Projected starters: Senior RHP Jake Stinnett (7 - 6, 2.60 ERA) vs. Senior RHP Andy Roberts (6 - 3, 3.01 ERA).
Maryland baseball has made the Big Dance for the first time in 43 years. One might think that the players would be overly awed by the trappings of the Columbia Regional. But last week in Greensboro the Terps didn’t play like a team “just glad to be there”, they played loose and beat teams more experienced in a tournament atmosphere. Even though they go down into what is best described as a viper’s nest in South Carolina, there’s no doubt that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Familiarity breeds respect
First up on the agenda is a game tomorrow at 1:00 PM against the Old Dominion Monarchs (36 – 24) from Conference USA, where they finished fourth. Their RPI is a respectable 35 with a SoS = 28. The Monarchs took one of three at Rice (a top 20 team) during the regular season and one of two from Virginia. ODU met Rice twice in the Conference USA tournament where the Monarchs prevailed in one game before finally succumbing to the Owls in the tournament championship game.
Maryland has not played the Monarchs since 2010. That’s a shame, as ODU has a respectable baseball program and are about the same distance away from College Park as is Virginia Tech. It would certainly be more advantageous to schedule the Owls than, say, Massachusetts (hint, hint). Plus, there’s a connection between the coaching staffs. According to ODU head coach Chris Finwood, “Assistant coach Karl Nonemaker and their (sic Maryland) pitching coach Jim Belanger worked together at Monmouth and are great friends. Head coach John Szefc and I have been competing against each other for a long time, and he does a great job with those guys.”
Sizing up the Monarchs
Skye Bolt may be the most interesting name in the ACC, but the Monarchs have their share of unusual monikers. Taylor Ostrich, Tyler Urps, and Brian Beard probably get their fair share of ribbing. But don’t let the names fool you: this is a baseball team that can swing the bat. Freshman SS Nick Walker leads the team with a .319 BA and a .454 slg%. He’s a prototypical lead-off hitter, with a .405 OBP and 15 stolen bases in 16 attempts. The aforementioned Ostrich hit .317 with 12 doubles, four triples, and one homer. He’s only made two errors all season for a .990 fld%. Senior 1B Josiah Burney is hitting .290 and leads the Monarchs in home runs (6) and RBIs (41). As a team Old Dominion is hitting .283. as opposed to the Terps .270 batting average. The Monarchs have fewer home runs (17) than the Terps (19), but they score runs. Lots of them (5.7 per game).
Perhaps "meh" is the best way to describe ODU's hurlers. Not dazzling but they get the job done. Their weekend starters include senior LHP Andy Roberts (6 – 3, 3.01 ERA), senior LHP Ryan Yarborough (6 – 7, 4.52 ERA), and junior RHP Victor Diaz (5 – 2, 3.04 ERA). The Monarchs' bullpen is anchored by senior RHP Brad Gero (3 – 3, 2.77 ERA, 12 saves). Overall ODU’s pitchers won’t beat you with heat, with the exception of sophomore RHP Conner Overton (2 – 2, 2.48 ERA, 42 strike outs in 40 innings). But with the 18th best fielding percentage nationally (.977 vs. the Terps’ .975) the ODU position players help bail out their pitchers.
I've read a lot about the Monarchs' experience. Again, meh. As is the case with Maryland, none of the players on the Monarchs' team have been to the CWS. Old Dominion was a bubble team for much of the year before their notable showing in the Conference USA tournament. What's interesting is their similarity to a certain team in College Park. ODU has had some good wins and some bad losses, don’t possess much power, can field well, and came on strong later in the year. The big differentiator is Maryland’s pitching, which was among the best in the ACC.
Earlier in 2014 Maryland couldn't shell starters on a par with Old Dominion. Teams like Virginia Tech and Wake Forest held the Terrapin hitters in check. In recent weeks Maryland has hit some of the best pitching in the ACC. At this point there are no easy outs in the Terps' line-up. If the Terps’ bats remain hot, and Jake Stinnett has his typical outing, then the Terps should feel reasonably good about their chances in this game.