcomes the pressure.”

Shawaryn’s drive to win has become infectious, as he, along with a group of accomplished freshman and sophomores have changed the mindset of a team that hasn’t had a winning record in the ACC since 1981.

The patriarch of that Shawaryn contingent, Michael Sr., played football at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania and always guided his son towards sports. The younger Shawaryn credits his family’s sports background for the winning mentality that has accompanied him to College Park.

“It helps you with determination and work ethic,” Shawaryn said. “When I was younger, I would just play all the sports. I think the biggest thing it really helped is my competitiveness and drive. And that is still instilled in me today, just the drive to get it done and get the W.”

Shawaryn’s blasé gait may disguise that drive, as he strolls around practice like any other pitcher, laid back and unassuming. But when it comes time to work, Shawaryn's coolness is replaced with a palpable pinpoint focus. He doesn’t mess around.

“As a person, you can just tell he was someone who takes care of business, worked hard and was always on task,” Terps’ senior ace Jake Stinnett said. “That was the first thing I noticed about him. He wanted to know exactly what he was doing that day, exactly what the practice plan was. He was here to work hard and really make an impact.”

That’s exactly what he’s done. While ripping off those five wins, Shawaryn posted a streak of 18 consecutive scoreless innings. Spanning almost three full starts, it was snapped in the eighth inning of that seminal victory in Tallahassee. 

However, Shawaryn limited No. 2 Florida State to just that one run, thanks to a timely 5-2-3 double play that helped the freshman escape a bases loaded, late-inning jam.

It was at that point that Shawaryn let loose, jumping, yelling, fist pumping and glove-slapping his way to the dugout.

“I’m composed in between the lines, but after I step off the mound on those big types of plays, you can let a little emotion go,” Shawaryn said after the game. “It was a big play so I let loose a little bit there.”

It’s that same excitability and intensity that catches on with Shawaryn’s teammates and make his attitude contagious.

“Shawaryn is a funny kid,” Martir said. “He’s always having fun, he’s always smiling. He always puts a smile on everyone’s face.”

The mental balance that Shawaryn displays is what all baseball players yearn for. The ability to maintain the obsession to win while remaining even-keeled and positive sets him apart. The perfectionistic, competitive, never-satisfied mentality overrides everything, while Shawaryn puts careful thought into every decision he makes.  

That includes the biggest decision he’s ever had to make, turning down professional money and other scholarships to come to Maryland.

“He was a tough nut to crack for a while,” coach Szefc said about the recruiting process. “He had a previous relationship with [pitching coach] Jim Belanger when he was at Monmouth. That’s what got us in the door with him. I think he was attracted to the business school here. He’s a really, really good student.”

Nothing seems more appropriate for Shawaryn than a degree in business. He has two valuable assets in his right arm and advanced mind, and it shouldn’t be hard to attract investors. Drafted in the 32nd round of the 2013 Major League Draft, Shawaryn turned down a contract offer from the Kansas City Royals.

“The reason I came back was just because I wanted 3-4 years with Coach Bellanger,” Shawaryn said. “He does a really good job with the pitching staff and really helping you develop. I thought that would be really helpful taking my game to the next level. He does a good job of editing footage and showing you what you did wrong.”

There will be plenty of footage to dissect from Shawaryn’s Clemson and Wake Forest starts, but after all, that’s why he is here.

“I think I’m just maturing with the game,” Shawaryn said. “I’m still young and there’s a lot more I need to know.”

Not eligible to be drafted again until 2016, Shawaryn has plenty of time to watch film with Coach Bellanger, and plenty of time to help turn the program around in the mean time.

“We want to come and play. We come out here and give our all,” Shawaryn said. “We’re all here to do something special and create a special program.”

Armed with that mantra, the Terrapins are off to a historically good start in 2014, and have a very real chance to break the school record in wins and snap a number of dubious losing streaks.

Senior Jake Stinnett and Shawaryn have proved to be a lethal 1-2 punch in the ACC. The senior Stinnett has been through it all: from being benched as a position player, to now earning first round grades as one of the best pro prospects in the country. They say it takes one to know one, and Stinnett sees potential in Shawaryn.

“It’s going to be a great year for him. I would not be surprised to see him be an All-ACC type of guy,” Stinnett said about Shawaryn. “He can do whatever he wants to do.”

Whitman Boys Advance to 4-A H.S. Basketball Finals

by John Vittas

Originally Published for Terp Report (March 14, 2014)

Riley Shaver jogged to the bench with a blank look of disbelief, as his teammates congratulated him on his series of plays that springboarded his Walt Whitman team into the 4-A Maryland state finals Thursday, March 14.

The junior banked home a three to end the third quarter, breaking a 36-36 tie at a crowded Comcast Center in College Park. The Vikings would not relinquish that lead.

“I love the fact that he banked the three. It made it even better,” Whitman head coach Chris Lun said. “He told me he called it.”

“It was huge,” Shaver said. “That extra three points helped the momentum and just really boosted our defense and pushed us through the fourth quarter.”

