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Maryland baseball preview: Baylor

The Terps look to start the season on a high note in their first three-game series.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

After a tough loss in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament last season, Maryland baseball will lead off its 2022 season with a three-game road stint against Baylor in Waco, Texas.

The Terps have yet again formulated one of the best pitching rotations in the nation, starting with junior right-hander Nick Dean. Junior left-hander Ryan Ramsey will follow up Dean on Saturday night, and sophomore right-hander Jason Savacool will round out the series on Sunday.

Maryland’s offense remains dangerous with second baseman Matt Shaw entering his second year and outfielder Chris Alleyne returning for a fifth year.

“I think the guys are excited. They’re prepared, they’re ready, we’ve been really happy with their process this preseason,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “Whether we go 0-3 or 3-0 to start this weekend it has zero bearing on what happens the rest of the year.”

Friday night’s season opener is scheduled for 6:30, while Saturday and Sunday’s games will start at 4:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. Every contest this weekend will be streamed on ESPN Plus.

Baylor Bears (0-0, 0-0 Big 12)

2021 record: 31-20

Head coach Steve Rodriguez is entering his seventh season at the helm of Baylor’s baseball program. Over the last six years, Rodriguez has put together an impressive 171-118 record, making the Bears NCAA Tournament threats nearly every year. The 2017 Big 12 Coach of the Year has secured three NCAA Regional appearances, a Big 12 Tournament title and a second-place finish in Big 12 play during his tenure. After another successful season in 2021, Rodriguez has the Bears in position for another NCAA Tournament run.

Hitters to know

Sophomore outfielder Jared McKenzie is one of the nation’s best contact and power hitters. The Perfect Game/Rawlings Third Team All-American finished last season 24th in the nation in runs (62), 25th in hits (82) and second on his team in home runs (10) and RBIs (44). McKenzie is currently the all-time batting average leader in Baylor history (.389) and will look to continue his dominance this season.

“He’s elite,” Vaughn said. “We’ve got to control our things and we’ve got to execute… you can’t let their best player beat you in a big spot.”

Junior infielder Jack Pineda has started every game since transferring to Baylor. Pineda was a staple in the Bears' success last year, recording the team’s fourth-best batting average (.327) and its second-most runs (52) and hits (67). While he only had four home runs last season, he is one of Baylor’s most lethal on-base threats.

Pitchers to know

Senior left-handed pitcher Tyler Thomas has been a go-to guy for the Bears since his freshman year. Thomas was selected to the All-Big 12 Second Team last year after starting 11 games and totaling a 2.49 ERA, the 42nd best in the nation.

Junior right-handed pitcher Blake Helton led the team with 13 starts last season and the Terps will definitely see him this weekend. Helton posted a 3.44 ERA and 40 strikeouts last year while accumulating a 4-3 record.

Weakness

Relief pitching. While relief pitching was one of Baylor’s biggest strengths last year, the Bears bullpen lost some key pieces. Baylor lost five relief pitchers who combined for a total of 106 appearances and 136.8 innings pitched. Perhaps the biggest loss was right-hander Luke Boyd who recorded an astonishing 1.27 ERA last season.

Strength

Hitting. While Baylor is an extremely well-rounded team with multiple strengths, their biggest is hitting the ball. The Bears not only get on base with a .302 batting average and .393 on-base percentage, but they get their runners home, raking in 364 runs last season. Despite losing home run leader Andy Thomas, Baylor is destined to continue its exceptional hitting this season.

Three things to know

1. Maryland has one of the best pitching rotations in program history. It is no secret that the three-headed monster of Dean, Ramsey, and Savacool is one of the nation’s best and will be on display for the first time this weekend. The three combined for a 15-4 record and average ERA of 3.50 last season.

“That’s about as good of a one, two, three that we’ve had and we’ve had some high end guys,” Vaughn said.

“It’s one of the best, I think, in college baseball. You’re not going to get three guys that just fill up the zone and consistently get outs,” Ramsey said.

2. How will the Terps deal with Jared McKenzie? McKenzie is one of the best players in college baseball and the Terps will have to put their best foot forward when facing him at the plate. Similar to Shaw, McKenzie was ranked as the sixth-best player in the nation at his respective position, according to d1baseball.com, and Maryland will need to put in extra time to prepare for him.

3. How will Ryan Ramsey adjust to being a full-time starter? Ramsey will be one of Maryland’s main starters after only starting one game in his collegiate career. His lone start came in the NCAA Tournament last season when Ramsey threw a career-high eight innings, allowing just one run and three hits, so all signs point in the right direction.