In a season that had plenty of ups and downs, Maryland baseball is dancing for the third time in four years. The Terps will stay relatively close to home as the No. 3 seed in the Winston-Salem Regional.
The other teams in that bracket include No. 1 seed and host, former ACC foe Wake Forest; No. 2 seed West Virginia; and No. 4 seed UMBC. Earlier this year the Terps defeated West Virginia 7-6 and UMBC 6-2 in midweek games at The Bob. Maryland did not face Wake Forest this year.
The Regional format is double elimination, meaning that teams will play anywhere from two to five games. The straightest path is for a team to win three consecutive games, then they’re off to the Super Regional round. A team could lose one game and still become the Regional’s winner, but they would end up playing four or five games in this round.
The Winston-Salem Regional is one of the most competitive. The top three seeds all have a legitimate shot at moving on, and there is no national seed. Maryland’s path is more manageable compared to that of Nebraska, who’s headed all the way to Corvallis to play in the bracket hosted by the No. 1 team in the country, Oregon State. Or consider Michigan’s plight, having to travel to Chapel Hill to play in a Regional with the overall No. 2 national seed North Carolina. Maryland doesn’t have to fly to Winston-Salem, meaning the Terps get more time to practice and strategize.
Here’s a rundown on the opposing teams in the regional.
Wake Forest (39-18, RPI No. 15)
Ranked No. 14 nationally by D1Baseball, the Demon Deacons put together an impressive year. They finished 19-11 in the ACC, good for second place behind Louisville in the Atlantic Division, the better of the ACC’s two divisions. The Demon Deacons took eight out of 10 conference series, and swept a home-and-home duo of games against Coastal Carolina, last year’s NCAA national champions.
David F. Crouch Ballpark plays similarly to The Bob, which might help explain the Demon Deacons’ penchant for going yard. The Demon Deacons rank No. 2 nationally with 96 home runs. There are a number of heavy hitters in Wake Forest’s lineup, including junior center fielder Stuart Fairchild (rated No. 61 draft prospect by D1Baseball; .353 average, 15 home runs), another potential pro in junior first baseman Gavin Sheets (son of former Baltimore Orioles player Larry Sheets, and attended Gilman School in Baltimore; .319, 20 homers, 79 RBI), and sophomore third baseman Johnny Aiello (.326, 18 homers). As a team, Wake Forest is hitting .308.
In terms of pitching, it will be interesting to see how Wake Forest plays it. Their Friday starter is senior right-hander Parker Dunshee (9-1, 4.26 ERA, 98 strikeouts in 88.2 innings). Perhaps Dunshee will be held out until the team’s second game, as senior righty Connor Johnstone (7-0, 3.46 ERA) is more than capable of hurling a strong game.
West Virginia (34-24, RPI No. 19)
The Mountaineers seem like an annual fixture on Maryland’s schedule, and the two teams play each other close. This year, the Mountaineers visited The Bob on April 11 and had a 4-0 lead after five innings, but the Terps eventually rallied to defeat the Mountaineers 7-6.
West Virginia finished tied for fourth in the Big 12, which was the strongest conference in the nation in terms of RPI. The Mountaineers are similar to Maryland in terms of batting average, power numbers, and running the base paths. Junior outfielder Kyle Davis, junior catcher Ivan Gonzales, and senior first baseman Jackson Cramer are hitters to watch out for. Pitching is a bit of a problem, and a number of starters have seen action on weekends. It’s TBD who will start against the Terps. What’s not equivocal is that Maryland will face a right-hander, as there are no southpaws on the team.
UMBC (23-23, RPI No. 153)
Located up the road in Catonsville, Maryland, UMBC won the America East championship game 2-1 over Maine to get an automatic bid. This is a team that had to win their conference tournament to advance, much like Iowa. The Retrievers actually had a slight down year, finishing at .500 primarily due to a poor pitching staff. Maryland beat them during the regular season, as the Terps pulled out a 6-2 win on May 9.
They certainly have some hitters, like senior catcher Hunter Dolshun (.333 average, 9 homers) and senior outfielder Andrew Casali (.332 average, 32 runs scored). These two batters had half of the six hits the Retrievers were able to muster against Maryland in May. UMBC’s weakest link is their pitching staff, which managed just a 5.63 ERA against fairly weak competition. The NCAA Tournament appearance is the school’s third in Division I, and the first since 2001.