Despite going hitless in the Maryland baseball team's three NCAA Regional games last spring, ending his first season in College Park on a down note, Will Watson's steady campaign made him the obvious choice to continue serving as the Terps' designated hitter this year.
In his first campaign since transferring from LSU-Eunice, Watson started 55 games, mostly at designated hitter. He started the team's first five games this year in the same role but opened the season 3-for-19, forcing coach Rob Vaughn to make a change and turning the position into a revolving door, with no options sticking for long.
But Watson has started every game since April 20, and while his results haven't approached the heights reached in 2017, Watson's two-hit performance Wednesday, highlighted by a two-run home run in the fourth in Maryland's win over Towson, showed encouraging signs for a lineup needing veteran firepower in its pivotal series against Rutgers.
"He always finds a way to get a big hit, and we need that," first baseman Kevin Biondic said. "When he's going, we're all going. He's such a huge part of our lineup, whether he's in the outfield or DH-ing, it doesn't matter."
Last campaign, Watson hit .253 with five homers, providing a spark for the Terps en route to their third Regional since 2014. Like many parts of Maryland this season, Watson hasn't matched expectations.
He's hitting .217, nearly mirroring the team's 40-point drop as a group. At 21-27, pressure mounts for the final two Big Ten series, as the Terps need to make a run from 11th in the conference to eighth for a Big Ten tournament berth.
Vaughn felt Watson made good swings during Maryland's last weekend meeting with Nebraska but finished hitless in two of the contests. So, in a matchup without postseason significance as an at-large bid is out of the picture for the Terps, Vaughn decided to insert Watson in the field against Towson to get the Monroe, Louisiana, native more playing time than his usual designated hitter role yields.
Watson's fourth-inning two-run blast was the first of four homers hit as Maryland mounted a comeback extra-inning win.
"He's been seeing the ball well, you know, he can really swing it. He's becoming pretty big for us," second baseman Nick Dunn said. "We just have to keep running off good at-bats and stick to our approaches."
Two games and three places back of conference tournament contention, Maryland will likely need at least a series win against Rutgers, a team one game ahead of the Terps, to make up ground toward the eight-team threshold.
For a batting order that hasn't sustained consistent offensive outputs this season — Maryland has the 13th-lowest batting average in the country — Watson's contributions will be key as the squad tries to extend its season.
"He's just a senior that doesn't want to quit playing baseball," Vaughn said. "Even when he was in-and-out of the lineup, there was no whining, there was no complaining, there was no blaming other people, it was just put your head down and work and ran some good at-bats off. … It's critical, and I think that's what we're going to need. We'll need Willy, we're gonna need all 32 of those guys."