Maryland baseball finds itself in a familiar position after the conclusion of the regular season: on the inside of the NCAA Tournament bubble. A disappointing last few weeks have shaken the Terps from being solidly in the tournament to still having some work left to do. This week’s Big Ten Tournament affords them that opportunity.
Maryland racks up Big Ten honors
A number of Terrapins were recognized by the Big Ten for their contributions this year. Brian Shaffer was selected as the Pitcher of the Year, which should come as a surprise to no one. The junior righty leads the conference with a microscopic 1.67 ERA and is second in strikeouts. Tyler Blohm received the Freshman of the Year award, with his eight wins tied for first in the conference. With Mike Rescigno out for the season, Maryland will need everything it can get from both of them.
Marty Costes, who led the Terps in average (.336) and RBIs (39) made the conference first team. A.J. Lee was a third team selection at third base. Lee had a breakout year at the plate, batting .323 with seven home runs. Zach Jancarski received a Sportsmanship Award, but was mysteriously left off the all-conference teams, as was Kevin Smith.
Where do the Terps stand in the Big Ten Tournament?
The race for the Big Ten regular season title was a tight one, with the champion not being crowned until the last day of the season. Nebraska claimed that honor — and the No. 1 seed. Meanwhile, the Terps ended up tied with Iowa with a conference record of 15-9, but by virtue of having a better record against common opponents Maryland was given the No. 4 seed. The major benefit of getting the higher seed is that the Terps will be considered the home team in the quarterfinal matchup against the Hawkeyes.
Here’s the full bracket for the Big Ten baseball tournament:
Maryland is grouped with No 1. Nebraska, No. 5 Iowa, and No. 8 Purdue. Since it merges with the other bracket after a few games, Maryland could see just about anyone down the road. What is known is that the Terps will face the Hawkeyes in their first game, and depending on the outcome, either Nebraska or Purdue in Game 2. With the double elimination format, Maryland needs to win four games to take the tournament title.
Iowa has been a thorn in the Terps’ shell their first two seasons in the Big Ten. Iowa came to College Park in 2015 and took two of three from the Maryland and repeated the feat last season in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes also knocked the Terps out of last year’s Big Ten Tournament with a convincing 11-0 win. This year, the two teams did not meet in the regular season.
Iowa had a relatively easy Big Ten schedule this season, not having to play three of the top four seeds in this year’s tournament in Maryland, Michigan, or Minnesota. They have an RPI of 94, and essentially need to win the tournament to get into the NCAAs. RPI is used by the selection committee to rank teams based solely on wins, losses, and strength of schedule. Like golf, lower is better.
Maryland has an RPI of 33 and some impressive wins on its resume. If the Terps can win one game in the Big Ten Tournament they’re probably in the NCAA field. With two wins, it’s almost certain they’re dancing.
The Terps’ task ahead
First, a number of things will need to happen for Maryland to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament. Assuming Zach Jancarski is playing, the Terps need to be opportunistic on the base paths while showing good plate discipline. In the first half of the season, two-out rallies and knocking in runners in scoring position was commonplace. Not so much in recent weeks. Tyler Blohm has struggled of late, and if he can get back in the groove that would be huge. Taylor Bloom has shown signs of his 2016 form recently, and he could play a huge part in the Terps’ success. And of course the bullpen needs to come up large. As they go, so do the Terps.
It would be a mistake to take Iowa lightly.The Hawkeyes are led by Big Ten Player of the Year Jake Adams, a junior college transfer and first baseman who almost won the Big Ten’s Triple Crown with Ruthian-like statistics. He ended the regular season with 24 home runs, 65 RBIs and a .344 batting average, and his .750 slugging percentage was easily best in the conference. He’s backed by All-Big Ten second team outfielder Robert Neustrom, who improved upon last year’s stellar freshman season by finishing with a .326 batting average, eight home runs and 56 RBIs this year.
Their pitching staff is anchored by junior righty and hometown favorite Nick Gallagher, who won eight games for the second year in a row. That, combined with his 2.59 ERA, landed Gallagher on All-Big Ten second team with Neustrom. The series opener will pit Gallagher against the Big Ten’s top pitcher in Shaffer. The game will start at approximately 8:30 pm on Wednesday, televised on BTN and with an audio broadcast on the Maryland Baseball Network.
The Terps aren’t far off from a NCAA Tournament lock, but they’ll need a solid conference tourney to ease some stress on selection day.