Coming off of an impressive 3-1 weekend against Northwestern and No. 25 Michigan, Maryland baseball looks to continue their solid play against conference-leading Nebraska in Lincoln.
At 9-10, the Terps sit in the middle of the pack in a vaunted Big Ten after winning four of their last five games. Maryland’s lineup is still its strongest asset, producing 34 runs over last weekend’s four game set against quality competition. Shortstop Benjamin Cowles and a resurgent right fielder Randy Bednar have led the charge on Maryland’s offensive front.
Head coach Rob Vaughn’s bullpen has turned a corner, becoming a trustworthy and formidable option late in games. Freshman pitcher Jason Savacool has been most impressive out of the starting rotation, but broke his streak of outstanding starts on Monday. Right handers Sean Burke and Nick Dean will take the ball for the Terps on Friday and Saturday, respectively, before Savacool toes the rubber in Sunday’s matinee.
“Baseball is a game that giveth and taketh away. We don’t know what the outcome will be on Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Junior first baseman Maxwell Costes said. “If we keep attacking the game with the same spirit, energy and focus, more often than not we’re going to end up on the right side of things.”
Friday’s opener starts at 7:30 pm and Saturday’s game will begin at 3 pm. First pitch of Sunday’s finale is at 1 pm. All games can be streamed on BTN Plus.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-5)
Head coach Will Bolt is only in his first full season with Nebraska, but the Husker skipper has his squad playing about as well as anyone in the league. The team has won eight of their last nine, including a four game sweep of Minnesota, and they are second in the conference in team batting average (.287), home runs (30) and slugging percentage (.478). A former Husker baseball captain himself, Bolt has more than enough division I coaching experience to keep Nebraska atop the standings for good.
“Will Bolt is a really good baseball coach. Him and I are kind of brought up in the same family tree a little bit [in terms of coaches that mentored them],” Vaughn said. “Dude’s a good baseball guy and knows how to win. You’re not going to play a Nebraska team that’s not tough.”
Pitchers to know
Junior left hander Cade Povich is Bolt’s game one starter and Nebraska’s most impressive workhorse thus far. Povich’s 3.95 ERA doesn’t jump off the page, but he’s pitched much better of late, surrendering just three earned runs over his last 12.1 innings of work. With a 5.14 strikeout to walk ratio, Povich will command the strike zone and create some uncomfortable at bats for the Terps.
Junior right hander Spencer Schwellenbach is coach Bolt’s strongest option in the back end of the bullpen. The Husker closer has yet to surrender an earned run over seven innings of work, striking out 11 and walking zero opposing batters en route to a fantastic start to the season. Expect to see Schwellenbach if Nebraska holds a lead in the eighth or ninth innings.
Junior lefty Jake Bunz is another strong option in the Nebraska bullpen. The 6-foot-5 southpaw owns a 1.93 ERA, but hasn’t allowed an earned run since his appearance against Iowa on March 14th. Bunz isn’t afraid of pitching to contact, but strikes out roughly a batter per inning and is a tough opponent for opposing lineups late in games.
Hitters to know
Senior infielder Jaxon Hallmark is the biggest all-around threat in the Nebraska lineup. His .382 batting average leads his team and is seventh in the conference, and he has shown the ability to hit for power with his three long balls so far. With a team-best seven stolen bases, Hallmark will be a force at the top of the lineup and an even bigger problem on the base-paths.
“Nebraska’s going to thrive on creating chaos,” Vaughn said. “They bunt a ton and Jaxon Hallmark absolutely flies, so he tries to create things.”
Junior infielder Cam Chick has been a dangerous power threat throughout this season. He leads the Huskers in home runs (6), RBI (21) and slugging percentage (.667). Unlike other power hitters, Chick is also hitting for average (.298) and has hit safely in eight of his last nine games. Maryland’s pitching staff will have their hands full with Chick, especially with the way he’s hit over the last three weeks.
Freshman infielder Max Anderson is another well rounded bat in the Nebraska lineup. He leads his squad in total bases (41) and shares the team lead in hits with Hallmark (26). A .366 hitter with three home runs and six extra base hits in total, Anderson is yet another dangerous hitter that should do damage near the top of the Husker batting order.
Offense. Nebraska’s offense ranks in the top three of just about every major statistical category in the conference, and lead the league in runs (139) and RBI (121). Their lineup boasts nine hitters currently hitting over .250, and all nine have extra base hits on the year. The Huskers have an offensive attack that is coming into this weekend red hot, and will be a serious problem for Maryland pitchers.
“Nebraska has some bangers, and they like to bunt. They just like to move runners around like we do. I think it’s pretty difficult to play against,” freshman catcher Luke Shliger said.
Starting pitching. The back end of the Huskers’ bullpen has been lights out thus far, but their starting pitching has been markedly less impressive this season. Only one pitcher with more than ten innings pitched (Jake Bunz) has a sub 3.00 ERA, and Povich’s sub 4.00 ERA is the best out of all starters by a fairly significant margin. The Huskers will have their hands full with the most powerful offense they’ve played against all season, as the Terps have quietly claimed conference-top three rankings in RBI (118), slugging (.445) and home runs (26).
Three things to watch
1. Maxwell Costes continues to hit well after returning from an injury. Maryland’s first baseman hit safely in every game of last weekend’s four game set, going 8-16 with nine RBI against quality opponents. He’s brought his season average up to .310 and dramatically changes the makeup of Maryland’s lineup, proving protection for the hitters around him in the lineup. Costes only has one extra base hit on the season so far; expect that stat to change this weekend in Lincoln.
“When Max is confident, he’s super decisive,” Vaughn said. “His hands are absolute lightning. Schwellenbach this weekend has some thunder in his right arm, but there aren’t too many fastballs that can beat Max ... I’m happy with how he’s progressing. Everyday his wrist feels better and better and I think we’re going to see the best version of Max down the stretch.
2. The top of Maryland’s lineup is hitting its stride. Integral veteran and leadoff hitter Chris Alleyne broke out with a huge 4-5 day on Monday against No. 25 Michigan, and is starting to look like himself again at the top of the order. Right fielder and two hitter Randy Bednar, another important senior on this Terps squad, has hit safely in 16 of 19 games this season and recorded two multi–hit games against the Wolverines in the back end of last weekend’s series. The Terps will go wherever the top of their lineup takes them, and that lineup is starting to put it all together in the middle portion of this year’s 44-game schedule.
We’ve just got to continue playing with confidence, and I think it’s really important if we can get out and get a lead we can make the game spin a little bit,” Vaughn said. “We’ve done a great job coming from behind, which is awesome, but I want to play from the front. I think that’s when you can really see our offense at work.”
3. Maryland’s bullpen has been lights out of late. Sophomore lefty Ryan Ramsey and sophomore righty Sam Bello have shored up the back end of Maryland’s bullpen, but gutsy performances from junior righty Sean Heine and lefty grad student Tyler Blohm showed how deep this Maryland staff can be when it pitches to its potential. While Blohm and Heine’s ERAs are still bloated from rough outings early in the season, expect them to repeat last weekend’s performances this weekend against the Huskers.