Maryland baseball played its first away series on the Big Ten schedule this past weekend, sweeping Rutgers in Piscataway. The Terps came back home Tuesday and won a 12-11 thriller over Richmond.
The Terps were also ranked this week for the first time since the preseason polls in late February. Going into the weekend series at Nebraska, the Terps have won 17 out of 20 games and are 19-8 overall.
Our three baseball beat writers discuss what’s happened and what’s to come.
The Terps outscored Rutgers 20-3 in their weekend series sweep of the Scarlet Knights. Which player, offensively or defensively, stood out over the weekend?
Andrew: Zach Jancarski was the ultimate leadoff hitter. It seemed like he was on base just about every at bat. Overall he went 7 for 14, had one walk, was HBP, and reached once on an error: that totals to reaching base 10 out of 16 times. Jancarski swiped three bags, and seemed to be a catalyst for the team. If you include Tuesday’s game against Richmond, his reaching for the home base “pylon” slide was a web gem in itself.
Greg: Marty Costes continues to be the Terps biggest weapon. He hit two home runs vs. Rutgers last weekend to bring his total to six on the season. Even after performing as well as he did as a freshman, the outfielder is continuing to improve in 2017. He’s batting average has improved considerably and he’s doing a better job of being more than just a power hitter in the middle of John Szefc’s lineup. He’s also made a few flash plays in right field this season.
Alex: As a former pitcher, I tend to lean to pitching as the most important asset of a team. If a team has good pitching, they can go far. Such is the case with Maryland over the past several weeks. Brian Shaffer, for me, was the standout star for the weekend. He pitched seven innings of one run ball against Rutgers on Friday, giving him his fourth win on the season. He stifled the Rutgers bats, letting up only five hits in the game overall. His ERA for the season was lowered to 1.70 in the win. If Shaffer doesn’t have the quality start that he has, then Maryland might not have ended the weekend so well on Sunday.
As mentioned up top, Maryland is once again ranked in the top 25, ranked as high as No. 24 on NCAA.com. What influenced the polls to include Maryland in the top 25 again for the first time in over a month?
Andrew: I was pleasantly surprised at the rankings as I thought that the pollsters would wait to see how we fared in a series against a tough opponent on the road, i.e. Nebraska. But Michigan is looking strong, and even though that series was at home, taking it was big. Then the way Maryland destroyed Rutgers, with contributions from just about everybody probably pushed them back into top-25 consideration.
Greg: Maryland was ranked in the Top 25 in all three major college baseball website (D1 Baseball, Baseball America, College Baseball Central). This shift in respect coming from these websites probably stems from the fact the Maryland has gone 18-3 over their last 21 contests. Maintaining that level of play over the course of a month will draw some eyeballs to any team, even though the victories came against lesser opponents. In addition, Maryland had a great series win against what was another Top 25 club in Michigan two weeks ago, so that probably factored into the newfound respect as well. Overall, if the Terps keep winning the games they should in the Big Ten, which is a lot, then Maryland has a chance to maintain a Top 25 caliber ballclub throughout the remainder of the spring.
Alex: Above anything, I would say the series win against Michigan turned some heads, and while the Terps weren’t ranked the week after that, those wins give the team leverage. Then, to sweep Rutgers and allow only three runs in the three-game series showed that the Terps weren’t a fluke against Michigan and that they came to play. It’s a combination of pitching, hitting, fielding, running, and coaching, and all five have gone Maryland’s way, especially their hitting, which I would say is one of the most dangerous in all of college baseball. Hopefully, their recent run of form will continue for the rest of the season so that they will maintain that top-25 ranking.
Going into the weekend series at Nebraska, who is 8-2 at home, what are the keys to success for the Terps if they want to come back to College Park with a series win?
Andrew: Although Pat Hisle performed admirably in Kevin Smith’s absence, the team needs to have the preseason All-American shortstop back playing. Second, from what I’ve seen and heard of Nebraska, they rely heavily on their pitching. Going into the late innings in a hole against the Cornhuskers is almost always a losing proposition. So a key is to jump out to a lead, the larger the better. Finally, the Terrapin pitchers can’t be giving out free passes to Nebraska or throwing wild pitches. Make them earn their runs.
Greg: Like most weekends, the Terps need to get another long outing from their ace Brian Shaffer. The junior right hander has been almost unhittable in 2017 and if he goes deep on Friday night that will save the Terps bullpen for the last two games of the series. I expect these games to be close, this means that John Szefc is going to need the likes of Andrew Miller, Ryan Selmer and Jared Price at full strength so they can lock down wins when the game is on the line. Also, the Terps can’t play as sloppy in the field as they did on Tuesday vs. Richmond. Committing five errors is a recipe to get swept.
Alex: Like what was stated above, having Kevin Smith back for the weekend is crucial because it was clear that the Terps were hurting without him on Tuesday against Richmond. The offense needs to stay the course, but that hasn’t been a concern as of late, considering they’ve scored an average of eight runs a game over their last four games. While the pitching against Richmond was below expectations, the Terps threw out John Murphy and most of their bullpen to conserve their weekend starters, all of whom have been pitching well as of late. Adding on to what Greg said above, the Terps need to tighten up defensively. Committing five errors in a game is not acceptable to beat any opponent, especially a Big Ten opponent. The less errors a team commits, the more beneficial their pitcher will be in terms of not throwing as many pitches.