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No. 22 Maryland baseball vs. UMBC preview

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The Terps look to continue their hot start.

After an impressive season-opening series against Baylor, winning every single game by at least four runs, No. 22 Maryland baseball will have its home-opener this week against UMBC.

Maryland’s starting pitchers were the story of this series, holding the Bears to 16 hits and five runs in 21 innings pitched. The rotation also put together 17 strikeouts and one walk.

“I think that’s kind of the story, three great starts and it gives your offense a chance to go to work,” head coach Rob Vaughn said.

“I’m just trying to give us some really good length. [Nick] Dean and [Ryan] Ramsey did a really good job conserving our bullpen,” sophomore pitcher Jason Savacool said after throwing eight innings on Sunday. “For me, especially as a Sunday starter, the thing I need to do best is provide length to us.”

It is currently unannounced who Tuesday’s starter will be, but a name to keep an eye on is freshman right-hander Noah Mrotek who performed the best out of any relief pitcher this weekend. Mrotek only surrendered one run in two innings pitched while striking out three batters.

Offensively, the Terps looked strong, tallying 21 runs, 25 hits, 12 extra-base hits and five home runs against a solid Baylor pitching rotation.

“A really professional offensive performance really all weekend,” Vaughn said. “I thought we could have been a little bit more efficient [Saturday], but I was just really proud with the effort.”

The first pitch at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium is scheduled for Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. and will be streamed on BTN Plus.

UMBC (0-2, 0-0 America East)

2021 record: 17-26

Head coach Liam Bowen was elevated to the role of head coach in 2019 after serving eight years on the staff, two of which as the associate head coach. Over the course of his first two seasons, including the shortened 2020 campaign, he has accumulated a 20-36 record. Bowen was a part of UMBC’s American East Championship run in 2017 in which he led a pitching staff that allowed only three runs per game.

Hitters to know

Senior outfielder Ian Diaz has been the Retrievers’ best hitter since transferring from Lackawanna College last season. In 2021, Diaz recorded a team-high .346 batting average, 47 hits, 29 RBIs and eight home runs. Through two games and 10 at-bats this season, he has a .300 batting average, three hits and one RBI.

Senior outfielder Christian Easley was Diaz’s running mate last season, totaling 37 hits, 26 RBIs, seven home runs, and a .268 batting average. He is even more productive thus far with a .429 hitting percentage, three hits and one RBI through seven at-bats. Easley provides a spark towards the end of the lineup as he has been slotted in the sixth spot in both games.

Freshman outfielder/left-handed pitcher Jayden Shertel is a bit of a wild card for the Retrievers. He was batting second in the first game against Navy where he had a phenomenal four-hit, three-RBI day en route to a tough 10-9 loss. In the second game, however, Shertel was nowhere to be found at the plate and instead made his way to the mound where he pitched two innings. It will be interesting to see whether we see UMBC use the versatile freshman as a hitter or pitcher on Tuesday.

Pitchers to know

Left-handed pitcher Keegan Leffler has already pitched 3.2 innings over the weekend, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he made his third appearance of the season against Maryland. Against Navy, Leffler allowed four hits and two runs while contributing five strikeouts. Last season, Leffler had the most appearances on the team with 14, three of which were starts.

Right-handed pitcher Reid Celata is the expected starter for the Retrievers. He made a brief appearance in Friday’s matchup against Navy in which he surrendered two hits, two walks and four runs. Despite the rough outing, Celata was in UMBC’s weekend rotation last season where he started 10 games and recorded a 5.79 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

Strength

Hitting. UMBC’s bats are the only reason why it didn’t get blown out in both games this weekend, putting up 19 runs and 26 hits, respectively. The Retrievers currently have six batters hitting above the .300 mark and will need to keep this up against an elite Maryland bullpen.

Weakness

Pitching depth. Outside of Friday night starter Luke Johnson, the Retrievers have struggled to find a pitcher who can put together more than two solid innings. This has resulted in a team ERA of 8.69 while allowing 24 hits and 21 runs over the two-game series against Navy.

Three things to watch

1. Who will Maryland’s starting second baseman be? Sophomore Kevin Keister was awarded the start in Friday night’s season-opening matchup, but it was junior Drew Grace who earned the final two starts of the weekend. While Keister was locked down defensively, Grace was extremely successful at the plate, totaling a .286 batting average, two hits, and one run in seven at-bats. Grace is expected to start, but it wouldn’t be too shocking if Vaughn gave Keister another opportunity.

2. Matt Shaw is hitting with a purpose. With the departure of Benjamin Cowles, the Terps needed someone to pick up the slack offensively and Shaw has embraced that burden. He is yet again Maryland’s leader in batting average (.538) and hits (seven) and is now leading the team in RBIs (five) and runs (four). Shaw has been otherworldly through the first series and it will be a sight to see if he can continue his success in the home-opener.

3. How will UMBC respond to two heartbreaking losses? UMBC suffered two close losses this weekend to Navy, the first being a 10-9 loss and the second being an 11-10 loss in the 12th inning. The Retrievers have an experienced roster working to their advantage, but it will be interesting to see if UMBC will be able to shake off the tough defeats and bounce back.