By Dan Servodidio
The Terps (17-4, 3-0) swept Minnesota this weekend in their first Big Ten series in school history. Sunday’s 8-3 home win over the Golden Gophers was their tenth in a row as Maryland looks to rise up in the rankings this week. They also beat their new B1G foe twice in a doubleheader Saturday. Maryland’s offense is clicking on all cylinders during the win streak, outscoring Minnesota by 12 runs over three games. In the midst of hype surrounding the school’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, Maryland baseball is making some noise of their own on a national scale. Here’s what we learned about coach John Szefc’s squad this weekend:
1. The offense isn’t cooling off any time soon.
During their ten-game win streak, the Terps are averaging about 10 runs scored per contest. Against Minnesota this weekend, they scored 25 runs with contributions up and down the lineup. Second baseman Brandon Lowe continues to set the table from the leadoff spot, tallying five hits over the series to bring his team-leading batting average to .407 on the season. Ironically, when Lowe went hitless in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, the bottom half of the lineup picked up the slack as rightfielder Anthony Papio and centerfielder Kengo Kawahara both notched three hits from the seventh and ninth spots, respectively.
The Terps can also score runs in bunches – and quickly. During Saturday’s second game, they found themselves down seven runs halfway through the second inning. By the end of the fourth? Maryland was looking up at 10-8 lead after scoring three, two and five runs in consecutive frames.
“That’s the quickest, that I’ve ever been around with, a team that’s erased that big of a deficit,” coach Szefc said on Saturday. “I’ll take it any way you can get it.”
Third baseman Jose Cuas also had a huge weekend from the plate, hitting three home runs over two games on Saturday from the cleanup spot in the lineup. The homers give Cuas five on the season, giving him the team and conference lead, to go along with a team-leading 25 RBI.
2. Mike Shawaryn continues to dominate
The Terps’ ace made a name for himself a year ago by setting the school record with 11 wins as a freshman. Now in his second campaign – this time in the Big Ten – Shawaryn has picked up right where he left off. Through six starts, he’s 5-0 with a 2.27 ERA and a conference-leading 47 strikeouts. On Saturday, the sophomore dominated the Golden Gopher bats in his conference debut, allowing just one unearned run with six strikeouts over eight innings.
“Whenever you’re going to play conference play, teams are going to play up to their best potential and you saw that with Minnesota,” Shawaryn said after his win. “It was fun to get out there and get the first Big Ten game under your belt.”
It was another vintage performance from the spectacled Shawaryn, who is looking to do the same to his new conference as he did with the ACC last year.
3. Outside of Shawaryn, the rotation still has question marks
There’s no question who is the ace on this pitching staff. Apart from Shawaryn, though, Maryland’s five other starters have a combined 5.92 ERA among them. Coach Szefc was spoiled last year with the combination of Shawaryn and workhorse Jake Stinnett. With Stinnett gone to the draft, the Terps are struggling to replace those quality starts with what they have. Junior southpaw Jake Drossner impressed last season with a 2.45 ERA over 12 starts. This time around has seen Drossner struggle. He’s sitting at a 5.59 ERA with just 9.2 innings pitched over three starts, allowing nine hits, six runs and 13 walks in the process.
After Shawaryn, both of Maryland’s starters struggled against Minnesota. Bobby Ruse gave up three runs in four innings before getting pulled while Willie Rios got blasted for seven runs on seven hits in just two innings. Luckily, the Terps have a red-hot offense right now that can save them from poor outings like these. However, soon enough the bats will cool and pitching coach Jim Belanger will have a tough decision to make as to who will be in the weekend rotation with Shawaryn to face conference opponents.
4. Kevin Mooney is back and setting records
The Maryland closer set a school record on Saturday with his 24th save, breaking current Toronto Blue Jay former Terp pitcher Brett Cecil’s career saves record that stood for eight years. Mooney’s 1.2 innings of one-hit ball in relief was the junior’s second save of the season. Due to early season injuries, Mooney was forced to sit and watch as three different Terps relievers split the closing duties in his absence.
“Everyone’s been behind me the whole ride,” Mooney said. “It took two-and-a-half years but it’s always great to pass a guy like Brett Cecil who’s such a successful guy in the big leagues. I’m really honored to be in such an elite category.”
With Mooney back, set-up man Alex Robinson can revert back to his normal role in the bullpen. Both relievers haven’t allowed a run in their 13.2 combined innings thus far in the season. Mooney, who notched 13 saves a year ago, will be a key cog on a shaky pitching staff for the Terps.
“I never would have imagined breaking any saves records, even getting any saves,” said Mooney, who was a starting pitcher in high school before moving to the closer’s role at Maryland. “But now that I have, it’s really been awesome.”
5. Maryland sets the tone in B1G play
There’s nothing like a sweep to begin conference play – especially when you’re the new kid on the block. Maryland began the year as the preseason Big Ten champs as picked by the media. Although Minnesota isn’t a top team in the conference, the Terps sent a message this weekend that they intend to dominate. The ACC, the program’s last conference, had more talent across the board in NC State, UNC, Florida State, Miami and Virginia. This time around, Maryland will have their hands full with new B1G rivals in Indiana and Nebraska – both nationally recognized as some of the best in the conference. A statement like this weekend’s sweep, as well as their current ten-game win streak, shows the rest of the Big Ten that these Terps will contenders for years to come.