COLUMBIA - Maryland baseball coaches and players would prefer to forget about the big picture hanging above its school this weekend.
In its first NCAA regional since 1971, Maryland has a chance to do something special. The Terrapins don't want their accomplishment to be washed under the greedy politics that define college sports. Yet, the big picture is inevitable, even if it's pushed to the backdrop.
Whenever Maryland's greatest baseball season in more than four decades ends - whether it's this weekend at the NCAA Columbia Regional or beyond - an era will close with it. The Terrapins baseball team is the final program still playing in the school's final season as an ACC affiliate, meaning South Carolina could potentially be Maryland's final foe before it moves to the Big Ten in August.
"The ACC is a special baseball conference, there's no doubt," Maryland coach John Szefc said Thursday.
We felt very good about the fact that we had - arguably - the best season in a long time at the school in its last year in the ACC. But, I will tell you that the players we have and the preparation we've put in, it really has nothing to do with that."
Maryland is merely happy to still be playing. Despite a 36-21 record, Szefc said he was worried his team may be passed over by the NCAA committee entering the ACC tournament.
The Terrapins closed their season on a hot streak, winners in 11 of their final 13 games. They beat Virginia and Florida State - both national seeds - in their final appearance at the ACC tournament last week. Szefc said he crunched and analyzed the numbers, double checked his team's RPI, and thought Maryland was safely in the field.
"As much as the program hasn't had a postseason pedigree in the past, I didn't think there was any way they could keep us out," Szefc said. "I've analyzed this for a long time as a college baseball person. I just couldn't see any way they could keep us out of that."
Still, there were tense moments.
The Columbia Regional was the second-to-last bracket unveiled on ESPNU's selection show Monday. Maryland watched for almost an hour, waiting to hear its name.
When there was a delay, senior pitcher Jake Stinnett said nerves built.
"Definitely a lot of anticipation," Stinnett said. "We had a pretty good idea that we were going to be in a regional, but the fact that we were one of the last teams announced in the last regional kind of got us a little bit antsy. It was real exciting. It just made it that much better when we heard our name called."
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