Coming off Maryland’s first ever Big Ten Tournament victory, the Terps had less than 24 hours to prepare for their toughest test of the season—Illinois. The Fighting Illini lead the conference in both batting average and earned run average, a deadly combination, and perhaps most impressively, they come into the game with a 27-game winning streak. Illinois last fell on March 29th at the hands of Michigan State.
In his post-game press conference last night, John Szefc stressed that the key to these tournaments are starting pitching and defense. However, outside of Mike Shawaryn, the Terps have yet to find a reliable strike thrower to begin a ballgame. The Terps have tried ten different arms in the starting rotation, but Shawaryn is the only one who has remained a constant, and the only one with double-digit starts. The sophomore right-hander did his job last night, allowing just one run in seven innings, striking out nine, and picking up his twelfth win of the season. But in order to propel themselves through postseason play, the Terps need at least one more starter to come into his own.
Last night Szefc said that Brian Shaffer would be the probable starter tonight, but that it was not a definite. Shaffer would be the logical choice. After Shawaryn, he has made more starts than any other pitcher, with nine. However, in his last two weeks in the weekend rotation, he’s been decent, at best. Two weeks ago at Ohio State, he gave up five runs, four earned, in five innings. Last week at Northwestern he gave up three earned in five and a third, but did strike out six. These aren’t terrible numbers by any means, but at the same time, the Terps will need him to be better, facing the top team in the conference. On the season the 6-5 freshman is 4-1, with a 5.19 ERA.
With the victory last night, the Terps guaranteed themselves a third game Friday, in this double elimination format. Assuming Shaffer gets the nod today, the Terps may have more questions than answers as to who their third starter will be. If you continue down the list of starts this season, Drossner would follow Shaffer. While Drossner’s ERA isn’t bad, at 4.50, he has struggled with his command throughout the season, issuing a team high 26 walks, in 32 innings of work. (As a point of reference, Shawaryn has allowed 23 free passes in 103.1 innings pitched).
Ryan Selmer started the final game of the regular season, and got the victory over Northwestern, allowing just one earned run through six innings pitched. But that was his only start of the season. The 6-8 redshirt freshman has been dominant out of the bullpen throughout the season posting a 3-0 record and 1.60 ERA on the year. So for Szefc and pitching coach Jim Belanger, the decision will likely come down to throwing a guy with one career start into the fire, or hoping that Drossner can find his stuff from last year’s ACC tournament, in which he earned the start in the tournament final against Georgia Tech.
But the task at hand is Illinois, and redshirt senior Drasen Johnson, who is 9-2 on the year with a 2.34 ERA. The Illini also boast a lineup with six players hitting over .300, led by David Kerian who leads the Big Ten in average (.383), home runs (13), on base percentage (.459), and slugging percentage (.647). Between the dominance on the hill and the batters box, it’s easy to see why Illinois is ranked as high as second in the nation by Collegiate Baseball.
First pitch tonight is at 10 p.m. EST, and Jake Eisenberg will be on the call from Target Field. You can listen to his call right here, and follow @mdbaseballnet on Twitter. Be sure to check back with us after the game for a full recap and a preview of the Terps Friday opponent.