The Bryant Bulldogs, defending Northeast Conference (NEC) champs and preseason unanimous choice to repeat, take on the Terps for a four game series this weekend. With the cancellation of Tuesday's scheduled game against Rider, tomorrow night's game will be Maryland's home opener.
Last year Bryant advanced to the NCAA Regionals after winning the NEC regular season and Tournament. In the Regional they defeated Arkansas (RPI 30) before dropping their next two games to Kansas State and Arkansas by wide margins. Bryant finished their season with a 45-18-1 record and went 27-5 in conference play. Their final RPI was 43, slightly better than Maryland. For 2014 Bryant got one vote in the pre-season Coaches poll, is listed in the receiving votes section of the preseason AP poll and they are generally considered a top fifty team.
Though beatable, this is clearly a squad Maryland shouldn't take lightly. Last year Bryant dominated their conference but was only 18-13-1 in their non-conference schedule. The Bulldogs finished 2-9 against top 100 RPI foes in 2013. The Terps faced nearly four times that number (13-21) faring twice as well on a percentage basis. Comparing last season's strength of schedules, Bryant's rated 192 while the Maryland played the twenty-third toughest schedule.
Since this is the opening series for the Bulldogs, we can only look at last year's data for an idea of what to expect and last year their strength was clearly on the mound. Pitching primarily propelled the Bulldogs' championship season as their staff had an aggregate ERA of 2.73 good for tenth best nationally.
On the mound
Though they lost more than half of last season's innings pitched, Bryant does bring back their ace, Craig Schlitter. Last year Schlitter finished 10-4 with a 2.58 ERA. He is clearly a control pitcher. In 83 innings he struck out eighty while walking only sixteen. (I don't know if he throws a "Schlitt" fingered fastball.)
He'll match up with Maryland's Jake Stinnett in the opener. With Jimmy Reed's graduation, Stinnett moved up from the number two spot in the rotation. He's coming off a 6-5 year in which he pitched sixty-three and two thirds innings to a solid 2.83 ERA. Stinnett deserved better in the opener against Florida giving the Terps five strong innings. He struck out seven and walked only one and was victimized when the Gators strung together a couple of seeing eye hits around his lone walk and an error by Kevin Martir. Based on the play by play, I'm still not clear how the scorer classified all three runs as earned. For those who like good pitching, Schlitter's match-up with Stinnett should be quite entertaining.
Bryant's number two starter will be junior Kevin McAvoy. Last season he posted seven wins against three losses with a respectable 3.83 ERA while pitching over 84 innings. He'll face off against Terrapins' freshman Mike Shawaryn in potentially another entertaining pitcher's duel. If anything, Shawaryn's start against the Gators was even more impressive than Stinnett's. He worked five and two-thirds innings and gave up two runs only one of which was earned. He also struck out three and walked only one in a solid collegiate debut.
At the plate
The table setter for Bryant should be leadoff hitter Jordan Mountford. The junior right fielder appeared in 53 of the Bulldogs’ 64 games last season. He batted .317, stole 16 bases in 18 tries and led the team with 50 runs scored.
The middle of the lineup will feature junior third baseman John Mullen and Carl Anderson, Jr. Mullen is Bryant’s active leader in hits, doubles, home runs, and RBI. Last season Anderson batted .341 and led the Bulldogs with 49 RBI. Other potential threats include sophomore first baseman Bobby Rinn who finished last season batting .292 but hit .338 over the final 20 games of the season and sophomore outfielder AJ Zarozny who hit .310 with 14 doubles, two homers, and 10 stolen bases. Zarozny was the NEC Rookie of the Year for position players.
Maryland will look for continued hot hitting from catcher Kevin Martir who hit .385 and drove in four runs in the Terps' opening series. Left fielder Andrew Amaro and second baseman Brandon Lowe both got off to solid starts going 4-11 for a .364 average. Lowe whacked one of the Terrapins' two home runs. The other round tripper came off the bat of right fielder Anthony Papio. "Paps" was an out of this world 5-8 with three walks and two stolen bases. The Terps will also have to hope that centerfielder Charlie White and first baseman LaMonte Wade can shake off their opening series doldrums against the Bulldogs as these two will likely be critical to Maryland's long term success this season.
On the bases
Normally, this aspect of the game wouldn't merit a mention in a preview. But, if the past is prologue, then for this series, it does. Looking at last season's efforts fans can expect something of a track meet on the base paths. If folks thought the Terps ran a lot in 2013 stealing 94 bases in 120 attempts, the Bulldogs ran even more. Last season, Bryant attempted to steal 127 times and succeeded on 97 of those. The Terps showed that they will continue to use this means of attack going seven for seven at Florida with none of those coming from the feet of Charlie White, Maryland's all-time single season leader. With the strength of Martir's arm still an open question, look for the Bulldogs to test him at every opportunity.
Wrapping it up
Maryland will arguably be Bryant's toughest opponent this year and they are likely Maryland's toughest remaining out of conference foe. In addition to the home field, the Terps have the advantage of having a series under their belts whereas this is the opener for Bryant. If they can successfully shake off their opening series jitters and use the friendly confines of Shipley Field to their benefit, The Terps should get positive results for the weekend.
Fans should remember that Bryant is no pushover and, if their pitching is as good as advertised, the Bulldogs could easily take one of the four games particularly is Maryland's pitchers - especially the bullpen - can't find the strike zone. While this series could reveal a lot about the talent on Maryland's squad, fans should be disappointed if the Terps drop more than one game.
The series opener is scheduled for four pm Friday at Shipley Field at Bob "Turtle" Smith Stadium and continues with a double header on Saturday. First pitch Saturday is slated for noon. The teams will wrap things up starting at 1 pm on Sunday.
Special thanks to Andrew Kramer who recently joined the writing crew here at Testudo Times and will be lending his expertise and insight to our baseball coverage. He should be listed as a co-author but our editing software only allows one writer credit so I grabbed the byline because I have seniority.