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Maryland baseball: Erik Bakich interview, Michigan series preview, and How-To-Follow

The No. 11 Maryland baseball team travels to Ann Arbor this weekend for a three-game set against Michigan. In so doing, the Terps will be facing their former head coach, Erik Bakich. I had a chance to ask Coach Bakich three questions of interest to followers of Maryland baseball.

Back from the dead

It was perhaps the only positive decision Debbie Yow made while she was Maryland's AD: the hiring of Erik Bakich as head coach of Maryland baseball. At that time Bakich was the youngest D1 baseball coach, and he brought a vigor to a program that had been in a general malaise. Indeed, a year later several Maryland programs, including baseball, were being considered for elimination as a result of the financial cesspool that Kevin Anderson inherited.

Along with pitching coach Sean Kenny, Bakich set upon an energetic rebuilding program. He got ex-MLB star and Maryland alum Eric Milton to serve as a voluntary assistant coach, and then brought in two heralded recruiting classes. The results were slow but trending upward. In 2011 and 2012 the Terps compiled 5-25 records in the ACC, 17-39 and 21-35, respectively overall. But there started to be a buzz about Maryland baseball, which brought major results in 2012. Starting off the season, the Terps traveled to UCLA to face a Bruins' squad that would win the CWS in 2013. The Terps took two of three, the lone loss being by a 6-5 score. Maryland went on to 32-24 record overall in 2012, the largest number of wins in a decade. Although the Terps improved to 10-20 in the ACC, that conference mark was the major reason that Maryland was the team with the highest RPI (#34) not to make the NCAA tournament.

A few weeks after the 2012 season ended, Bakich elected to take the head coaching job at Michigan, taking Sean Kenny (an Ann Arbor native) with him. That brought in current head coach John Szefc, and the rest is (pun intended) history. With Maryland joining the B1G, it set up the intriguing situation where the Terps would be facing the coach that preceded Szefc.

E-mail interview with Erik Bakich

I had the opportunity to present Coach Bakich with three questions of interest to Terrapin fans. He was kind enough to reply, and his informative responses are shown below

1. You and Sean Kenny recruited a fair number of key players on Maryland's 2014 NCAA tournament team. Which of those players ended up exceeding your expectations?

They all met the expectation of becoming a Championship Team. We tried to recruit at a very high level with the goal of putting together Omaha and Championship caliber teams. Recruiting and player development are two very important pillars in building a Program. Coaches Szefc, Bellanger, Vaughn, Haines and Swope have done a tremendous job in developing the players on the roster when their staff arrived, as well as recruiting incoming stars that have been impact performers. It was great to see Maryland Baseball win the NCAA Regional in Columbia. Charlie White visited Ann Arbor this past Fall and I couldn't have been more fired up to see his Championship ring. I was also thrilled that he, Jake Stinnett, Ben Brewster and Blake Schmit were selected in the MLB draft last June.

2. How does B1G baseball compare to that of the ACC?

Big Ten Baseball is on the rise and getting better, whereas ACC baseball is an established perennial powerhouse college baseball conference. Many programs in the Big Ten have had successful seasons, but not as consistently as some of the top programs in the ACC. The gap is definitely narrowing this season with four B1G teams recognized in national polls, including Maryland at No. 11. College Baseball in general is gaining terrific momentum and the commitment to our sport is creating more parity around the country. I'm confident that B1G Baseball will keep raising its profile and produce four or more NCAA postseason teams on an annual basis.

3. What was your favorite game while coaching Maryland? (BTW: My personal favorite is the defeat of then #1 Florida State on national TV, coming from behind, with Brett Harman giving a clutch relief performance.)

I don't know if I could point to one game during our three years at Maryland. There are a few that stand out though. Beating UNC in 2010 with Matt Harvey on the mound was certainly memorable. Adam Kolarek hit a walkoff home run in the bottom of the 10th inning that night to win it. Opening the 2012 campaign with a series win at UCLA was definitely a great start and a confidence boosting weekend. And the Monday Night ESPN game at Florida State in 2012 was certainly thrilling considering we came from behind 4-0, broke a 5-5 tie game in the 8th inning scoring 2 runs on a double squeeze play, not to mention the gutsy pitching performances by Brett Harman, Korey Wacker and Jimmy Reed.

Series Preview

Michigan was seen as a conference dark horse in preseason B1G assessments by various outlets. The Wolverines have hit a few bumps so far, compiling a 12-11 record. While there was an eight game winning streak, that was followed by the Wolverines dropping six of their next seven games. The latter included being swept at Nebraska last weekend, leaving Michigan with a 0-3 B1G record currently. It should be noted that Michigan played their first home game earlier this week against Bowling Green, all the rest being at visiting or neutral sites.

I expect Michigan (hopefully after this weekend!) to have a much better remainder of the season. The Wolverines have a bevy of talent, highlighted by two preseason Baseball America All-Americans:  SS Travis Maezes and 3B/1B Jacob Croneworth. Maezes has been hampered by a nagging quad injury that sidelined him for nine games so far this season. Nonetheless, he's hitting .297 with a home run and 10 rbi. Croneworth is hitting .312, but he's stolen only six bases in 11 attempts. The major star for the Woverines so far has been former JUCO transfer CF Jackson Glines (All-B1G in 2014). He's currently leading the B1G with a .453 batting average and a .549 OBP, and his 1.082 OPS trails only that of Brandon Lowe. Outfielders Carmen Benedetti (.321 avg, 25 rbi) and Cody Bruner (.330 avg, 21 rbi) have been the major run producers. Perhaps the only soft spot in the Wolverines' offensive arsenal is their lack of power. Even with the low seam baseball that is currently being used, Michigan has managed only eight home runs so far. They rank 11th in the B1G in doubles and 10th in triples. However, they sit right behind Maryland in terms of OBP.

Michigan's pitching has been a work in progress for pitching coach Kenny. The Wolverines took a major blow with an injury to projected weekend starter Evan Hill. Without the tall southpaw, the starting pitching has been inconsistent. Ryan Nutof , Brett Adcock, Jayce Vancena and Keith Lehmann have seen time as starters. The above-mentioned Croneworth (2.79 era) is credited with all of the Wolverines' three saves. Bryan Pall (0.63 era) and Jackson Lamb (0.96) have also been effective out of the bullpen. One problem that could plague Michigan's pitchers as they face the Terrapins is the Wolverines' penchant for issuing free passes: they rank last in the B1G in that category. Behind the plate, catcher Kendall Patrick has a rifle arm, with the Wolverines backstops shooting down eight of the sixteen runners attempting to steal.

These are the projected starters, which will be updated as I receive further information.
Saturday noon: Mike Shawaryn (5-0, 2.27 era) vs. RHP Jacob Croneworth (1-1, 2.79 era)
Saturday 4:30 p.m.: Willie Rios (1-0, 6.28 era) vs. LHP Brett Adcock (2-3, 5.40 era)
Sunday noon: Bobby Ruse (4-0. 4.09 era) vs. RHP Ryan Nutof (1-2, 3.58 era)


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Audio: WCBN Sports
Stats: Game Tracker
Twitter: @terpsbaseball & @mercator88