University of Maryland freshman Tyler Blohm didn’t realize he had a no-hitter heading into the fifth inning against Princeton University on Sunday.
The 6-foot-3, 180-pound lefty had two thoughts racing through his mind: Keep making good pitches; keep turning over the lineup quickly so he could face Princeton’s second batter again.
The Princeton kid wearing No. 4 had nearly gotten a hit in the fourth inning, smashing a sharp liner that forced Maryland’s ballyhooed shortstop Kevin Smith to leap high to make the catch.
As he turned back to the dugout, Princeton’s No. 4, David Harding, admitted he had one reaction to the play: “I smiled.”
Harding, a freshman infielder/outfielder for the Tigers, so badly wanted that ball to evade Smith’s glove and fall in for a clean single. Because then he could do a little boasting in Severna Park this summer. He could have bragged that he broke up a no-hitter against Blohm, the 2016 Gatorade Maryland Player of the Year and an Orioles’ 2016 draft pick.
“That would have been a story,” Blohm said with a chuckle.
Instead, Blohm, who lost his no-hit bid in the fifth but still threw seven shutout innings in Maryland’s 2-0 victory, seized Archbishop Spalding Class of 2016 bragging rights. He faced Harding three times Sunday — including once pictured above — and set him down each time: a pop-up, that laser into Smith’s glove, and a strikeout.
“He’s not gonna hear the end of it,” Blohm said, laughing again.
The small world of baseball
Baseball is close-knit community. A small world in which, if you play long enough, you’re going to compete against former teammates.
In September 2015, Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman faced New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird for the first time. Gausman twice struck out Bird, his close friend and catcher on the Grandview High School (Colo.) club, in Yankee Stadium. The buddies had dinner the night before – they split the check — and then faced off as AL East enemies the next day.
So, it happens on occasion – and is usually a fun story.
What makes the matchup of Blohm and Harding on Sunday unique, though, is the timing, as well as the location and the history between the two.
They grew up a few miles apart in Severna Park. They began playing youth baseball together at age 8. They wasted countless summers playing tennis-court baseball at a local pool, something they actually did during this winter break, the last time they were together before last weekend.
The two seemingly were always on the same teams growing up, and that carried through to high school, when both chose Archbishop Spalding.
As Cavaliers, the duo was part of three consecutive MIAA A Conference champion squads, culminating in their final one last year as highly regarded seniors.
Then they parted ways.
Saying no to the O’s
Blohm, Spalding’s ace, was drafted by the Orioles in the 17th round last year, but instead accepted a scholarship to play at Maryland.
He easily could be one of those would-be Orioles that got away. The club was considering drafting him earlier, but it was known he wanted to play in college and it would have taken a whole lot of money to talk him out of that commitment.
Still, the Orioles, his favorite team, got Blohm’s attention.
“When we got a call from the Orioles, it was just an outstanding thing. We were at a restaurant and we got a call saying they were willing to give me an offer. I was just thankful for what they had to offer,” Blohm said. “It’s a great organization, but I just felt like I needed a little more time for some more development as an individual.”
Blohm’s dad is a former minor league pitcher – he was traded by the Orioles to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1988 straight-up for first baseman Randy Milligan – and the family deeply understood the demanding world of professional baseball.
“We all sat down as a family, almost every night, and talked about the pros and cons. They totally left the decision up to me,” Blohm said. “They let me make my own decisions and didn’t force anything upon me. And I’m really glad they didn’t, because I’m really enjoying my time here at Maryland.”
Becoming an Ivy Leaguer
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound Harding, Spalding’s speedy sparkplug during its title runs, wasn’t drafted in 2016. He considered attending higher profile baseball schools, but couldn’t turn down a chance to go to Princeton.
“I definitely was looking to play at a school with good academics and Princeton was a school that is a good size for me,” Harding said. “I thought I could get playing time early and the academics were obviously top-notch. So, I thought it was a good fit.”
When the collegiate baseball schedules came out last year, Blohm and Harding immediately saw that Princeton of the Ivy League and Maryland of the Big Ten would be playing a non-conference weekend series in March. And they’d be doing it at College Park – less than an hour’s drive from their hometown.
“We both looked at (the schedule) and were like, ‘Here we go,’” Blohm said. “We knew it was going to be a good matchup.”
There was a catch, though. Would either play in the games?
It’s not easy for freshmen to get playing time in Division 1 baseball, especially pitchers. Add in that Blohm was joining a national contender that already had solid rotation depth, and he had no idea whether he’d be pitching initially.
He didn’t know until the Friday before his first collegiate appearance this February that he’d be the Terps’ Sunday starter (a collegiate team’s No. 3 in the rotation). He’s acquitted himself well, going 4-1 with a 1.78 ERA in five games.
Harding thought he’d have a solid shot at playing as a freshman for the Tigers, but maybe not this quickly or with such an expanded role. He’s already started nine of the school’s first 13 games, batting second and playing mostly second base. He’s hit .250 and is among the team leaders in plate appearances.
Harding’s coach approached him on Saturday night to let him know he’d be starting his first game in right field Sunday afternoon. Blohm didn’t know Harding was starting until he heard lineups announced during warmups. The game within the game was on – for the first time in their 10-plus-year friendship.
“It was definitely pretty weird. We played Wiffle Ball and stuff on different teams, but normally, I’m behind him playing defense,” Harding said. “Standing at the plate against him was definitely different. I tried not to have it in my head, but it was probably back there somewhere.”
