The #retriever50for50 countdown has listed moments on the fields, courts, pools and tracks that UMBC student-athletes have competed on. Hence, our No. 18 Moment will officially go in as May 22, 1992 in Coral Gables, Fla. And, what took place at Mark Light Stadium that evening was truly special for Retriever baseball and UMBC Athletics. But, for a pure moment of joy, you would have to rewind to May 18 at the Retriever Club Room in the RAC.
John Jancuska's club put together a record-setting offense in 1992, setting a school records for home runs and ranking in the nation's top ten in batting average (.340) and runs scored (8.6). Most importantly, they broke the all-time wins record (which still stands today) of 37, posting victories over heavyweights Old Dominion (2x), Richmond, Maryland and VCU along the way.
UMBC ventured to the East Coast Conference Tournament in West Windsor, N.J. (ironically the hometown of team captain 2B Dan Sexton) and cruised through the bracket, defeating Brooklyn, Central Connecticut and Towson State. But host Rider came through the consolation bracket and broke UMBC's hearts with one-run victories of 2-1 and 5-4 to take the league championship and NCAA automatic bid.
So, a very nervous group of players, coaches and administrators gathered on Monday at 3 p.m., hoping that the 37 victories, a 7-2 record vs. the powerful CAA, and a 7-3 mark vs. other NCAA Tournament teams were enough to earn an at-large bid. But could the East Coast Conference really earn two bids?
As ESPN's selection show started, there were audible groans when it was announced that ECC champion Rider would face Florida in the east region. Then, the Atlantic region was revealed, led by the No. 1 team in the nation, the Miami Hurricanes.
And in the words of ESPN anchor Tim Brando, "And the team with the unenviable task of…", and before he could finish his sentence, "#6 Md-Balt. Co." appeared on the 19" screen and bedlam erupted in the room.
So, the Retrievers ventured to "The U" and faced Miami before a sold-out crowd of over 4,000 fans on a magnificent Florida Friday evening. Miami went with their No. 1 starter, All-American Jeff Alkire as UMBC sent up three future UMBC Athletics' Hall of Famers in Greg Elliott (inducted 1998), Shawn Shugars (1999) and Bob Mumma (1997) in the top of the first. Elliott and Shugars, a 1992 First Team All-American, stunned the partisan crowd by lacing back-to-back doubles on Alkire's first few deliveries and UMBC took a 1-0 lead.
But Alkire showed his mettle and allowed only two more hits the rest of the way. UMBC righty Craig Grasser pitched a gem, striking out ten Hurricanes through a complete game effort. But a botched pick-off led to two runs by Miami in the fourth inning and All-American (and future Oriole) catcher Charles Johnson drove in another run in the seventh as the hosts prevailed, 3-1.
A tired Retriever team fell to Delaware, 6-5, in ten innings the next morning, and was eliminated from the tournament. In that game, another future UMBC Hall of Famer, Kevin Loewe (2000) pitched 8 2/3 innings in relief, allowing no earned runs to the Blue Hens.
'92ers Mumma (White Sox), Grasser (Cardinals), Shugars (Rangers) and a hard-throwing raw sophomore Jay Witasick (Cardinals, et. al) all competed professionally. UMBC moved to the Big South Conference the following year and did get back to the NCAA Tournament in 2001, as members of the Northeast Conference.
Of course, Mumma returned to UMBC and is now entering his sixth year as the head coach. This spring, UMBC will celebrate the 25th anniversary of that special squad.