After a rough first series against Michigan State where it escaped with just one win in four games, Maryland baseball will have its home opener this weekend as the Rutgers Scarlet Knights come to town.
Maryland’s starting pitching staff played well enough on the mound, but poor relief pitching and fielding errors derailed the Terps, especially during Saturday’s doubleheader, where they dropped both games.
“We didn’t have the opening weekend we wanted, but I think we learned a lot about our team,” head coach Rob Vaughn said.
Maryland will go with the same pitching rotation this weekend as it did in the opening series. That means ace Sean Burke will take the mound on Friday night. Senior left-hander Sean Fisher, who struggled in his debut, pitching just 3.1 innings, will throw game one of the doubleheader and Connor Staine will pitch in the latter contest on Saturday. Freshman Jason Savacool will close the series on Sunday as he looks for another win in his second career start.
At the plate, the Terps saw improvement as the first series went on and want that to continue as they get set for their first home series in over a year.
“Last weekend, we had those first weekend jitters, but we’ve been here [in College Park] now for the past seven, eight months,” sophomore Matt Orlando said. “So hopefully we got some of the nerves out of the way and can just go and play our game.”
First pitch at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium is scheduled for Friday at 4 p.m. The first game of Saturday’s doubleheader is set for 12 p.m. with game two at 3:30 p.m. Sunday’s final game in the series is scheduled for 1 p.m. All games can be streamed on BTN Plus.
2020 record: 6-9
Head Coach Steve Owens is entering his second season at the helm of the Rutgers program. His first season in 2020 was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the shortened season, Rutgers posted a 6-9 record. Prior to arriving at Rutgers, Owens had 28 years of head coaching experience, including a nine-year stint at Bryant University, where he racked up 327 wins before moving to New Jersey.
Hitters to know
Infielder Danny DiGeorgio is a monster at the plate. He was named to the Big Ten preseason honors list. Last season, DiGeorgio lined up at shortstop and posted a .386 on-base percentage in 15 games. DiGeorgio has gotten off to a hot start in his fifth year campaign, already with three hits, six RBIs and two home runs. The Terps’ pitching staff has a huge task ahead attempting to contain DiGeorgio at the plate.
Outfielder Richie Schiekofer was also named to the Big Ten preseason honors list. Last season, Schiekofer led the Scarlet Knights on offense with 21 hits, 15 runs, five doubles, 34 total bases and 11 RBIs. Through four games this season, Schiekofer has recorded four runs and three hits.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Sweeney impressed in his first four outings to start the season as a newcomer for the Scarlet Knights. To start his collegiate career, Sweeney had an on-base percentage of .316 in the opening weekend. He also had five hits, three runs and had one ball clear the park.
“They’ve got some impressive guys on that team, but we’ve got some impressive guys over here too,” Vaughn said. “We’ve just got to believe in our training and believe where we’re at, and go out and let it fly tomorrow night.”
Pitchers to know
Left handed redshirt junior Harry Rutkowski is the most experienced pitcher on the staff and was named to the All-Big Ten Preseason Honors list. In four outings in 2020, Rutkowski had a 2.74 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Rutkowski has pitched 174.2 innings in his career and recorded 159 strikeouts. In his season debut last Friday, Rutkowski had eight strikeouts and a 1.50 ERA in a win. Before the shortened 2020 season, the lefty was projected to go in the top 10 round of the MLB Draft.
Left handed pitcher Ben Wereski is a graduate student from Columbia who made his debut for the Scarlet Knights last weekend. Wereski got the nod in game one of Rutgers Saturday doubleheader, where he came away with the win and five strikeouts in six innings pitched.
Right handed pitcher Brent Teller also comes in as a graduate student from Sacred Heart. Teller has loads of experience and innings pitched under his belt. Although he struggled in his debut last weekend, only taking the mound for 3.2 innings and allowing three runs, expect to see Teller bounce back against the Terps this weekend.
The Scarlet Knights carry a deep pitching staff. Through the first three games of the season, Rutgers allowed just six runs. In game four, the Scarlet Knights let Minnesota loose at the plate and allowed 13 runs. However, in the three other outings, Rutgers produced from the mound. The Scarlet Knights’ two top guys in Rutkowski and Wereski each went six innings in their starts, allowing just one run. Rutgers had six relievers take the mound, who pitched at least one inning and didn’t allow a run. Rutgers has solid starters and go deep in the bullpen, which could be an advantage against the Terps batters.
Inconsistency at the plate. Rutgers struggled hitting the ball last season, showing inconsistent at bats in a shortened year. While they seem to have improved significantly in the opening series, the Scarlet Knights are still inconsistent at the plate. In the two games against Indiana this past weekend, Rutgers only drove in four runs on six hits. In the two games against Minnesota, Rutgers had 24 base runners cross home plate and recorded 28 hits.
Three things to watch
1. Maryland’s new starting pitchers impressed on the mound in their debuts. Staine, a sophomore from New Jersey, and Savacool, a freshman from New York, both made their starting pitching debuts in Maryland’s opening weekend against Michigan State, and both put on a show. Staine pitched six innings, struck out nine batters and allowed just one run. Despite the loss because of poor relief pitching, Maryland can count on Staine moving forward.
Savacool also showed out in his collegiate debut, pitching a complete game and allowing just two runs to pick up his first career win. Savacool became the first Maryland freshman to pitch an eight or nine inning complete since 2002. Savacool was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week following his stellar outing.
“He kind of does everything well,” freshman Matthew Shaw said. “When he’s on the mound you’re really just not worried that he’s going to mess anything up and you know he’s going to attack hitters early and throw a lot of strikes.”
2. Rutgers offense wasn't great last season, but performed in its opening series. Rutgers batted in 28 runs in its first four games of the season, with 16 coming in one contest. The Scarlet Knights hit eight home runs and three grand slams in their opening series. In 2020, Rutgers struggled to drive in runs at the plate, with Owens saying prior to the season that was something they wanted to improve on. They certainly showed improvement on opening weekend and will look to stay hot at the plate against Maryland’s pitching staff.
3. Freshman are getting called upon in Vaughn’s lineup. Maryland has a couple freshmen who are already seeing significant roles in the lineup, including Shaw and Luke Shliger, who have already taken 15 and eight at-bats, respectively. Shaw has three hits and one run, while Shliger has been a force behind the plate as a catcher. Redshirt freshman James Heffley, also a catcher, saw activity in two games in the opening weekend series.