Intense match between Cavaliers
There were roughly 70 members of Archbishop Spalding High School’s extended family at Sunday’s game. Parents, friends, coaches and most of the 2017 Cavaliers’ squad were on hand to watch two favorite sons battle.
Blohm retired the first batter of the afternoon, and then his high school buddy walked to the plate.
“After the first out, I walked up on the mound and (Harding) kind of gave me a little look and I gave him a little head nod,” Blohm said. “We both acknowledged each other and then we realized it was right back to work. We both went at it – it was a unique experience going after him.”
Well, they didn’t exactly go at it. Harding was looking fastball and his old teammate started him off with two straight curves. The first dropped at the outside black of the plate for a called strike. The second was heading there too, when Harding, not wanting to drop behind 0-2, swung and lifted the pitch for a pop-up.
One battle. One easy out. One miffed batter that surprisingly saw two curveballs to start.
“He gave me a little crap after the game about that,” Blohm said, laughing. “Once you get him out, it wasn’t, ‘Thank goodness.’ But it did kind of pump me up a little bit more for the game.”
Harding was ready for the next at-bat leading off the fourth. Blohm threw a changeup and Harding pounced on it, hitting a screaming liner snagged by Smith in mid-air. Harding not only had a chance to single against Blohm, but to break up a potential no-hitter. Instead, 0-for-2.
“I thought I had him, which would have been a great feeling. And (Smith) robbed me,” Harding said. “It was actually the second time he had done that in the weekend, the shortstop, so that was pretty frustrating. But that’s baseball. I smiled. I thought it was pretty funny.”
Blohm said he didn’t realize he hadn’t allowed a hit until he walked onto the mound for the fifth. Harding had been a healthy distraction.
“To be honest, the only thing on my mind, I guess – the no-hitter wasn’t on my mind — it was getting back around to face David,” he said. “That was more of the concern there. I just wanted to hurry up and get through the lineup to face David again.”
Blohm allowed a one-out single in the fifth inning to end the no-hitter. He faced Harding one more time in the sixth, striking him out on an elevated fastball.
“I think he definitely got the best of me, overall,” Harding said. “But I think it’s something you can learn from with a guy that has great stuff like that.”
Blohm ultimately threw seven shutout innings against Princeton, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out eight. He won Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week honors for that performance.
He’s now won the award in consecutive weeks, the first Terp to capture a league honor in two straight weeks in the program’s history. That’s pretty lofty stuff. But, for Blohm, Sunday was more about who he was competing against and who was there to watch.
Afterward, the two – and 2016 Spalding graduate Barrett Smith, who is currently a reserve infielder for the Terps – had a chance to hug it out and crack jokes about their first meeting.
“It’s always a friendly competition. It’s just a game. We don’t hate each other for getting each other out,” Blohm said. “But it was a good meeting, and good to see him. And Barrett was there too. It was pretty special. And (Harding) gave me crap for throwing the two breaking balls in the beginning. So, it was a pretty good reunion.”
BaltimoreBaseball.com’s Top Performers of the Week
(Compiled by Harrison Swartz)
Logan Dubbé, RHP, Washington College
Sr./Glenelg, Md./Glenelg HS
The 6-foot, 205-pound righty was named Shoreman of the Week after compiling a 0.60 ERA while striking out 20 batters and allowing just eight hits and three walks in 15 innings. He went 1-1 over two starts, picking up the win over Wisconsin Lutheran on March 13th. He allowed one run on six hits while striking out nine in seven innings.
Pete Grasso, INF, Salisbury University
Sr./Wilmington, Del./A.I. du Pont HS
It was a milestone week for the 6-foot-1, 180-pound infielder. Not only was he named Capital Athletic Conference Player of the Week by going 8-for-11 with six RBIs, but he recorded his 200th career hit. He’s now eighth on Salisbury’s all-time hits list with 203.
Evan Lowery, OF, United States Naval Academy
Fr./Williamsburg, Va./Jamestown HS
The 6-foot, 200-pound outfielder was named Patriot League Player of the Week by batting .583 (7-12) with a .643 on-base percentage and 1.250 slugging percentage. He also hit for the cycle, going 4-for-5 against New York Tech. He is the fourth different Navy player to receive the weekly honor in 2017.
Moments worth mentioning
Navy is on one heck of a run. The Midshipmen (13-7) have won 10 in a row, including an 18-0 pounding of Delaware State on Wednesday. Navy had 27 hits against the Hornets; that ties for the second most in the program’s history. The only time Navy has had more in one game was when it compiled 28 hits on April 20, 1938. … Johns Hopkins (12-3) had a great start to its spring trip, going 7-1. The Blue Jays have three games remaining in Fort Myers, Fla., including one against a ranked Wooster (OH) club on Friday. … The Maryland Terrapins (13-7) had a big weekend against Princeton at home. They swept the Tigers, outscoring them 12-2 and shutting them out twice. It’s the third straight weekend Maryland has swept its opponents. … Baseball America published its Top 100 draft prospects for 2017 on Thursday and two locals made the list: Wake Forest first baseman Gavin Sheets (Gilman) was 72nd and Maryland’s Smith was 85th. Here are previous BaltimoreBaseball.com profiles on Sheets, the son of former Oriole Larry Sheets, and on Smith.
Matchup to watch
Maryland opens conference play this weekend. The Terps host the University of Michigan Wolverines for a three-game set beginning Friday at 6 p.m. Maryland was the preseason selection to win the Big Ten title.