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Maryland baseball preview: Michigan Wolverines (Part two)

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The Terps look to continue their winning ways as they head to Ann Arbor to face an elite Michigan squad

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Coming off a series sweep over Purdue, Maryland has two pivotal series remaining in the regular season as it attempt to secure an NCAA Tournament bid, its first since 2017. First up this weekend is a three-game series against No. 24 ranked Michigan on the road.

The Terps will have an opportunity to leapfrog Michigan into third place in the Big Ten standings as the Wolverines currently have a half-game advantage over Maryland.

However, both teams have had different paths too near the top of the Big Ten standings since they met in early April.

“The team that wins is going to be the team that can stay in the moment the most,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “That can slow the game down the most, that doesn't press, doesn't let the moment get big and just step in there, operate and be where their feet are.”

The Friday and Saturday matchups begin at 5 p.m. on the Big Ten Network while Sunday's matchup is at 1 p.m. and will air on BTN Plus.

What happened last time

Maryland faced Michigan twice at home in a weekend pod series earlier this season. The Big Ten foes split the two games, with Maryland scoring 17 runs in its win, the team's second-highest run total this season.

In the first game of the two-game set, Maryland fell, 6-5. The Terps got off to an early lead but a four-run third inning from the Wolverines allowed them to take the advantage. Entering the ninth inning, it was a tie game in what was a back and forth affair and shaping up to be an intense finish.

It was Michigan that got the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning to take a one-run advantage. The Terps were unable to climb back in the bottom of the inning, dropping the first game of the two-game series.

The following day, Maryland put on one of its best offensive performances of the season, scoring 17 runs and dominating the Wolverines 17-7. Coming off a loss, Maryland showed out at home against the then-No. 25 team in the country.

All nine of Maryland’s starters reached base and scored at least one run in the contest. Center fielder Chris Alleyne went 4-for-5 with five RBIs and shortstop Benjamin Cowles went 3-for-5 with a team-high four runs scored.

The Terps had a two-run advantage entering the sixth inning, but scored seven runs in the inning to gain a comfortable lead and push the Wolverines to the brink with three innings to go.

Relief pitcher Tyler Blohm was awarded the win, while Sam Bello recorded the save for the Terps.

“We played two great games against them, really good defensive games,” Vaughn said. “When the money’s on the line, who executes? That’s what it’s going to be all about this weekend.”

What happened since

Since that series against Michigan, Maryland has completely turned its season around and have become one of the hottest teams in all of college baseball. The Terps have won five straight series and 14 of their last 16 games, sweeping the likes of Ohio State, Purdue and Minnesota.

Maryland’s high-powered offense has come alive, backed by its strong starting pitching and defense. The Terps rank in the top three in the conference for home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and runs. They are also first in stolen bases.

The trio of Nick Dean, Jason Savacool and Sean Burke has been terrific on the mound for the Terps, allowing Vaughn to let them pitch deep into games.

Michigan has also continued its dominance since the last time its was in College Park. The Wolverines went on a six-game win streak after the loss to Maryland. However, while they remain a worthy opponent, following that six-game win streak, Michigan is just 6-6 in its last 12 games, causing a dip in the Big Ten standings.

Despite that, Michigan picked up a tough series win over second-place Indiana last weekend that propelled them back into the top 25 in D1 Baseball’s latest rankings.

One of the key developments for Michigan has been the breakthrough of left-handed pitcher Steven Hajjar who has turned into a strikeout machine for the Wolverines. The redshirt sophomore is second in the Big Ten in strikeouts with 88 on the year.

The Terps have been much better at reducing punchouts in recent weeks, but will certainly have their hands full when Hajjar is on the mound. He is 4-0 on the year and hitters have a batting average of .209 when facing the lefty.

“When we face a guy like that [Hajjar], I think our main approach is just putting together tough and quality at bats,” senior Randy Bednar said. “And just trusting the guy behind you to get the job done.”

One area the Terps have mightily improved since the last time these two opponents met is their ability to win close games. Maryland started the season 2-6 in games decided by two runs or less, one of those losses coming at the hands of Michigan. However, Maryland has flipped the script and is 5-1 in its last six games decided by two runs or less.

Three things to watch

1. Which team will get the committee's attention as selection Monday approaches? In the latest D1 Baseball NCAA projection field, Maryland received its highest position yet, coming in as a three seed after a series sweep over Purdue this past weekend. This projection has the Terps facing NC State in the first round of regionals.

A few weeks ago, Maryland was not even in the projected field of 64, but with six games to go in the season, the Terps are sitting firmly in the field. A total of four Big Ten teams made the projected cut, with Iowa, currently in fifth place in the conference, on the first five out line. Michigan is one of those four teams and currently sits as a two seed.

“I don't care about the rankings,” Vaughn said. “I don’t care if we’re ranked in the top 25. I don't care about any of that stuff. I want to be in the pool on selection Monday, that's what I do care about.”

2. Will the Terps return key pieces this weekend? Maryland’s depth has come alive this season as it has suffered significant injuries to the team. Senior Randy Bednar was one of the best, if not the best, player on Maryland’s roster entering the season. However, Bednar suffered a leg injury in April and has not played in over a month. Star first baseman Maxwell Costes was also out during the last series against Purdue with a leg injury. Other Terps have stepped up in their absence and continued to propel the team to success. However, the good news for Terp fans is both Costes and Bednar are very close to returning. It is likely Bednar returns to the lineup this weekend, while Costes' status is more uncertain with the team taking it one day at a time.

“I’m just excited to be out there with all my guys and just doing what I can to help the team out on the field,” Bednar said.

3. Will junior Benjamin Cowles solidify his position as Big Ten Player of the Year? Cowles got off to a fast start this season and has not slowed down one bit, setting himself up to take home the Player of the Year award when it is announced in a couple of weeks. Cowles leads the league in home runs by a considerable margin with 16 and has hit one in every series this season. The shortstop is also second in RBIs and slugging percentage in the conference.