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Maryland baseball weekend preview: Ohio State

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The two teams split the two-game weekend pod series earlier this season.

After a losing weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska, Maryland baseball will return home to take on a familiar opponent this season in Ohio State. Earlier this season, Maryland faced the Buckeyes in a weekend pod series, each taking one game in the two-game series.

Ohio State will come to College Park for a full three-game series coming off of two straight losses last weekend. The Buckeyes sit in fourth place in the Big Ten.

“I hope they look at us and say, ‘man, that ain’t the same team we played three weeks ago,’” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “That’s every coach's goal here like we’re never a finished product but we got to keep improving, keep getting better, keep growing as a group.”

The Terps were playing some quality baseball, winning four of their last five before running into the first place Nebraska Huskers last weekend. Maryland was able to come away with one win on the weekend and move to 10-12 with half of the shortened 44-game season in the books.

The Terps will send out a familiar rotation this weekend with right-hand pitcher Sean Burke starting the series, Nick Dean taking the mound on Saturday, searching for his first win of the season, and Jason Savacool closing out the weekend on Sunday.

Ohio State Buckeyes (13-9)

Head Coach Greg Beals is in his 11th season with Ohio State, posting a 316-247-1 record over that time. Beals ranks third among active Big Ten coaches in Division 1 wins. Under the leadership of Beals, the Buckeyes have captured two Big Ten tournament titles and have made three NCAA Regional appearances in the last five years.

The Buckeyes have had some early success so far this season, and with no Big Ten tournament this season, they will look to make a late push for a coveted NCAA Tournament bid.

Hitters to know

Freshman outfielder Kade Kern has been sensational for the Buckeyes at the plate this season. The team leader in hits posts a .481 slugging percentage and has 18 RBIs on the year, which also leads the squad. Kern’s batting average is .333 22 games into the season, also leading the Buckeyes out of everyone who has more than 10 at-bats.

Infielder Zach Dezenzo leads the team in slugging percentage at .488 while recording 24 hits and 17 runs. Last week, the junior was awarded Big Ten Player of the week. As a freshman, Dezenzo was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team and as a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American. This season, Dezenzo has been red-hot at the plate in his last few outings, including a 4-5 performance in his last game.

Pitchers to know

Right-handed pitcher Garrett Burhenn will take the mound in the opening game of the series for the Buckeyes. The junior from Indianapolis leads the team in innings pitched and has a 2-1 record on the rubber. With a 4.15 ERA, Burhenn has allowed 34 hits and 17 runs in six starts this season.

Lefty Seth Lonsway will be the Buckeyes Saturday starter, while Nick Dean will be on the mound for the Terps. Lonsway leads the team in strikeouts by a large margin with 54 on the year. While the redshirt junior is just 1-4, he remains one of the Buckeyes' strongest pitchers on the roster.

Coach Vaughn said he sees similarities between Lonsway and Carlos Rodon, the major league pitcher who threw a no-hitter on Wednesday night, who the Terps faced back in 2014 when Rodon was at NC State.

“It’s the same guy. I’m telling you it’s so eerily similar,” Vaughn said. “It’s a big fastball, it's a hard slider that you can't hit. Like, you can’t hit it. But it’s also really hard for him to consistently land it.”

Strength

The Bullpen. The Buckeyes have received timely contributions from their relief pitchers, which has led to early-season success. Beyond the usual starters, Ohio State has a hoist of relief options they can choose from to finish games. The Buckeyes have four pitchers who haven't started a game but have appeared in at least eight games this season and eight that have taken the mound in at least four games.

Weakness

Depth in the lineup. Out of six players that have at least 70 at-bats for Ohio State, just one is batting over .300. While the Buckeyes certainly have some strength at the top of the order, they don’t send out as deep of a lineup as some other Big Ten teams the Terps have faced this year.

Three things to know

1. The Terps are officially in the back half of the season. Maryland has 22 games down, and 22 to go in a 44-game shortened season that features only Big Ten opponents. The Terps are currently in ninth place, and with no Big Ten tournament this season, have a ways to go in the latter half of the season to earn an opportunity to compete in postseason play. That will start this weekend at home against the Buckeyes.

“Let’s call it what it is, we are mediocre, we are a tick below .500,” Vaughn said. “But the reality is we need to learn from those things. A lot of those things are very correctable things, a lot of those things are mentality things and a lot of those things are focus things.”

2. Right-handed pitcher Sean Burke has taken time to get going in his starts. Burke came into the season with a ton of expectations after impressive performances in the shortened 2020 season. While Burke has been solid so far this season, striking out 14.9 batters per nine innings pitched, good for third in the Big Ten, he often takes time to settle in during his starts.

In three of Burke’s last five starts, he has given up runs in the opening inning. The Terps have got used to playing from behind, but in order to make a late-season push, they will have to eliminate allowing early runs to opponents.

“There’s just something about the first that's also always kind of tough for teams,” Vaughn said. “What we haven't been great at is being really good behind him in the first.”

3. Benjamin Cowles continues to be tremendous. The junior infielder is in the midst of a breakout season for the Terps as the best hitter on a talented roster. Cowles usually bats sixth in the lineup, providing undeniable production in the middle of the order. The shortstop leads the Big Ten in home runs (10), RBIs (29) and slugging percentage (.813).