The Maryland baseball team's rally in the ninth inning in Saturday's 6-5 victory over Virginia provided a jolt to end the regular season.
There's a chance it also extended the Terrapins' season just a bit longer.
Maryland (32-24) did not qualify for the ACC tournament, which began Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C. But the Terps possess an RPI of 27, a schedule ranked No. 9 nationally by statistics-oriented website WarrenNolan.com and a resume filled with quality victories, the defeat of Virginia just the latest.
"Getting that win as a program felt like it kept our hopes alive," said coach Erik Bakich, whose program last earned an NCAA bid in 1971. "However big that ray of hope is, we're going to hold onto every ounce of it."
The most obvious argument against Maryland is a 10-20 conference record, though recent history suggests that can be overcome.
In 2008, Oklahoma was 9-17 in the Big 12 with an RPI of 37 and was selected. The next year, Oklahoma State's RPI of 26 ultimately outweighed a 9-16 Big 12 mark and earned the Cowboys a tournament spot. Last year, though, Louisiana State went 13-17 in the SEC and was excluded despite an RPI of 22.
Bolstering Maryland's case for entry in the 64-team field are nine victories against the top 25 of the RPI data the NCAA published Tuesday, plus a defeat of No. 26 East Carolina. Only six teams in the country have at least 10 such wins.
The Terps also would have their full starting lineup for the first time in more than two months if they are selected for the postseason. Center fielder Charlie White suffered a broken hand when the Terps were 13-4. He missed the next 39 games but was just cleared to play, and Bakich said he expected his leadoff hitter would return for regional play.
Tim Kiene, who missed 15 games with a shoulder injury and later a concussion, also is healthy.
"We never made excuses during the year why we didn't play well or lost a game because of injury, but I think everybody certainly acknowledges we would be better with our full roster," Bakich said.
It is an impressive step that Maryland, which produced only its second winning season in the past 10 years, is even in the discussion for an NCAA appearance. Bakich, who was part of Vanderbilt's turnaround from SEC doormat to perennial tournament team, understands the value of a breakthrough bid.
"As much as we've had the gas pedal to the floor for three straight years, we would find a new level 10 to accelerate this program," Bakich said. "I think recruiting, I think facilities, I think the support and commitment and awareness, everything that we've been working relentlessly to achieve will not only start to happen but we'll be on a much faster track to achieving it."
Still, Bakich knows Maryland does not enjoy a large margin of error. The Terps need teams likely to earn at-large bids — such as Coastal Carolina (Big South), Louisville (Big East), UNC Wilmington (Colonial), New Mexico State (Western Athletic) and Purdue (Big Ten) — to win their conference tournaments and leave room in the field.
"It's kind of like going to the judge's decision," Bakich said. "We feel like we have a good resume. We're going to trust the process and know the NCAA committee does a great job of getting all the information."
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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