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NCAA Baseball Tournament 2014: Terps duel with Cavaliers in the Super Regionals

Maryland baseball is now charting unknown waters. Never has a Terrapin squad has made it to the Super Regional round. It’s the fifth time for UVA, most recently in 2013. The Cavaliers have been nationally ranked all season long, even spending some time at the top. With good reason: they excel at every aspect of the game. But the Terps are red hot and will be looking to end UVA’s season.

Blake Schmit - Maryland's exceptional shortstop
Blake Schmit - Maryland's exceptional shortstop

Well, the ACC certainly didn’t distinguish themselves in the NCAAT so far. FSU and Clemson were two and through, Georgia Tech and North Carolina each won a single game, and Miami got bounced in the elimination game in front of their home crowd. Remaining are Maryland and Virginia. So a B1G round of applause as the ACC will have a team in the CWS. Take a guess which team the ACC’s front office is probably rooting for?

Virginia (47 – 13) and Maryland (39 – 21) have met only once this season, the first game for each in the ACCT. The Cavaliers gambled by not sending their ace, Nathan Kirby, to face the Terps, instead saving him for their game against FSU. Major mistake, as Charlie White took the Cavaliers’ starter Artie Lewicki deep to start off the game. The Terps led 7 – 4 after eight innings but had to hang on desperately for a 7 – 6 win. That game’s recap can be found here.

I don’t expect the Cavaliers to underestimate the Terps in the upcoming Super Regional round. Maryland has shown that it’s a legitimate top-tier team and will not go down easy. There’s plenty at stake here as the winner goes to the College World Series (CWS) in Omaha, NE. Virginia has been there twice (2009 and 2011); Maryland has never travelled to Omaha.

Much will be made of the fact that Virginia is hosting a Super Regional for the fourth time in five years (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014). However, in the ACCT and the NCAAT Columbia Regional it didn't seem like the Terps were awed by being on the big stage. In fact, their loose and easy attitude resulted in their dominating "more experienced" teams such as FSU and USC.

Background on UVA’s players can be found at the article I wrote previewing their ACCT game with the Terps. Coach O’Connor has a team that found it’s mojo after a disappointing ACCT. They swept through their Regional round by a combined score of 22 – 3. Nathan Kirby hurled eight shutout innings at a good Arkansas team, limiting them to a single hit. Mike Papi found his home run stroke, and the Cavaliers played near flawless ball.

Projected starters

Here’s who I think will start each of the games, which I’ll update as soon as I get official word.

Game 1: Senior RHP Jake Stinnett (7 – 6, 2.65 ERA) vs. Sophomore LHP Nathan Kirby (9 – 1, 1.36 ERA).

Game 2: Freshman RHP Mike Shawaryn (11 – 3, 2.81 ERA) vs. Sophomore LHP Brandon Waddell (8 – 3, 2.73 ERA).

Game 3: Sophomore LHP Jake Drossner (4 – 1, 2.45 ERA) vs. Senior RHP Artie Lewicki (6 – 1, 1.72 ERA).

Maryland’s closer is Kevn Mooney (1 – 2, 4.05 ERA, 12 saves, 33.1 innings with 45 strike outs) while the Cavaliers have the amazing junior RHP Nick Howard (2 – 1, 2.15 ERA, 19 saves, 29.1 innings with 50 strike outs). Howard also plays a fair amount as a DH: he went 4 – 4 against the Terps in their ACCT match-up. He was drafted #19 overall on Thursday night.

Odds and Sods

In my Regional round preview I listed odds for advancing to the next round based on a proprietary algorithm from Boyd's World. At that time Maryland was given only a 15% chnace of going to the Super Regional round. Here are the updated probabilities of advancing according to Boyd's World. As you can see Maryland is not given much of a chance of taking the series from the Cavaliers. But formulas can't factor in emotion and grit.

Reg    Super  Final  Champ   Team

100.0   36.1    5.1    1.7   UC Irvine
100.0   63.9   14.5    6.7   Oklahoma State
100.0   32.6    7.5    3.0   Houston
100.0   67.4   27.5   14.6   Texas
100.0   14.1    0.4    0.1   Kennesaw State
100.0   85.9   15.4    6.0   Louisville
100.0   21.1    3.2    1.0   Stanford
100.0   78.9   26.5   13.0   Vanderbilt
100.0   26.0    1.1    0.2   College of Charleston
100.0   74.0   10.1    4.1   Texas Tech
100.0   73.4   24.2   14.5   Texas Christian
100.0   26.6    5.7    2.4   Pepperdine
100.0   84.1   26.4   15.7   Virginia
100.0   15.9    0.9    0.2   Maryland
100.0   59.3   20.4   11.2   Louisiana-Lafayette
100.0   40.7   11.2    5.5   Mississippi

Swappin' questions with Virginia's SB Nation site

Caroline Darney & Will Campbell from Streaking the Lawn, Virginia's SB Nation site traded three questions with me. My questions and their answers are shown below. You can see Caroline's questions and my answers here.

1. Everyone knows about your stud Nathan Kirby. The Terps have seen Artie Lewicki in the ACCT. What can you tell us about Brandon Waddell?

Many expected Brandon Waddell to be the Friday guy coming into the season, and for good reason. He was UVa's Friday guy last year, and there was no reason to think he wouldn't continue in that role (was even put on UVa's schedule magnet!). He was obviously supplanted by Kirby during the year, but Kirby went on to be the Co-Pitcher of the Year, so can't take much away from him. He won't overpower anyone in any lineup, but he knows how to pitch thanks to Coach Kuhn's system. He fits well into that system, knows it, and has been able to use it to his advantage in the two years he has been in the rotation. He'll start on the outer half of the plate and expand as the game goes on. Since Maryland likes to stand on top of the plate and try to take away the outside pitch, I wouldn't be surprised to see Waddell and the rest of the company come back in to establish that inner half. It won't take many buzzed towers or taken 3rd strikes for the Terps to have to respect the inner half. When that happens, you move back out.

2. Why does Coach O'Connor frequently put Mike Papi as the lead-off hitter? I know he has a high OBP but I would think he would be better batting clean-up.

I think you answered your own question. Why wouldn't you want the guy who has the best OBP, leads the team in walks, and has what many consider to be a "big league eye"? Mix that in with Coach O'Connor already has a ready-made 3 hole hitter in Derek Fisher and 4 hole in Joe McCarthy, and he has the ability to put Papi in the leadoff position. I thought Downes was likely to be leadoff guy coming into the season, but with his struggles, he's moved down a bit. In the end, it looks like Papi will likely be in the 3 hole this weekend and Cogswell leading off. Coach O'Connor had that lineup all last weekend, and it worked pretty well.

3. What's been wrong with Brandon Downes? Other than his seven HRs his hitting has been abysmal.

That's a good question that I am not sure many outside of the program would have an answer for. Rumor is he battled the injury bug for most of the season(wrist) which likely hampered some of his output. A wrist injury likely would inhibit offensive production. Other than that, it could be a bit of a 3rd year slump. Being that it is his draft season, I thought he could be one of the higher drafted Virginia players. He's fast, has a good arm, and can obviously hit for power. He'll still be drafted fairly high before it's all said and done, but not in the first two rounds like I thought.

So there you have it. After almost four months and 60 baseball games, it comes down to the Terps vs. the Wahoos for a chance at the CWS. As the late Orioles broadcaster Chuck Thompson would say, "Katie bar the door!" .