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Maryland baseball vs Purdue preview

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The Terps aim to continue their postseason push in a three game set against the Boilermakers

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland baseball will host Purdue (11-21) for a three-game set this weekend in College Park, Maryland.

The Terps continued to play their best baseball of the season in the second half of the year last weekend in Champaign, Illinois, where they took two out of three against the heavy-hitting Fighting Illini.

Pitching continues to be Maryland’s bread and butter. The Terps’ arms gave up just nine runs to an Illinois team that was tops in the Big Ten in essentially every major offensive statistical category entering last weekend’s series. This weekend’s rotation of Nick Dean, Jason Savacool and Sean Burke, respectively, will look to continue that trend against a Purdue team that doesn’t have the same firepower as the Fighting Illini.

Offensively, freshman utility man Matthew Shaw has rounded into form to lead the Terps’ lineup. He’s batting a team-best .336 with 22 RBI and has hit safely in nine of his last 10. Senior catcher Justin Vought is coming off of an impressive three-homer game on Saturday as well.

With the team fully in stride, head coach Rob Vaughn is keeping his squad grounded and focused on one game at a time.

“I had our [former strength and assistant coaches] send me D1baseball’s updated field of 64. And dude, it’s all great, but that field of 64 doesn’t matter until the Monday after our season’s over,” Vaughn said. “It’s great that we’re playing well enough to get into that conversation, but we’re so far from the end goal here ... we control our own destiny.”

Friday’s opener will start at 6:30 pm EST. Saturday’s game will begin at 2 pm, and the first pitch of Sunday’s finale will be at 1 pm. All games can be streamed on BTN Plus.

Purdue Boilermakers (11-21)

Head coach Greg Goff is in just his first full season at the helm for the Boilermakers after being named to the position in June 2019. Despite his relatively short time in the Purdue program, he had been an assistant coach since 2017, Goff is no stranger to coaching at the Division I level. His resume includes successful stints at Alabama, Louisiana Tech, and Campbell.

Described as “high energy” by Vaughn, Goff has been a part of a successful college program that has sent 10 players to the major leagues and had 57 players selected in the MLB Draft. After starting the 2020 season strong, Purdue has seemingly faltered in 2021. The Boilermakers sit second to last in the Big Ten entering this weekend.

Pitchers to know

Junior lefty Calvin Schapira has been Purdue’s most successful starter this year, posting a 4.34 ERA in nine starts with 41 strikeouts. Although Schapira’s numbers don’t stand out as much as those of some other starters around the Big Ten, he’s still capable of turning in solid outings; the veteran has thrown one-run performances against Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan State this season.

Junior right-hander Eric Hildebrand is Purdue’s best option out of the bullpen. He’s given up just six earned runs in 15 innings of work this season, striking out 13 and walking six along the way. He’s incredibly difficult to square up against and gives up one extra-base hit every five innings, on average. Holding opposing hitters to a .274 batting average, expect to see Hildebrand late in games this weekend.

Redshirt sophomore left-hander Jackson Smeltz is another quality arm out of the Boilermaker bullpen that should throw impactful innings this weekend. Opposing batters are hitting just .216 against him, tops on the team out of pitchers that have hit the innings minimum. He’s struggled with his command this season (11 walks to 16 strikeouts) but is still pitching to a 3.68 ERA over 14.2 innings of work. Like Hildebrand, expect Zmeltz to have an impact late in this weekend’s games.

Hitters to know

Senior outfielder Miles Simington is the best pure hitter in the Purdue lineup. He’s batting a league-eighth .339 this season and is reaching base at a .438 clip. He’s stolen four bases in five attempts this year and has tallied 15 extra-base hits in 32 games. An all-around threat, Simington will hit at the top of the Purdue lineup and create serious problems for the Terps this weekend.

Sophomore outfielder Mike Bolton Jr. has only started eleven games this season but has made his presence known in rapid fashion. The youngster is batting .298 on the year and has already swiped a team-best 11 bases, while also sporting a team-best .476 on-base percentage. While Bolton isn’t much of a power threat (four extra-base hits and no home runs), he is a problem on the base paths and will be tough to keep out of scoring position from the top of the lineup.

Senior outfielder Ben Nisle is the biggest power threat in the Purdue lineup. He’s mashed eight long balls this year, slugging a team-best .587 along the way. His seventeen extra-base hits make up about half of his 35 total hits on the season, and he does damage efficiently as well, batting .289 on the year. The Terps are catching Nisle at the wrong time. The veteran has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games and has five home runs along in that span.

Strengths

The ability to play close games. Of the Boilermakers’ 21 losses, 11 have come by four runs or less. While the results haven’t worked out in coach Goff’s favor most of the time, Purdue is still a dangerous team if they’re allowed to hang around late in games. With its dangerous top-of-the-order and solid back end of the bullpen, the Terps will need to create secure leads late in this weekend’s games to ensure a winning series.

Weaknesses

Overall depth. The Boilermakers rank in the bottom three of the Big Ten in team batting average (.245), slugging (.349), runs (148), ERA (6.10), and walks (168). The pitchers and batter’s highlighted above are standouts in an otherwise lackluster lineup and rotation, one that has been beaten up by a vaunted Big Ten this season. Make no mistake, every team in this league can beat the Terps on any given day, but it will take a strong effort from Purdue to come away with a series win this weekend.

Three things to know

1. Injuries will still affect Maryland's lineup this weekend. As right fielder Randy Bednar continues to rehab from an ankle injury, first baseman Maxwell Costes and catcher Luke Shliger have also gone down with injuries of their own. Shliger’s is not believed to be serious, and he could see playing time as soon as this weekend after last weekend’s sudden exit. Costes suffered a similar but slightly less severe injury than Bednar and will miss this weekend. With three impact bats out of the Maryland lineup, continue to look for young players to step up and fill in at-bats for Vaughn’s squad.

2. Maryland’s starting pitching has really picked up pace in the last few series. Sophomore Nick Dean has whittled his season ERA all the way down to 3.07 after four consecutive stellar outings. The most recent of which was an eight-inning, two-run, five-hit performance against the dangerous Fighting Illini. Savacool bounced back last weekend as well, turning in his second straight solid outing with eight-and-a-third innings of three-run ball, which earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. With Maryland’s starters seemingly figuring out their strengths, the unit is starting to become one of the more scary parts of this Terps squad.

“When younger guys step up like that, it's big,” senior shortstop Benjamin Cowles said on Savacool’s performance this season. “Every time he steps out on the mound, we feel like we have a fighting chance.”

3. The Terps sit fourth in the Big Ten. The Terps retained their share of fourth place with Iowa after winning two of three against Illinois last weekend. Maryland is still four games out of first place on the loss side, but now sit two games behind Michigan for third place in the conference. With series against both the Wolverines and first place Indiana in the next, and last, two weeks of the regular season, the Terps have a chance to make a run for a sure-fire playoff spot.

“We’re playing well, but we have to take care of business every day,” senior catcher Justin Vought said. “Obviously [the NCAA Tournament] is our end goal, but if we don’t take care of business on Friday, then none of its going to matter.”