Shaver, who came off the bench to score eight points, grabbed the first rebound of the fourth quarter, leading to an acrobatic layup by senior Adam Joel. Moments later, Shaver knocked down a pair of free throws and pulled down another board, igniting the decisive 9-0 Whitman run.

Sophomore Kyle Depollar led the way offensively for the Vikings with 20 points, and senior Max Steinhorn added 13.  The duo combined to go 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, putting away Annapolis down the stretch. Whitman shot 80 percent from the line on the night.

“I think it’s just a mindset,” Steinhorn said. “You have to buckle down and clear your head and know that these free throws are going to help us win the game.”

The Vikings limited Annapolis senior Juan Brown to 7-for-20 from the field. Brown, who averages 24 points-per-game, did not make a shot in the final period. Brown’s frustration began to boil over in the fourth, as he attempted multiple desperation fadeaways and became verbally animated in the huddle during timeouts.

“Juan Brown is a fantastic player,” Lun said. “Our guys dug in on defense and they did a good job pressuring the ball and making sure that if Juan Brown is going to take those shots, he’s going to be contested.”

Brown composed himself admirably at the post-game press conference.

“Of course we would like to play Saturday night and hopefully come home with a state championship, and for the seniors, go out in the highest way possible. But it didn’t happen. It’s a great privilege to come out here and play at Comcast and be in front of you guys. It’s a lot of big things that we’re not used to as high school students.”

Brown and Annapolis took an early seven-point lead, outscoring Whitman 16-10 in the first quarter. They also took a one-point advantage into the locker room.

“It think it was 12-5 when we called the first timeout,” Lun recalled. “I said, ‘Listen guys we’re fine. We just have to run our stuff and be patient, and things will work out. We’re lucky it did.’”

Whitman (21-6) will return to the Comcast Center at 8 p.m. on Saturday to play the winner of Springbrook and Henry A. Wise. Whitman and Springbrook are both located in Montgomery County.

“We’re not going to root for one team or the other,” Lun said. “But it would be really cool to see two Montgomery County teams in the 4-A State Championship.”

The Vikings are looking for their first State title since 2006. Thursday night’s win clinches just their second trip to the finals since 1986.

Tayler Stiles the Latest Freshman Pitcher to Dominate Ranked Opponent

by John Vittas

Originally Published for WMUC Sports (March 19, 2014)

Mike Shawaryn isn't the only freshman pitcher baffling powerhouse ACC lineups in 2014. Add Tayler Stiles to the list.

Stiles pitched four and one-third scoreless innings in relief Saturday, earning the win in Maryland's 3-2 upset victory over No. 13 North Carolina.

"Every time any good team comes in here it's going to be a little nerve-racking," Stiles admitted. "Especially going out there with bases loaded and two outs. I'd say I was nervous but I handled it well and battled through it."

Stiles began his day Saturday by stranding three Tarheel runners to help fellow freshman Mike Shawaryn. Stiles pitched all of his four and one-third innings in a tie game. The outing was the longest of Stiles' career.

Courtesy of Christian Jenkins / The Diamondback
"I felt tired because I wasn't used to throwing that much," he said. "But I stuck with my fastball and kept trying and command the zone."

Stiles (2-0) followed it up with another scoreless outing Tuesday, picking up the save against Delaware. Heading into Wednesday's clash with UMBC, Stiles has allowed just 12 base runners in 12 innings this season, pitching to a 1.50 ERA in seven relief appearances.

Tayler grew up in Prince George's County, playing for Bishop McNamara, where he earned several impressive accolades, including Player of the Year honors for both the conference and the county.

"I always rooted for the Terps," Stiles said. "I came to the basketball games, a few of the football games. They were always on my side."

Stiles ventured just over the border into Montgomery County this summer, playing for the Silver Spring/Takoma Park T-Bolts of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. The league features primarily Division I talent, and Stiles had little trouble adapting. As one of the youngest players in the league, the rising freshman pitched to a 2.33 ERA over 34 and two-third innings. He allowed just 27 hits and struck out 36.

"The Ripken League was great," Stiles said. "Playing against Division I college baseball players before I even got to college was huge for me. I loved playing in the Cal Ripken League, I loved everything about it."

When asked what the key to success is, Stiles' answer was simple.

"Ever since I've been pitching, all my coaches have preached preparation," he said. "Preparation is the key to all success. I'm doing everything I can in between outings, doing my running, doing my lifting, eating properly, because I just feel that preparation is the most important thing."

Stiles and the Terps will be in action against another ranked team this weekend when No. 11 NC State comes to College Park for a three-game series beginning Friday at 6:30 pm.

To view Stiles' player profile, click here.
To listen to Stiles' interview from Sunday, click here.

Maryland Upsets No. 13 North Carolina on Walk-Off

by John Vittas

Originally Published for WMUC Sports (March 15, 2014)

Charlie White ripped a single into right scoring sophomore Anthony Papio as the Terps upset No. 13 North Carolina on Saturday in College Park.

Maryland is now 7-0 on Saturdays. Three of those wins have come against ranked teams, with freshman Mike Shawaryn starting all three.

White's walk-off was his third hit of the series. Papio was hit by a pitch and stole second to set up White's game-winner.

