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No. 1-seed Maryland baseball Big Ten Tournament opening round preview: No. 8-seed Indiana

The Terps will take on the Hoosiers as they begin what they hope is a long postseason run.

Photo Courtesy of Zach Bland/Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

Tenth-ranked and No. 1-seed Maryland baseball is playing in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2019. This is the first time in school history that the Terps won the Big Ten regular season title as they finished the season on a seven-game winning streak.

Maryland will hold the one-seed in the Big Ten Tournament and will take on No. 8 Indiana in Thursday’s opening game at 10:00 a.m. The winner of this matchup will face off against the winner of No. 4 Illinois and No. 5 Michigan. The loser of each game will also meet on Thursday.

The Terps can afford a loss as the tournament is double-elimination style, meaning a team has to lose twice before being eliminated. The winner of the tournament will be granted the Big Ten’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, although Maryland should make it either way. The Terps are a projected one-seed, which would come with hosting a regional, according to both Baseball America and D1Baseball.

“Myself and the whole team definitely [aren’t] satisfied yet,” sophomore shortstop Matt Shaw said.

No. 8-seed Indiana, 25-30 (10-14 Big Ten)

2021 record: 26-18 (26-18 Big Ten)

Head coach Jeff Mercer is in his fourth year at the helm of Indiana baseball and has found immediate success. Mercer joined Indiana basketball coaching legend Everett Dean as the only coaches in school history to win a Big Ten title in their first year as head coach. He also helped the Hoosiers set a school-record 26 wins against Big Ten opponents last season, and while they haven’t had similar success this season, Mercer is not someone you should count out.

Hitters to know

Junior outfielder Hunter Jessee has only started in 40 of Indiana’s 55 games, but he is an absolute hitting machine. Jessee is sixth in the Big Ten in batting average (.363) and on-base percentage (.474). In their last outing, Jessee recorded three of the Hoosier’s eight hits, proving he can get it going even when the rest of the offense is flat.

Redshirt junior catcher Matthew Ellis is the ultimate power hitter. Batting sixth in Indiana’s lineup, Ellis is fourth in the Big Ten in home runs (18), third in RBIs (64) and 18th in slugging percentage (.581). While Ellis doesn’t always make contact with the ball – he is fifth in the Big Ten in strikeouts (61) – he usually takes it for a ride when he does.

Pitchers to know

Redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Jack Perkins has been the Hoosiers go-to starter all season. Perkins has started in all of his 14 appearances, ranking first on the team in strikeouts (83), second in ERA (5.17) and third in WHIP (1.47). He did pitch on Friday night against Iowa – in which he lasted 4.2 innings, allowing nine hits and nine runs, while striking out six batters. It will be interesting to see if he’s on the mound on Thursday.

Senior right-handed pitcher Braydon Tucker is another candidate for Thursday’s starting job. Tucker last started on last Thursday night, striking out three batters in three innings while allowing three hits and two runs. Even if he doesn’t start on Thursday, the Terps may see him either way; 15 of Tucker’s 19 appearances have come out of the bullpen.

Strength

Hitting. Despite having a losing record, the Hoosiers know how to hit the ball. Indian ranks fifth in the Big Ten in batting average (.283), third in hits (540), and fourth in runs (406), home runs (71) and RBIs (369). The Hoosiers tallied 16 runs on Friday night, the third-most runs they have scored this season, but still lost by 14 because their pitching is extremely questionable.

Weakness

Pitching. Indiana’s pitching has led to their downfall this year as they have given up double-digit runs 13 times. The Hoosiers are dead last in the Big Ten in ERA (7.16) and lead the conference in walks (316) and hit-by-pitches (105). Indiana is going to have its work cut out for them with Maryland’s explosive offense on deck

Potential upcoming matchups

No. 4 Illinois (31-20): Maryland matched up against Illinois a little over a month ago in a three-game weekend series. After destroying the Terps, 19-1, on Friday, Illinois dropped both games in Saturday’s doubleheader as Maryland secured its fourth Big Ten series win.

Since then, the Fighting Illini have been on an absolute tear, winning 11 of their final 14 games, including a four-game winning streak to close out the season.

With the 19-1 win in its back pocket, Illinois may be one of the few Big Ten teams who aren’t scared of the Terps.

No. 5 Michigan (28-25): Maryland played Michigan on two separate occasions this season, one was part of the Keith LeClair Classic in Greenville, North Carolina, while the other one was just two weeks ago in a three-game series in College Park.

Michigan handed the Terps their first loss of the season in Greenville, but Maryland sought revenge on its home turf, sweeping the Wolverines with ease.

Michigan won three of their last four games of the season, but it does not match up well against the Terps with its current bullpen.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland take advantage of Indiana’s diminished pitching rotation? With the Hoosiers pitchers having just a few days to rest, their entire bullpen won’t be available. Indiana’s pitching staff is already one of the worst in the Big Ten, and they are tasked with battling against an elite lineup. Maryland has scored 12 or more runs in each of its last five games, and it is unlikely that this streak ends on Thursday.

2. Who will the Terps start on the mound? Maryland’s regular-season finale against Purdue was canceled on Saturday due to inclement weather, saving a few arms for the Terps. Junior left-handed pitcher Ryan Ramsey hasn’t pitched since May 14th and is well rested heading into the Big Ten Tournament. It remains to be seen whether head coach Rob Vaughn decides to use him against Indiana or save him for the later rounds.

3. Maryland’s path to the Big Ten Championship. Thursday morning’s game will determine how the rest of the bracket unravels for the Terps. If Maryland beats Indiana, it would take on the winner of the matchup between the Wolverines and Fighting Illini, securing a spot in Friday’s slew of games. If the Terps lose to Indiana, they would play the loser of Illinois vs. Michigan on Thursday in a win-or-go-home situation.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Maryland’s first-round Big Ten Tournament game being postponed to Thursday, May 26, at 10 a.m. ET.