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No. 25 Maryland baseball preview: Indiana Hoosiers

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Two Big Ten heavyweights will meet this weekend in College Park for the final series of the regular season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

In the final series of an abbreviated 2021 season, No. 25 Maryland baseball will take on the Indiana Hoosiers in College Park as both teams try to solidify their place in the NCAA Tournament field of 64.

Coming off a series victory at Michigan, the Terps first in program history against the Wolverines, Maryland looks to capture its eighth straight series victory and secure a second-place finish in the Big Ten against Indiana this weekend.

In D1 Baseball’s weekly top 25 rankings, Maryland climbed in to spot No. 25 this week for the first time since 2017. Outfielder Randy Bednar and first baseman Maxwell Costes, two of the Terps' most productive players, returned to the lineup this past weekend after dealing with injuries.

Maryland already had one of the most consistent lineups in the conference but added even more firepower with Bednar and Costes back. Indiana puts a strong pitching staff on the mound that will certainly test the Terps lineup this weekend.

“Regardless of what Indiana’s doing, what their pitching staff and hitters are doing, regardless of that, we need to play our brand of baseball,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “And know that over time, that will win.”

All three matchups between the Terps and Hoosiers will be streamed on BTN Plus. Friday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m., Saturday’s at 2 p.m. and Sunday’s game starts at 12 p.m.

Indiana Hoosiers (25-16)

Head coach Jeff Mercer is in his third season as Indiana’s lead man and has achieved incredible success in his few seasons there. In his first season on the job in 2019, Mercer led his group to a Big Ten regular-season title, the first time a Big Ten head coach has done that in his debut season since John Anderson with Minnesota in 1982. Mercer was also named Big Ten Coach of the Year that season.

This year, Indiana has had another impressive season, currently nine games over .500 and in fourth place in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers got off to a stellar start, but have underperformed in recent outings, allowing them to slip in the conference standings.

Indiana has dropped five of its last six games heading to College Park this weekend. While they have struggled recently, the Hoosiers are capable of getting hot at any moment and will look to do so as it makes its case for an NCAA Tournament bid in the last weekend of the season.

“I think for us, we have to approach this game with a lot of intensity,” Vaughn said. “The last two days of practice are probably the best two days of practice we’ve had all year as far as focus and energy goes.”

Hitters to know

Infielder Cole Barr has been one of the most consistent hitters for Indiana this season. The junior leads the team in slugging percentage, on-base percentage, home runs and RBIs. Anytime Barr steps up to the plate, he is a threat to get on base and drive runners home. He is someone the Terps pitching staff will need to be mindful of this weekend.

Outfielder Grant Richardson is another staple in the Hoosiers order. The sophomore leads the team in hits and is second in RBIs, home runs and total runs scored. He also posts the highest batting average on the team with a .321 mark.

Pitchers to know

Left-handed pitcher Tommy Sommer has been one of Indiana’s weekend starters all season. Sommer has had an up and down year but is certainly capable of pitching gems. The junior is 5-4 on the season and has 69 punchouts. However, the lefty has struggled in his last two outings, failing to make it past the third inning in either while giving up at least five runs in each.

Right-handed pitcher McCade Brown is Indiana’s most dangerous pitcher. The sophomore is a strikeout machine, totaling 92 punchouts on the season, good for fourth-most in the Big Ten. Brown is 5-3 on the year with a 3.26 ERA. Batters are hitting an average of just .166 against Brown this season. The Terps will have a tough task producing runs when Brown is on the mound this weekend.

Strengths

Starting pitching. The Hoosiers have a multitude of starters who are capable of going deep into games. While the bats have sometimes been inconsistent for Indiana this season, the pitching staff has been instrumental to Indiana’s successful 2021 campaign. The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in ERA and total strikeouts. They have also allowed the fewest number of hits and runs to opponents this season in the conference. Indiana has allowed only 281 hits this year. Nebraska, the next lowest team in hits allowed, has given up 312 hits.

“They’ve got one of the best pitching staffs in the country,” Vaughn said. “Those guys can really, really pitch.”

Weakness

Inconsistent hitting. Indiana is capable of stringing together strong at-bats, but its lack of prowess at the plate has contributed to the team's recent struggles. Indiana averaged two runs per game in its last six contests. The Hoosiers rank ninth in the Big Ten in batting average, eighth in slugging percentage and seventh in on-base percentage.

Three things to watch

1. Where will Maryland land in the Big Ten standings? The Terps currently sit in the second spot in the Big Ten standings with a slight advantage. Nebraska is in first place and has already locked up the regular-season title, but how the rest of the standings shake-up will come down to this weekend. Maryland and Michigan have the same record (Maryland gets the nod because they won the season series 3-2) and Indiana is just a half-game back. With a productive weekend, the Terps can secure second place in the conference. Second place would be the team's highest standing since coach Vaughn took over in 2017.

2. What will freshman Matt Shaw look like this weekend? The youngest starter for Maryland has been phenomenal for the Terps all season, but particularly in the second half of the season. Shaw has a batting average of over .400 in the second half of the season while batting second in the lineup for much of that span. He also has been a hallmark of the Terps defense holding it down at second base. Earlier this week, Shaw was awarded Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the first time this season.

3. Can Maryland stay hot as it heads into the postseason? Maryland has undoubtedly been one of the hottest teams in all of college baseball over the last month. No team in the power five has won more games in the last 19 than the Terps, who have won 16 of its last 19. With one final series to go, the Terps will do everything they can to ensure their position in the playoff picture remains.

“We want to finish this season off strong,” Vaughn said. “We want to leave nothing in the hands of the committee that can leave us out of something.”