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No. 15 Maryland baseball vs. Purdue preview

The Terps travel to West Lafayette, Indiana, with their Big Ten title hopes on the line.

Photo Courtesy of Joseph Noyes/Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

No. 15 Maryland baseball is in the best form of its season right now, winning eight of its last 10 games to climb to first place in the Big Ten. Having tied the most wins in school history with the win over James Madison on Tuesday, Maryland will face Purdue this weekend in a three-game series to end the regular season.

The game against James Madison on Tuesday was a rout as the Terps walked away with a 12-2 win. Six of the first seven runs for Maryland came from home runs, and the dugout came alive in the last midweek game of the season.

Junior third baseman Nick Lorusso and senior first baseman Maxwell Costes were the big performers, both hitting 4 RBIs and contributing to two-thirds of the Maryland runs.

Freshman left-handed pitcher Andrew Johnson started off well and struck out five, but he exited the games after just three innings. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Logan Ott got the win, pitching five innings and allowing just two hits and no runs.

Thursday’s game is set for a 6 p.m. first pitch on BTN Plus. Friday’s 5 p.m. game and Saturday’s 1 p.m. contest will be televised nationally on Big Ten Network.

Purdue University (29-17, 9-10 Big Ten Conference)

2021 record: 16-26 (16-26, Big Ten)

Head coach Greg Goff is currently having his best season ever at the helm of the Boilermakers. After three straight seasons with a .500 or worse record, Purdue has started to put things together this season. While it may not be one of the best teams in the Big Ten, Purdue has been efficient in its non-conference games. They’ll have to make a big push in the Big Ten Tournament to keep playing baseball this season, but this type of success could be a boost for Goff moving forward.

Hitters to watch

Junior infielder CJ Valdez — As a transfer, Valdez has had one of the biggest impacts on the Boilermakers’ offense this season. His batting average of .338 is second best on the squad, and he is third on the team with a .490 slugging percentage. Valdez has excelled in driving in runners; his 43 RBIs rank second on the Boilermakers. Maryland pitchers must be on high alert when he’s in the batter’s box.

Graduate student infielder Troy Viola — Another transfer this season, Viola has also been stepping in and stepping up this season. One of the four hitters on the squad with .300 batting average or higher, his hitting split of .326/.417/.528 has also been one of Purdue’s best. Viola’s production stems from his ability to get on base. He’s picked up the most total bases on the team with 94, and he has also contributed 40 RBIs. Viola’s experience has been important for Purdue.

Pitchers to watch

Redshirt junior left-handed pitcher Jackson Smeltz — Despite Purdue’s record in conference play, Smeltz is one of the best pitchers in the Big Ten. Through 57.1 innings, his 2.83 ERA is the fifth-best mark in the Big Ten. Smeltz also has 79 strikeouts this season, which ranks seventh in the conference. On top of that, Smeltz has only allowed 40 hits this season, which is the second lowest amongst Big Ten starting pitchers. A stud that could stifle Maryland’s bats.

Senior right-handed pitcher Landon Weins — While he’s mostly been pitching as a reliever this season, Weins has recorded decent numbers in his senior year. A 3.73 ERA is a vast improvement from his 7.20 ERA just last season. He leads the team with three saves this season and has been a clutch arm out of the bullpen.

Strength

Efficient hitting. Purdue’s lineup has been steady this season. Four starters are hitting with a batting average above .300, and two own slugging percentages above .500. They haven’t been scoring a lot of home runs, with only one starter with more than 10 homers on the season. However, Purdue has manufactured runs with men on base; five Purdue batters total 30 RBIs or more on the season.

Weakness

Pitching. Even though Smeltz is a great pitcher, Purdue generally has difficulty in shutting down opposing teams. The Boilermakers have a team ERA of 5.59, and both of their other starting weekend pitchers have an ERA above 5.00. In its last five games, Purdue has given up an average of 7.2 runs per game. That is not a good sign for an incredibly dangerous Maryland offense.

Three things to watch

1. Will this team break the wins record? Maryland has the chance to secure the most wins in a single season in school history with just one win this weekend. While it’s likely that the Terps get at least one win against Purdue, these are high pressure games for the. Even though there are national headlines swirling around the program, head coach Rob Vaughn wants all of the attention on finishing out the season.

“All that stuff is great stuff for Twitter to talk about, for you guys to talk about, but man we can’t worry about that,” Vaughn said. “...We’re just gonna go back to work on Wednesday and get back to it.”

2. Can Purdue spoil the Terps’ Big Ten regular season title chances? Going into the final series of the season, both Rutgers and Maryland have the same record sitting at 16-5. However, because Maryland won their series over the Scarlet Knights, they have the tiebreaker and are sitting in first place. With Rutgers facing Michigan, Maryland would have to win the same amount of games or more than them to claim at least a share of the title and the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. If Purdue can snatch a win and Rutgers sweeps the Wolverines, Maryland would enter the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed.

3. Can Maryland make another upward move in the national rankings? Maryland comes in at No. 15 in the country this weekend, which is the highest they’ve been ranked this season. They have the fourth-most wins in the country and are the only Big Ten team currently ranked. If Maryland can sweep the Boilermakers this weekend, there is a chance that it can crack into the top 10. This would be a landmark achievement for the school. It would also put the program in prime position to host a regional for the first time in its history.