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No. 18 Maryland baseball vs. Michigan preview

The Terps look to continue their climb to first place in the conference with just two series to go.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

After capturing a series win against Rutgers this past weekend, the team sitting in first place in the Big Ten, No. 18 Maryland baseball is preparing for the postseason. Now, the Terps face off against Michigan this weekend in their last home series of the season.

The Terps started off their away series at Rutgers in game one of Sunday’s doubleheader in dominant fashion, winning 16-8 against the Scarlet Knights. Fifth-year outfielder Chris Alleyne was the star, recording five RBIs to lead his team to victory.

Game two of the doubleheader saw a different performance from the Terps, with sophomore right-handed pitcher Jason Savacool only lasting one inning due to back soreness. He gave up three of Rutgers’ 18 runs as they crushed the Terps, 18-7.

In the series finale on Monday, Alleyne was the hero, hitting a three-run homer in the ninth inning to seal the 9-4 victory for Maryland.

Michigan has struggled recently, only winning four of their last 10 games. However they crushed Wright State on Wednesday night at home, 21-9.

The series will be broadcast on Big Ten Plus. Friday’s game is set for 6:30 p.m., Saturday’s is slated for 2 p.m. and Sunday’s finale will start at 1 p.m.

University of Michigan (24-21, 10-8 Big Ten Conference)

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

Head coach Erik Bakich provides consistent winning seasons as the leader of the Wolverines program. Last year, he coached a team that qualified for an NCAA Regional and made appearances ranked in the top 25 . Now, the 2019 National Coach of the Year has a team that is just above .500 and is hoping to make a push in the conference tournament. His team has to face the two best teams in the Big Ten, Rutgers and Maryland, in its last two series of conference play. The task appears daunting, but Bakich has the experience and talent to make a late season push.

Hitters to watch

Junior infielder/outfielder Clark Elliott – After posting a .270 batting average and hitting 22 RBIs last season, Elliot has made a big jump as a junior. This year, he’s already hit more than double the amount of RBIs he had last season with 49. He’s posting a .351/.450/.578 hitting split and is second on the team with 65 hits. Elliott’s numbers put him in line with some of the best in the conference, and he has also recorded the most walks (29) on the team.

Graduate student outfielder Joe Stewart – Another key leader and contributor for the Wolverines, Joe Stewart, has been productive at the plate as well. Having started every single game this season, Stewart leads Michigan with 68 hits. He’s also second on the Wolverines with nine home runs and a .340 batting average. Bakich can certainly trust Stewart as he has come through with clutch play throughout the season.

Pitchers to watch

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Chase Allen – The Colorado native began the year as a reliever, but his recent play has pushed him into a starter role. In his last three starts in conference play, he’s given up 11 combined runs, but he is still putting forth a respectable sophomore campaign. Allen has a 6-0 record this season and has pitched 58.2 innings. His 3.84 ERA and 1.13 WHIP both lead the Wolverines. He should get the start this weekend.

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Connor O’Halloran – As an underclassmen starter in college, inconsistent performances are likely to occur. As O’Halloran’s 4.41 ERA indicates, he has given up his fair share of runs this season, but he’s also shown flashes of dominance. The lefty is fourth in the Big Ten with 80 strikeouts, and he’s thrown 67.1 innings (sixth most in the Big Ten and most on the team). Though O’Halloran’s ERA may not tell the full story, he can pose a problem for batters when he is in the zone.

Strength

Hitting home runs. The batting average for this team is not great. The team is batting .278 overall and while not everyone has to be hitting above .300, only two Wolverine batters are. However, the homers have been there throughout the season for this squad. Out of each hitter that has started all 45 games this season, only one Michigan batter has less than eight home runs. They’ll need to keep hitting bombs in order to beat Maryland’s high-octane offense.

Weakness

The pitching staff. When the team average ERA for your squad is 6.32 – which ranks 11th out of the 13 Big Ten teams – it does not exactly create a winning recipe. Despite O’Halloran and Allen, the rest of the bullpen doesn’t possess a whole lot of talent. Even Michigan’s two reliable pitchers have walked a combined 58 batters this season. If the Wolverines have to rely on the back of their bullpen, don’t be surprised if Maryland capitalizes.

Three things to watch

1. How different will this game look than the first time these two teams met on March 4? When you look at both of these team’s current records and positions in the standings, one would think that Maryland came out on top in the last game. But it was actually Michigan who pulled out a 7-4 win earlier this season, handing Maryland its first loss of the year. It was a brutal game for the Terps, who were up 4-0 in the sixth inning but ended up losing the lead after starter Nick Dean only managed to pitch 5.1 innings. Maryland is hoping it can rebound in a big way from more than two months ago.

2. Will the relievers step up? Maryland’s bullpen has been a question mark throughout the season, especially in the Saturday game against Northwestern and the first game against Michigan. Using the Northwestern game as an example, Savacool ended up holding the Wildcats scoreless for seven innings before other pitchers stepped in. The next three pitchers gave up seven runs in two innings to lose the game. Relievers such as Sean Heine and David Falco Jr. will need to make a positive impact this weekend in order to take an important series win.

3. Can Maryland stay in the Big Ten title race? In order to capture the Big Ten regular season title, this Michigan series is crucial for the Terps. Even though Rutgers has a 1.5 game lead in the standings, Maryland has an opportunity to pass them with two Big Ten series remaining.. The Terps control their own destiny going forward and will secure the Big Ten title if they win out. Depending on how Rutgers fares next weekend against Michigan, Maryland may not have to win the rest of its games to clinch the championship. Regardless, if the Terps can take or sweep this series, it will put them in good position for their last weekend series at Purdue.