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UMBC & Terps picked to Winston-Salem Regional

UMBC’s baseball team celebrating the announcement of their program’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2001.

Five years ago when a group of high school seniors all chose to play their college baseball at UMBC, they really only did so on blind faith that they could be part of something special. The Retrievers hadn’t won more than 10 games for four straight seasons before some of them had signed their national letters of intent. They hadn’t had a winning record since 2001, the last time UMBC made it to the NCAA Tournament.

But their blind faith that something great would happen did not leave them disappointed. No, UMBC built a program that has been very successful over the last three years and now they’ve broken through and will play in the NCAA Tournament representing the America East Conference as champions. The Retrievers won the America East Championship on Sunday, and on Monday the team gathered and celebrated together as they were announced to play Wake Forest in the Winston-Salem regional of the 2017 NCAA Baseball Tournament.

“It’s indescribable,” senior Andrew Casali said of the feeling of being America East Champions and earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament. “We put in so much work. It feels so great to accomplish our ultimate goal.”

For over 30 minutes, the Retriever baseball team was on their edge of their seats waiting to see where they would end up playing. Then, when they were announced as the fourth seed in the Winston-Salem regional they erupted as a group, jumping out of their seats in the team room they were all watching together as a team in, clapping and whistling and cheering as the UMBC popped up on the television screen.

There was even some more clapping from the team when it was announced that in the Winston-Salem with UMBC and Wake Forest will be University of Maryland as the No. 3 seed and West Virginia as the No. 2 seed. UMBC played Wake Forest last season and Maryland this season in single-game non-conference series. UMBC last played West Virginia in 2013.

UMBC was only picked fifth in the preseason conference rankings this year. That left them with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Then they had a slow start to the year, going 9-16 through the middle of April. They even lost three of their first four conference games. But they stuck together, kept working to get better and have won 14 of their last 21 games and are playing their best baseball of the season in the most crucial time coming down the final stretch.

“Family is a word that is thrown around a ton but this group is as much of a family as we’ve ever had here in our program,” head coach Bob Mumma said. “And they are good. They’ve had success in the past, success in the summers. They knew they were a good group and didn’t let early games they didn’t play well get to them. They just came out every day in practice and the spring and battled through some of those adversities to be where they’re playing really good baseball in the end.”

Mumma is now a part of his third UMBC Baseball trip to the NCAA Tournament. As a player, he led the Retrievers to the East Regionals. Now, in his sixth season as head coach and 21st season on the baseball team’s coaching staff, he has them back. He also was an assistant for their trip in 2001.

But he is not the only one on the team with NCAA Tournament experience. Starting pitcher Michael Austin transferred to UMBC from Bethune-Cookman, where he and the Wildcats won the MEAC and went to the NCAA Tournament in 2014.

He said his message to the team while preparing for this trip is to “enjoy it and have fun. Chances like this don’t come around so often.”

But the team won’t only be going just to have fun. Mumma said he wants his guys to enjoy it but knows they will be ready to try to win games.

“They will go out there and compete and we expect to win. We know all three of these teams, we’ve played them, there is nothing that is going to surprise this group,” he said. “They’re going to go out with determination. We’re not going to just be happy to be there, we’re going to want to play our best baseball. As we say all year from the start of the fall, play the game the right way, give ourselves a chance to win the ball game, let’s find a way to win a game and let’s see what happens.”

Maryland returned to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons and earned an at-large bid after going 37-21 this year with a trip to the Big Ten semifinals.

“There’s a lot of work, a lot of time, there’s a lot of up and down that go into a day like this,” fifth-year head coach John Szefc said. “I just want to thank the committee for giving us this opportunity and we will absolutely be ready.”

Maryland will play West Virginia on Friday, June 2 and 2 pm at David F. Couch Ballpark. UMBC will take the field against the host Demon Deacons at 7 pm.

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Corey Johns

Editor in Chief
You could say Corey was born to become a sports journalist. His father won a national championship coaching college soccer. His mother is a baseball fanatic who hasn't missed seeing an Orioles game since 1983 (literally, sometimes it's annoying). His great uncle was a big-time boxing promoter and his maternal grandfather was once a department head at the Baltimore Sun. Basically, sports and journalism run through his blood. He played just about every little league sports there was when he was a kid and was a multi-sport athlete in high school; even playing in the first-ever high school sanction Rugby game in the country. Eventually he retired from sports as an undefeated Maryland state Rugby champion as a high school senior. Perhaps lack of athletic talent has more to do with the retirement, but he will tell you that it more had to do with a great desire to jump right into media. Upon his graduation from University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a triple communications major, Corey started the So Much Sports network and has continued to grow his websites and continues to work to make them premier sports media outlets.

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