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Maryland baseball preview: Minnesota Gophers

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Maryland looks to continue its hot play as last-place Minnesota comes to town

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland baseball is starting to heat up in hopes of a late push for an NCAA tournament bid. With under a month left in the regular season, the Terps sit at 16-13 and are fifth in the Big Ten.

Maryland is coming off a 3-1 weekend where they faced Northwestern and Iowa in a weekend pod series and have won six of their last seven contests. This weekend, a struggling Minnesota team will travel to College Park for a three-game series. The Gophers are dead last in the Big Ten and have won just four games all season.

With no Big Ten tournament this season, the Terps have five more series to prove themselves worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid.

“We’re playing really good baseball and we’re taking it kind of as a one day at a time approach,” senior third baseman Tommy Gardiner said. “Just win each day, go 1-0 because we can’t go looking ahead, we can’t look behind us. All we have is today.”

All three games will air on BTN Plus with Friday’s starting at 6:30 p.m., Saturday’s at 2 p.m. and Sunday’s at 12 p.m.

Minnesota Gophers (4-23)

Head coach John Anderson is a staple in Division I baseball and has been the headman for Minnesota since 1981. Forty years later, Anderson has the most victories in the history of the Big Ten conference and second most among active Division I coaches. While Minnesota is having a down year, Anderson is no stranger to winning. He has led the Gophers to 11 Big Ten regular season titles and 10 Big Ten tournament titles. In 2008, Anderson was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Despite the abundance of success Anderson has achieved in his time in Minnesota, this year is not one of those seasons. Minnesota has failed to get going all year, struggling at the plate and on the mound in what is rounding out to be a forgetful season for the Gophers. Minnesota is entering the weekend on a ten-game losing streak.

“They’ve got some dudes in there,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “Like, have they performed at the highest level? Not yet. But man, we don’t want to be the one to jumpstart that.”

Hitters to know

Junior infielder Zack Raabe is a juggernaut at the plate. He’s posting a .379 batting average, which leads the team. While Minnesota has struggled to drive in runs all season, Raabe has been a bright spot for the Gophers and a nightmare for opposing pitchers. Raabe also leads the team in runs and hits.

“He’s turning in a heck of year. He’s a really, really good player and he’s doing a lot of different things for them,” Vaughn said.

Redshirt senior infielder Jack Wassel has loads of experience and is a strong hitter in the Gophers lineup. Wassel leads the team in at-bats and has 25 hits on the year to go along with nine RBIs. Wassel only has two homers on the season but is a threat to get on base anytime he steps into the batter's box.

Pitchers to know

Right-handed pitcher Sam Ireland is one of the go-to guys for Minnesota early in the series. The sophomore has yet to win a game in his seven starts, but he does lead the team in strikeouts with 35. Ireland has given up 17 earned runs and has a 4.10 ERA.

Left-handed pitcher Jack Liffrig is another starter the Terps are sure to face on either Friday or Saturday. The redshirt sophomore leads the team in innings pitched and is 1-3 on the year. Liffrig posts a 4.86 ERA and has thrown 31 strikeouts on the year.

Weakness

Hitting. While there is an abundance of weaknesses throughout this Gophers squad, the most glaring is their inability to produce at the plate. Minnesota ranks dead last in the Big Ten in batting average, runs and hits. They are also last in the conference in RBIs. The Gophers struggle to get on base and drive in runs due to a lackluster offense they have displayed this season.

Strength

It is hard to identify a strength anywhere with Minnesota as it is having a season to forget. The hitting, pitching, fielding and everything in between have been a problem for the Gophers and have led to their horrific record.

“It doesn’t matter who were playing,” Vaughn said. “We’re gonna have to show up and earn and deserve to win. It doesn't matter if you’re playing the 27 yankees or you’re playing the school of whatever, you’ve got to show up and be able to roll it out and play your best baseball.”

Three things to know

1. Maryland was recently projected as first five out. In the latest NCAA Tournament projections from D1 Baseball, Maryland was projected in the first five out marking the first time this season they have appeared there. Maryland had expectations of making the tournament coming into this season but those were tampered with a rough start. Now, Maryland is back in the conversation to earn its first bid to the tournament since 2017.

2. Matt Shaw is becoming a star for the Terps. The freshman phenom has been terrific in his first season for Maryland, especially in recent weeks and has shown he will be a household name in Maryland baseball for years to come. This past weekend in Iowa, Shaw went 8-9 at the plate for a .500 batting average and had seven RBIs. In an offense full of star power, Shaw has stood out in his first year in College Park.

“He's a confident kid,” Vaughn said. “The game just doesn't get too big for him and all he wants to do is win.”

3. The pitching staff has been dominant in recent outings. While Maryland’s unselfish offense has carried the team throughout much of the season, the pitching staff has caught up, allowing the Terps to get hot as they enter the last month of the season. Ace Sean Burke has established himself as not only one of the best pitchers in the Big Ten but all of college baseball. Burke leads the Big Ten in strikeouts with 72. Behind him, Jason Savacool and Nick Dean have emerged as go-to starters later on in the weekend. Maryland has been phenomenal out of the bullpen as well, which includes senior Sean Fisher, who pitched 4.2 innings and had five strikeouts in his last outing.