Hit by pitch a significant factor when South Carolina meets Maryland in NCAA Columbia Regional

The often overlooked hit by pitch could be a significant factor when South Carolina plays Maryland on Saturday night in the NCAA Columbia Regional.

COLUMIBA - Every Maryland player gets the same instruction before stepping into the batter's box.

Feet still. Don't step back. If a pitch hits you, so be it.

"We always live by the rule: don't let the pitcher move your feet," second baseman Brandon Lowe said. "So if the pitch comes in, try not to let him move you. Keep your stance. If it hits you, it hits you. You're on first base."

Maryland batters have been hits by 122 pitches in 58 games this season, the most in all of college baseball. It's not by accident.

The Terps practice it throughout the season. Coach John Szefc and assistant Rob Vaughn instruct batters to hug the plate and never dodge the baseball. The philosophy has been successful for Maryland, never more so than in its 4-3 comeback win against Old Dominion on Friday at the NCAA Columbia Regional.

The Terps scored their tying and winning runs in the ninth inning when Monarchs closer Brad Gero hit consecutive batters with the bases loaded. They advanced to play South Carolina on Saturday night.

"I haven't seen a game end like that," South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said.

Oddly, Holbrook foreshadowed the hit by pitch being used as an "offensive play" when asked about Maryland's high total Thursday during a pre-regional news conference. Here's what Holbrook had to say:

"A couple of years ago, the NCAA put out there about the hit-by-pitch thing, they put out there it was a point of emphasis among the umpires that the hitter had to make a concerted effort to get out of the way of the pitch. I think over the last couple of years that's been lost. The reason I say that, there's a lot of team in our league that use the hit-by-pitch as an offensive play.

"It's just my opinion that when you get hit by a pitch, it should be a ball that's in the other batter's box, or it should be a ball that gets away from the pitcher. Even some of the games that I scouted among teams in our conference, sometimes a hitter's elbow is out over the plate and it's a borderline strike. They hit them in the elbow, and they're getting rewarded first base. I don't think that's fair or right. I don't think the hit by pitch should be an offensive play. I think it should be a mistake because a ball gets away from the pitcher and it hit him, OK you get first base because the pitcher made a mistake. Well, the pitcher doesn't make a mistake when the ball's that far in, and it hits his elbow. That's not a mistake, and the hitter shouldn't be rewarded first base by that.

"That being said, I haven't watched video of the teams that we're playing. I'm just looking at the stats. A couple of years ago, the hit by pitch wasn't a point of emphasis by umpires. Maybe a next year at the coach's convention, we'll revisit that. Maybe because the bats changed, maybe because it's been so hard to score, maybe the umpires are letting it go a little bit more. Heck, I don't know, but obviously these teams do a great job of it, and it's within the rules so I commend them for it."

South Carolina batters have only been hit by 35 pitches this season. So, it's only natural Holbrook is against the hit by pitch being used as offensive strategy.

Holbrook said Friday night the two HBPs Maryland took in the ninth inning Friday were legitimate, and he would have no issues with those.

"Those were balls that got away from the (pitcher)," Holbrook said. "So, if you make bad pitches and you hit them, then the runner deserves first base."

Still, it's something to keep an eye on Saturday night when South Carolina plays Maryland for a chance to advance to the championship round of the NCAA Columbia Regional. As the Terps proved Friday, the hit by pitch can be a powerful offensive tool.