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No. 21 Maryland baseball weekend preview: Michigan, Indiana State and East Carolina

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The Terps will face a trio of strong teams this weekend in Greenville, North Carolina.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

No. 21 Maryland baseball looks to remain undefeated in its first spilt-series of the season coming up this weekend.

After another impressive outing against Delaware, the Terps will travel to Greenville, North Carolina, where they will face off against Michigan (6-3), Indiana State (5-2) and East Carolina (3-5) this weekend.

Maryland’s first of two split-series is without a doubt its most important as it takes on three teams that each made it to the NCAA Tournament last year.

The Terps’ bats have been hot as of late, putting up 23 runs, 23 hits and nine doubles over the last two games. This season, Maryland ranks top-five in the Big Ten in runs, doubles, home runs and RBIs.

Per usual, the three-headed monster of junior right-hander Nick Dean, junior lefty Ryan Ramsey and sophomore righty Jason Savacool will start for Maryland this weekend. For the third time this season, Dean will get the Friday start, followed by Ramsey on Saturday and then Savacool on Sunday.

“If [they] go and give us eight, that’s great. I just need a good start, you know, I need a good two or three innings to give our offense a chance to do some stuff,” head coach Rob Vaughn said.

The series-opening first pitch against Michigan is scheduled for Friday at 12 p.m. Saturday’s game against Indiana State will also start at noon and Sunday’s contest against East Carolina will start at 3:30 p.m. Maryland’s matchup against East Carolina will be streamed on ESPN+.

Michigan Wolverines (6-3)

2021 record: (27-19, 27-17 Big Ten)

Head coach Erik Bakich has spearheaded Michigan’s oldest sports program for the last 10 years. Bakich was the consensus 2019 National Coach of the Year and led Michigan to a No. 1 overall ranking in the top-25 polls, an NCAA Tournament runner-up finish and a Big Ten conference tournament title over the last decade. Michigan now has its eyes set on back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.

Hitters to know

Junior infielder/outfielder Clark Elliott has been one of the best hitters in the nation this season with an astonishing 3.85 batting average, .795 slugging percentage, 15 hits, 15 runs and three home runs, which all lead the team. Elliott found home three times on Wednesday night and will be one of the best hitters Maryland will face all weekend.

Graduate student outfielder Joe Stewart is the second half of one of the best hitting duos in the nation with a .357 batting average, 15 hits, three home runs, and 15 RBIs. The Wolverines have been blessed with Stewart, who graduated from Michigan State last year as he, along with Elliott, give opposing pitchers nightmares at the top of the order.

Pitchers to know

Junior right-handed pitcher Cameron Weston has struggled a bit in his first two games but is the presumed starter against Maryland. Weston was the Wolverines' No. 2 guy last season, playing well enough to earn a spot on the All-Big Ten Second Team. As the new Friday night pitcher, Weston is still working out the kinks, but is the same guy who posted a 2.81 ERA and 69 strikeouts last season.

Senior left-handed pitcher Walker Cleveland has the most appearances on the team thus far, five, and could make another one on Friday. Cleveland usually doesn’t stay in more than one inning, recording six innings pitched on the season but he has shown signs of vulnerability with a 6.00 ERA and eight walks.

Strength

Hitting. The Wolverines can straight up hit the ball and it’s no secret. Led by Elliott and Stewart, Michigan is top three in the Big Ten in batting average (.294), hits (96), RBIs (83), and home runs (11). Maryland hasn’t let up more than five runs in a single game and the Wolverines have only scored less than five in one game, so it will be interesting to see which team has their way.

Weakness

Relief pitching. Michigan has been unable to find more than two reliable relief pitching options, and this could prove to be critical against some of the teams they play this weekend. All but three of Michigan’s relief pitchers have an ERA above 5.60 and can surely be taken advantage of if its starters get gassed early.

Indiana State Sycamores (5-2)

2021 record: (31-21, 14-10 Missouri Valley Conference)

Head coach Mitch Hannahs is now in his ninth season at the helm of Indiana State’s baseball program after returning to his alma mater in 2013. Being one of the most decorated student-athletes in program history, Hannahs was inducted into the Indiana State Hall of Fame in 2010. Hannahs has had an immense amount of success since taking over the program, leading the Sycamores to three NCAA Tournament appearances and 240 wins, the second-most in program history. He has seen his team in the NCAA Tournament play a combined seven times as a player and coach and is looking for his eighth this season.

Hitters to know

Redshirt senior infielder Jordan Schaffer has started every single game over the last two seasons for the Sycamores. Schaffer found his way onto the Missouri Valley Conference First Team All-Conference last year after leading his team in batting average (.367) and finishing second in hits (79). He is yet again leading the team in batting average (.414) and is now leading the team in hits (12) as well.

Redshirt senior outfielder Aaron Beck has had a bit of a rocky start to begin the season after a phenomenal season last year where he earned Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year and a Missouri Valley Conference First Team All-Conference selection. Beck has a mere .120 batting average and only three hits but is coming off of a strong two-hit, two-RBI game against Minnesota.

