By Dan Servodidio
The Terps (22-7, 6-2 Big Ten) swept No. 18 conference-rival Nebraska over the weekend to put them in the top tier of the Big Ten. Here’s some key takeaways from the three home wins:
1. Terps pass their B1G test
Nebraska came to College Park as the toughest opponent coach John Szefc’s squad has faced all year as the Cornhuskers (23-10, 3-3) were the first nationally ranked team the Terps have played so far. Although they’ve had a few tough series with other conference foes, including two losses at Michigan last weekend, Nebraska presented the type of challenge that Maryland must get used to if they want to contend for a conference title.
“We prepare the same regardless of the opposing team,” said third baseman Jose Cuas, who had five hits over the weekend in addition to a walk-off ground ball error in Sunday’s 6-5 win. “We’re ready for everything that comes towards us.”
Their sweep of the Cornhuskers, a team that had won 15 of 16 entering the weekend, proved to the rest of the conference (if they didn’t realize already) that the Terps are for real. Their potent offense scored 22 runs on 31 hits over three games against a Nebraska pitching staff that came to College Park as the Big Ten’s top pitching staff and defense.
“We had a really good approach,” catcher Kevin Martir said after Saturday’s two doubleheader wins. “We were just basically hunting the fastball away and just going with it and taking aggressive swings that way as well.”
2. Terps show their fight with come-from-behind win
After taking both games in Saturday’s doubleheader with Nebraska, the Terps faced a deficit early in Sunday’s series finale. Maryland’s usual closer Kevin Mooney started the game to get in some extra work off the mound and promptly got roughed-up, allowing five runs over three innings. Yet the Terps’ feisty offense stayed patient and slowly chipped away at the Cornhuskers’ lead.
One run each in innings 3, 4, and 5 set the table for a game-tying Kevin Smith two-run homer in the seventh. All of a sudden, the Terps had come back from five runs down – the third time they’ve done so this season.
The final piece to the puzzle was a walk-off of some kind that came with Cuas’ dribbler to shortstop in the bottom of the ninth. The ground ball could have set up an inning-ending double play, but a poor throw to first allowed Smith to score from third on the error.
“We came through like we believed we would,” the freshman Smith said of his team’s comeback win. “At this level, I think everyone can do that, that’s why you’re here. You gotta have a lot of confidence and our coaches put a lot of confidence in us.”
3. Shawaryn and Lowe stay hot
Sophomores Mike Shawaryn and Brandon Lowe have both been consistently good this season. Shawaryn continues to dominate as the Terps’ ace struck out six over seven innings of three-run ball to seal a win on Saturday. His 60 strikeouts and seven wins lead the Big Ten, while his 2.00 ERA and .192 opposing batting average are top-ten conference numbers.
Lowe, on the other hand, has been the anchor for Maryland’s fierce offense all year long from the leadoff spot in the batting order. In Saturday’s doubleheader, the second baseman went 5 for 8 with four runs scored and three RBI, including a home run. Lowe has stayed hot all season as he leads the conference in hits (43), runs scored (38), home runs (7), total bases (77), on-base percentage (.490), slugging percentage (.681), and is second in batting average (.381).
These two young leaders have continued exactly where they left off a year ago as national Freshmen All-
Americans. This season, though, Lowe and Shawaryn may be battling for Big Ten Player of the Year honors come June.