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Big Ten baseball tournament preview: Maryland looks to extend its season

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Maryland has a legitimate shot to win the B1G tournament and receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. But they'll have to show a consistency that's been lacking this year.

MikeShawaryn_1 Andrew Kramer @mercator88

On to Omaha

Maryland snagged the No. 6 seed in this week's Big Ten baseball tournament. Per the BIG's rules, the top eight of 13 teams in the B1G qualify to play. In retrospect, had Maryland not beaten Michigan State on Sunday then the Terps' season would have been finished. But they did win and so Maryland makes the post-season for the third consecutive year.

The final regular season records for the B1G can be found here.

The Terps stand at 28-25 overall with an RPI of 58, which pretty much leaves them out of at-large consideration for the NCAA tournament. However, should the Terps win the B1G then they will receive the conference's automatic bid.

This year has been one of great parity in the B1G. At times Minnesota and Michigan, respectively, showed flashes of being "THE" team, only to suffer some critical losses. Lately Nebraska has been on a tear, winning their final six games as well as their last four B1G series, and are a certainty (along with Minnesota and perhaps Michigan) to receive bids to the NCAA tournament. Since the tournament is being held at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE, the Cornhuskers will have a decided home field advantage.

Below is the schedule for the B1G tournament, which is held in a double elimination format.

Maryland's first game is Wednesday May 25th at 9am CT (10 am EDT) against Indiana. The probable starting pitchers are Mike Shawaryn (5-4, 3.30 era) vs. senior LHP Kyle Hart (10-3, 2.81 era). Incidentally, The Unicorn is 2/3 inning away from surpassing Chris Clem's school record of 298.2 innings pitched. Should Maryland beat Indiana then they will face the winner of the Nebraska vs Michigan State game. Otherwise they'll play the loser of that game.

Consistency, consistency

Can Maryland win the B1G baseball tournament? Sure, but they'll have to show a consistency that's been lacking this year. The pieces are all there, and Maryland can play with any team in the country. However, hitting and relief pitching have not been effective for any prolonged string of games. Normally that might doom a team in a conference tournament. But the Terps have two important factors that weigh in on their favor. The first is their great success in previous tournaments, be it ACC, B1G or NCAA. Coach Szefc and his staff have proven track records in that regard. Second, Maryland's starting pitching runs four deep: Shawaryn, Bloom, Shaffer, and Parsons. That's key when a team might play five games in five days. Of course if Maryland drops the first two games then they're out. If Maryland wins one of their first two games then they'll be on tenuous ground but alive; win the first two and they're sitting pretty. However the bats can't take a game off or the Terps could find themselves on the short end of the stick (pun intended) very quickly.

How to follow

All of the games in the B1G tournament will be televised on BTN. If you can't watch the games on BTN then the Maryland Baseball Network (MBN) will be airing all of the games live via Mixlr. Not to take anything away from the B1G announcers, but MBN's Jake Eisenberg, Matt Present, and their crew are top notch. You can also follow the Terps on twitter at @TerpsBaseball or @mercator88 (shameless plug for my twitter account).

Q&A with The Crimson Quarry

I had a chance to swap questions with The Crimson Quarry baseball beat writer Alex Robbins. Below are my questions and his answers to them. You can find Alex's questions and my answers over at the Crimson Quarry.

1. How did Chris Lemonis manage to get things going so quickly after Tracy Smith's departure in 2014?

Well, he had some help. Chris Lemonis started extremely fast last year, sweeping Fullerton and winning about 15 games in a row before the end of March. And then they hit a wall. He helped the team team come around and they found a way to fight into the NCAAs, starting with a sweep at Maryland, and then gave Vanderbilt all they wanted in the winner’s bracket of the Nashville regional. But you can't ignore that names that were part of that run — Effross, Morris, Hartong, Rodrigue, Dedelow, Nolden — were Tracy Smith's guys.

That said, I think a lot of people around here are impressed by and excited for the class that are freshmen right now. The offense has been less than stellar this year, but a lot of the bright spots have been provided by freshmen Ryan Fineman, Luke Miller, and Scotty Bradley. Add in that with Alex Krupa and Tony Butler, two JUCO guys who have been everyday players, and it’s clear that the way Lemonis has managed to have limited success this season is that he is as-advertised as a recruiter.

2. Will Kyle Hart or Caleb Baragar start tomorrow's game? If Hart, what can you tell Testudo Times readers about him?

I don’t know how Lemonis views these events where you’ve got to win a ton of games in short order, but my personal feeling is that it has to be Kyle Hart. He is the backbone of this team. In his 14 starts, he’s recorded 13 decisions (the other was an extra innings affair). As he goes, the Hoosiers go.

Two things to know about Hart: (1) He’s not a flame thrower, but he throws hard enough to nicely complement the wicked breaking stuff that his left arm is blessed with. (2) If he gets through the first couple innings, he’s gonna sail. In innings one through four this season, he’s allowing 0.95 hits per inning. In innings five through nine, he’s allowing just 0.81 hits per inning. And in his worst starts, the first few innings have been where he’s gotten in trouble. So, if you’re gonna beat up on Hart, score early and often. But don’t be fooled by the ERA at 3.00 because that’s not an easy thing to do. His ERA is a little inflated because he gave up eight runs or so in a win at Minnesota a couple weeks ago where the wind was blowing hard enough to carry balls to Canada.

3. Craig Dedelow is an established hitter. But the rest of Indiana's lineup hasn't been overwhelming. Has this been Indiana's weak spot?

The rest of the lineup has been nothing short of abysmal. They’re scoring 4.9 runs per game, but when you take away the 27 runs scored against Butler and 14 against both Middle Tennessee State and Illinois State, it’s just 4.12 runs per game. And if you get rid of the three game series with Purdue’s tee-ball team, it’s just 3.95 runs per game.

There are probably 12 guys on this roster that are capable of being real assets at the plate, but only about four of them have been. Dedelow, Krupa, Miller, and Fineman have each either been good or pleasantly surprising. But it was clear when last season ended and when this season began that there were four guys who had to be productive for this offense to match the quality of the rotation and backend of the bullpen. Those guys were Brian Wilhite, Logan Sowers, Austin Cangelosi, and Isaiah Pasteur.

This year, Wilhite, Sowers, Cangelosi, and Pasteur are hitting .272, .267, .220, .195, respectively, and have combined for just 20 home runs.

So yeah, this has certainly been the team’s weakness. But I wouldn’t put it past at least Wilhite and Sowers to get it together in time for tournament play.