Freshman lefty Tayler Stiles (2-0) earned the win, pitching 4 and one-third innings of scoreless relief. Shawaryn and Stiles, both freshmen, pitched the entire game for Maryland, and both boast ERAs below 2.00.

The Terps (11-5, 2-3) look for the series win tomorrow in the finale. Kevin Mooney will make his first start of the season and will be opposed by Zac Gallen for the Tarheels. Coverage begins at 11:50 am. on WMUC Sports.

Courtesy of Christian Jenkins / The Diamondback
Courtesy of Christian Jenkins / The Diamondback

35-Year FSU HC Mike Martin: "This is the Best Maryland Baseball Team I've Seen"

by John Vittas

Originally Published for WMUC Sports (March 9, 2014)

FSU Hall of Fame coach Mike Martin was effusive in his praise for the 2014 Maryland baseball team, calling this year’s Terps squad the best in his long tenure at Florida State.

“This is the best Maryland team I’ve seen since we’ve been competing against Maryland,” Martin said. “And it’s John Szefc and his staff. You don’t fool ‘em. You don’t fool 'em. When DJ [Stewart] got picked off, I changed the sign. That’s how much respect I got for them.”

Martin played at FSU in the mid-1960s and has been the head coach for the past 35 seasons. He has been involved in 76 percent of the wins in the history of Florida State baseball. He has the most victories of any active coach in America (For Martin's full resume, click here)

Photo: John Vittas
Photo: John Vittas
“Maryland is a very impressive club,” Martin said with his thick southern drawl. “They’re going to be very, very tough this year.

Martin also complimented Maryland’s top two starting pitchers, Jake Stinnett and Mike Shawaryn, throughout the weekend. Shawaryn beat Martin’s No. 2 Seminoles on Saturday afternoon.

“We ran into a buzzsaw last night with Shawaryn. He was beautiful.”

The Terps (9-4, 1-2) return home losers in two out of three in Tallahassee, but with an impressive win against the country’s number two team. Boasting a 7-0 non-conference record, Maryland hosts Delaware on Tuesday at 4 p.m., which can be heard live here on WMUC Sports.

“They’re a good group of guys that do it right,” Martin said. “He [John Szefc] is to be commended. They’re on the right track.”



Terps Baseball Stuns No. 2 Florida Sate

by John Vittas

Originally Published for WMUC Sports (March 8, 2014)

by John Vittas

Mike Shawaryn pumped his fist and yelled into the Florida sunshine, demonstratively celebrating a crucial double play that stifled the seventh-inning Seminole rally, preserving Maryland’s 3-0 lead.

“It was a big play so I let loose a little bit there," Shawaryn said. “I’m composed in between the lines but after I step off the mound on those big plays, you can let a little emotion go."

The Terp freshman allowed only one run on five hits over seven and one-third innings in front of 4,800 fans at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee. He is now 4-0 with a 0.75 ERA, having beaten two nationally ranked teams in his first month of college baseball.

Terps Senior Kyle Convissar
Photo: John Vittas
“Shawaryn is extremely mature for his age and that’s why he’s had so much success,” Terps senior Kyle Convissar said. “He trusts his stuff and he knows what he’s capable of doing. He attacks the zone and he has a plan. It takes a special kind of guy to do that and I think he’s a special kind of guy.”

Convissar rocketed a two-run home run to left off Seminoles' starter Brandon Leibrandt in the fifth inning, giving Maryland that 3-0 lead.

“I got into a good count, 3-and-1 and I took advantage of it,” Convissar said. “Any time you hit a ball over the fence, it’s a one-of-a-kind feeling. I’m just happy to contribute back to the team.”

Maryland began the scoring early. Charlie White scored on Brandon Lowe’s RBI groundout in the first after Leibrandt fielded White’s bunt and threw it down the right field line to begin the afternoon. The score remained 1-0 until Convissar’s homer in the fifth. After Shawaryn’s dramatic double play, LaMonte Wade delivered a two-run double in the eighth, scoring Lowe and Michael Montville. Montville doubled down the line to begin the inning.

Alex Robinson got Maryland out of a jam in the eighth and Kevin Mooney struck out the side in the ninth to cap the big 5-1 win.

“It’s a great feeling," Shawaryn said. "As a team, this is a big win for us and the program. Just to come out here after the loss last night and dominate, it’s very special.”

Maryland (9-3, 1-1) is looking for its third consecutive winning season for the first time in 41 years, and has won nine of their first twelve to begin the year. The Terps earned votes in two of the four major polls earlier this week. A win against No. 2 Florida State again Sunday should put them into the top-25 for the first time in two years.

“Any time you can win at a place like this, it’s a big deal,” Convissar said. “But I think the fact that we played well today and with a lot of guys contributing, I think it shows that we have a pretty mature team. We have some momentum going into tomorrow.”

Jared Price (1-1, 5.27) will face off with FSU's Mike Compton (1-0, 2.70) in Sunday's rubber game. Coverage begins at 10:35 a.m. live from Tallahassee. You can hear the action by clicking here.

Additional Links

Other Weekend Headlines from WMUC