Pitchers to know

Redshirt sophomore right-handed pitcher Matt Jachec started against Minnesota last Saturday, so the Terps may see him this weekend. In his last outing, Jachec pitched a solid seven innings, striking out six batters and only surrendering five hits and one run.

Graduate student right-handed pitcher Jack Parisi would presumably be the next man up if the Sycamores decide to start Jachec on Friday. Parisi has pitched 10.2 innings thus far, second only to Jachec, in which he has posted a 6.75 ERA, 19 strikeouts and 13 hits.

Strength

Hitting. The Sycamores’ offense has carried them to nearly every win this season. In their five wins, Indiana State averages 11.2 runs, 14.2 hits and 1.2 home runs. Against Maryland’s elite pitching, the Sycamores will have to have the bats rolling.

Weakness

Starting pitching. The Sycamores have really struggled to find reliable starters to complement Jachec, who has been the team’s only usable starter thus far. Indiana State’s other three starters have pitched a combined 22.2 innings, allowing 33 hits and 22 runs. If the Terps don’t face Jachec, they should have a fairly favorable matchup.

East Carolina Pirates (3-5)

2021 record: (44-17, 20-8 American Athletic Conference)

Head coach Cliff Godwin has been a part of 12 NCAA Tournaments and two College World Series appearances while coaching at the Division I level and is now in his eighth season with East Carolina. After a three-year stay at the University of Mississippi, Godwin was appointed as East Carolina’s 16th skipper in the school’s history. Godwin has already racked up multiple honors during his seven-year tenure, such as three American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year awards and five NCAA Tournament berths.

Hitters to know

Junior outfielder Lane Hoover is having a breakout season for the Pirates after only playing in just over half of the games last year. Hoover has been a contact machine with a .423 batting average, second on the team, and a .483 on-base percentage, the best on the team. Hoover isn’t a threat to drive the ball deep, as he has yet to record an extra-base hit, but it’s a coin flip on whether he will be standing at first by the time his at-bat is over.

Sophomore catcher Justin Wilcoxen only played in three games last season but has been a cornerstone of the Pirates offense this year. Wilcoxen has been the perfect mix of contact and power, tallying a .364 batting average, third on the team, and .591 slugging percentage, the best on the team.

Pitchers to know

Freshman right-handed pitcher Jake Hunter has started both Sunday games this season and there isn’t expected to be a change this weekend. Hunter hasn’t pitched more than four innings in each of his starts but has showcased a lot of potential in those 7.1 innings pitched. Hunter has an ERA of 1.23 while allowing only four hits and striking out five batters.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Josh Grosz is the Pirates’ go-to relief pitcher, appearing in four out of their eight games. In eight innings pitched, Grosz has a 1.13 ERA, .88 WHIP, and a staggering 12 strikeouts. If the Terps face off against Grosz this weekend, they better hope they have a comfortable lead because he is extremely hard to score on.

Strength

Pitching. Despite a losing record, the Pirates' pitching has been spectacular so far as they are fifth in the American division in ERA (3.68) and first in strikeouts (89). East Carolina has multiple solid starting pitchers as well as a deep bullpen with seven of the pitchers recording an ERA below 1.70.

Weakness

Experience. Part of the reason the Pirates have gotten out to an uncharacteristically slow start is due to the lack of experience some of their starters have. East Carolina lost its two best hitters to the MLB draft in infielder Connor Norby and infielder/outfielder Thomas Francisco, as well as their starting catcher Seth Caddell. While their pitching has been elite, over half of the Pirates’ pitchers with three or more innings pitched are underclassmen.

Three things to watch

1. Nick Dean vs. Michigan’s high-powered offense. Dean has been the unwavering best pitcher in the Big Ten through two and a half weeks of play, recording a 0.00 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 14 innings pitched. However, Dean hasn’t faced an offense like Michigan who put up 20 runs last game. If Dean can maintain his perfect ERA, it will be a performance for the record books.

2. How many Maryland freshmen will we see this weekend? Vaughn has shown his willingness to put his freshman in big spots and with this weekend’s schedule, we could be in for a few tight games.

With only a three-run lead, freshman infielder Jacob Orr stepped up to the plate for the first time this season and ripped a two-RBI double on Tuesday. Later that game, freshman left-handed pitcher Andrew Johnson saw the mound in the ninth for the first time this season and retired the side in four batters.

[Johnson] is just a gamer, man,” Vaughn said. “[This] allows us to really go into this weekend knowing we have another option that maybe we didn’t know we had.”

3. Matt Shaw is still the leader of Maryland’s offense. Sophomore infielder Matt Shaw hasn’t registered a hit in the last two games, but that doesn’t mean he should be overlooked. Shaw was flawless in the Baylor series when he had seven hits, five RBIs and two homers over the three-game span. He is a ticking time bomb waiting to have another game-wrecking day for the Terps.