Maryland baseball opens Big Ten play in Iowa City this weekend, facing the No. 25-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes in a three-game series.
The Terps have played very good baseball since a winless weekend in Minneapolis at the Cambria College Classic, winning 11 of their last 13 games and currently sporting a 15-9 record. Head coach Rob Vaughn said after a loss at UCF that the team seemed to finally click and is ready to play its best brand of baseball.
“Three weeks ago I’m like ‘We’ll see, hopefully we can set an inning up, hopefully we can do something’ and I was sitting [on Tuesday] like ‘It’s a matter of time’ ... It’s not fun when you’re sitting there at 4-7, but it toughens you up for the home stretch so it’s worth it.”
Maryland is riding some hot bats, most notably Nick Lorusso, who owns a 23-game hit streak and hit a three-run homer against Georgetown in the team’s last game.
Maryland will face Iowa at 1 p.m. ET on Friday on Big Ten Network and at 3:05 p.m. Saturday and 2:05 p.m. Sunday on Big Ten Plus.
Iowa Hawkeyes (19-4, 0-0 Big Ten)
Iowa has been the best team in the Big Ten so far this season and is off to the best start in program history. The Hawkeyes have won nine of their last 10 games, and have a win against No. 1 LSU, one of only three losses for the Tigers. Iowa’s record speaks for itself, and it has pulled ahead of Maryland at this point in the Big Ten race, which makes this series all the more important. Rick Heller is in his 10th season as head coach of the Hawkeyes and is seeking his first NCAA Tournament berth since 2017.
“This is not a stat-boosting weekend,” Vaughn said. “Between the weather and between the arms we’re going to see ... you’re gonna have some guys bloodied and bruised up, you’re gonna have some guys go 0-for-5 and you’re gonna have some tough games.”
Hitters to Watch
Kyle Huckstorf, redshirt junior outfielder, No. 9 — Huckstorf currently slugs .685, and leads the team in OPS at 1.150. Huckstorf has several tools, he can get hits at a high clip with a .388 batting average, he has stolen ten bags this year, has the second-highest on-base percentage on the team, and has a 21.7% homerun-to-fly-ball percentage. An all-around threat to the Maryland pitching staff.
Brennen Dorighi, graduate utilityman, No. 24 — Dorighi is an on-base machine, getting on base in half of his plate appearances and batting .388 in 80 at-bats. Dorighi is a transfer from Wofford where he was named first-team all-So-Con last year, after hitting .338 and getting 53 RBIs. Half of Dorighi’s contact are groundballs, but the advanced metrics still have him as a very productive hitter, with a wRC+ at 151 and a respectable walk rate.
Keaton Anthony, redshirt sophomore utility/right-handed pitcher — Anthony was the Big Ten freshman of the year last year along with a Collegiate Baseball, D1 Baseball, and NCBWA Freshman All-American nod. Anthony is one of the four hitters in the lineup hitting over 150 wRC+ slugging .628 and has five home runs, tied for the team-high. Anthony was named Big Ten player of the week in the second week of the season after an impressive showing at the Round Rock Classic, with several crucial hits against LSU and Kansas State. All this, on top of the fact that he has had an impactful role on the pitching staff, is something that is rarely seen in Collegiate baseball.
Pitchers to watch
Brody Brecht, sophomore right-handed pitcher, No. 14 — Brecht was a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American last year and has continued to impress in his sophomore year. He was named Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week after pitching five perfect innings against Quinnipiac on Feb. 18. His season numbers are also impressive, as he has the lowest ERA on the team at 2.40, a 38.3% strikeout percentage and an opponent OPS of .519. That, on top of a fastball that can reach up to 100 miles per hour, sets up a tough matchup for Maryland on Friday. Brecht also played football for Iowa last season as a receiver, making him one of the few two-sport athletes in college sports.
Ty Langenberg, junior right-handed pitcher, No. 27 — Langenburg is set to pitch on Sunday for Iowa, and despite a 4.39 ERA, some stats rate him better than what his ERA shows; He has a good combination of getting strikeouts and limiting walks, with a 27% strikeout rate and an 8% walk percentage. Langenburg will be one of the best Sunday starters that Maryland has faced thus far, a testament to Iowa’s deep rotation.
Pitching staff. Iowa has the best ERA in the Big Ten and the 23rd best in the nation. It also ranks seventh in hits allowed per nine innings and sixth in strikeouts per nine innings in the entire country. The combination of Brecht, redshirt senior left-handed pitcher Jared Simpson and Langenburg creates one of, if not the toughest staff Maryland’s faced all season. The Terps will also have to deal redshirt senior right-handed pitcher William Christophersen (46% strikeout rate), freshman left-handed pitcher Cade Obermuelle (42.9% strikeout rate) and redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Luke Llewellyn (34.7% strikeout rate) potentially coming out of the bullpen.
Free passes. If there’s anything Maryland can capitalize off of the impressive Iowa pitching staff, it’s a high walk rate. The Hawkeyes give up around five walks per nine innings as a staff and Brecht has a 17.5% walk percentage. Maryland is one of the best teams in the country when it comes to getting free passes, either by hit-by-pitches or walks. Recently, it got 13 free passes against Georgetown.
Three things to know
1. One of the biggest series of the season. Maryland will face Rutgers next week and Nebraska down the line, but this is undoubtedly one of the most important series of the year in terms of getting an NCAA Tournament bid. Iowa was already projected to be a tournament team in the preseason and has taken an early lead in the Big Ten race. All that can change if the Terps take two out of three or get a sweep on the road against the Hawkeyes — a tall task but something that definitely isn’t out of reach.
2. Will weather play a factor? Maryland is not uncomfortable in cold weather, but its first trip to an outdoor field in the Midwest may be a doozy. Its Friday game was already pushed up three hours earlier than usual, and the forecast this weekend calls for heavy wind at times and the temperature rising on Sunday. Iowa has also had some heavy snow at Banks Field in the past week, and there is some expected snow early in the weekend.
3. Can Maryland’s pitching deal with the top of Iowa’s order? Maryland’s pitching has been better as of late, shutting down a high-powered UCF offense last weekend. Now, it faces an Iowa team with four batters holding a wRC+ over 150, all of which get on base at a high clip and can slug. While the Hawkeyes’ lineup isn’t as deep as Maryland’s, this series will be a real test for the Terps’ pitching staff.