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Maryland baseball weekend series preview: Iowa and Northwestern

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Maryland will look to carry its momentum from a series sweep on the road in a weekend pod series

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland baseball will head to Iowa City this weekend for a pod series against the Iowa Hawkeyes and Northwestern Wildcats, two opponents the Terps have already faced this season.

Last weekend, the Terps completed their first series sweep of the season over Ohio State to improve to 13-12, the first time they have held a winning record this season. With the successful weekend, Maryland has leapfrogged to 5th place in the Big Ten standings.

Maryland’s offense has been red-hot in recent weeks, crawling to the top of the Big Ten in a number of categories. The Terps rank third in total runs and RBIs and second in total home runs. They are fourth in the conference in slugging percentage and on-base percentage.

The first two games of the weekend will be against Iowa on Friday at 8:05 p.m. and Saturday at 2:05 p.m. Maryland will have a double-header on Saturday facing Northwestern later in the day at 6:05 p.m. The Terps will close out the weekend on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. in the second matchup against the Wildcats.

“It’s the same stuff we always talk about, man, it’s outs after freebies, minimizing big innings, that’s the biggest key,” head coach Rob Vaughn said heading into the weekend.

Iowa (15-10)

Head coach Rick Heller is in his eighth season at the helm in Iowa, turning the Hawkeyes program into a consistent threat in the conference and in college baseball. Heller has led his group to two NCAA regionals and won the first Big Ten conference title in program history in 2017.

This season, Heller’s squad sits in fourth place in the Big Ten after a slow start to the season, just one spot above Maryland. Terp’s head coach Rob Vaughn knows Heller incredibly well and has called him “one of the best baseball coaches in the country.”

Hitters to know

Outfielder Ben Norman has been the most consistent Hawkeye at the plate this season. With a .319 batting average, Norman is leading the team in just about every statistical category, including hits, runs, homers and RBIs. Not only is the redshirt senior a threat at the plate, but when he gets on the bases, Norman is dangerous as well. He has seven stolen bases on as many attempts this season.

“He’s been around, he’s experienced and he punishes fastballs on the inner half of the plate,” Vaughn said.

Redshirt senior infielder Matthew Sosa is another experienced hitter who has led the Hawkeyes offense to success. Sosa is tied for Norman with the most at-bats this season and has recorded 21 hits and 14 runs to go along with 15 RBIs.

Pitchers to know

Left-handed pitcher Cam Baumann has started six games for the Hawkeyes and is 3-2 on the year. He ranks second on the team in strikeouts. Baumann has faced 125 batters on the season and hitters post a .184 batting average against the redshirt junior.

Redshirt junior Trenton Wallace is another go-to ace for Iowa. Wallace is tied for the most starts on the team and is 3-1 on the year. The lefty has allowed just 12 hits on the season and has struck out 52 batters, good for the second-most in the Big Ten. Maryland has improved at striking out at the plate as a unit but will have a tough task ahead against Wallace.

Strength

Depth. The Hawkeyes have a deep roster with guys that can step up as replacement options if players go down. Iowa has 11 batters that have recorded at least 30 at-bats this season. They also have 14 guys who have a hit or an RBI on the year.

Weakness

Overall pitching. While the Hawkeyes have a couple of aces who are capable of putting together terrific starts and a few relievers to rely on, from top-to-bottom, Iowa’s pitching staff is not the strong suit on the team. The starting pitching depth has improved throughout the season but will be put to the test against a hot Maryland lineup.

Northwestern Wildcats (12-12)

Head coach Spencer Allen has turned the Wildcats program into a team to be reckoned with in his sixth season as the lead man. In 2017, Allen took the team to the first Big Ten tournament since 2010 and made a miraculous run to the championship game for the first time since 1984. This season, Allen’s group sits at .500 but remains a threat in a deep and talented conference.

Hitters to know

Junior infielder Shawn Goosenberg is the most dominant hitter on the Wildcats roster, leading the team in slugging percentage and home runs. Goosenberg is second on the team in RBIs, hits and batting average. Maryland’s pitching staff will need to be wary every time Goosenberg steps up to the plate.

Junior Anthony Calarco is another dominant hitter the Wildcats put out. The first baseman leads the team in batting average with a .360 mark and has the most hits and runs on the squad.

Pitchers to know

Left-handed pitcher Quinn Lavelle is 4-1 in five starts and eight appearances for the Wildcats. The senior posts a 4.55 ERA and has allowed 25 hits and 17 runs on 31 innings pitched.

Right-handed pitcher Tyler Uberstine is second on the team in innings pitched and has a 5.03 ERA in seven starts. The redshirt junior leads the team in strikeouts with 34.

Strength

The Wildcats have been able to drive in runs and produce hits all year with a deep roster. They are fifth in the Big Ten in hits and fourth in batting average. Northwestern is also fourth in total at-bats. The back end pitchers on the weekend for Maryland have a tall task ahead to contain Northwestern at the plate.

Weakness

Pitching performance. Northwestern has been inconsistent at the mound this season, with stellar performances followed by mediocre ones. The Wildcats have failed to solidify a reliable pitching staff and lack depth in the bullpen, although it has improved in recent weeks. The Wildcats have given up 137 runs in 210 innings pitched and post the eighth worst ERA in the Big Ten.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland find success on the road? The Terps are back on the road this weekend, where they have struggled to find a groove in ballparks away from College Park. While the Terps are 8-3 at home, they are just 5-9 away or in neutral locations. Maryland is playing much better baseball as of late, but that is going to need to carry over away from home as they look to continue to climb up the standings.

“I look at it more as this team growing,” Vaughn said. “We just played some games at home lately that we’re playing better baseball.

2. Will the Terps’ bullpen continue to shine? Coming into this past weekend, Sam Bello and Ryan Ramsey, two of the go-to guys out of the bullpen for Maryland, combined for 33 IP, a 2.45 ERA and five saves. This past weekend, it was Elliot Zoellner who came in to help secure Maryland’s series sweep over the Buckeyes. Maryland becomes a more dangerous team when the relief pitchers are clicking like they have been.

3. Chris Alleyne is electric on the bases. When Maryland’s leadoff batter gets on the bag, every pitcher should be nervous. Alleyne has incredible speed that makes him a threat to steal every at-bat. Alleyne leads the Big Ten in steals with 13 on 15 attempts. Against Ohio State, Alleyne had back-to-back three steal games, the most ever by a Terp in a three-game Big Ten series.

“Our offense is different when he is on the bases and he can change the game in those situations,” Vaughn said.