By Ben Harris
Returning home to the friendly confines of College Park’s Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, Maryland (1-2) will play host to a winless Rhode Island (0-3) club this weekend.
After five straight seasons of top-three finishes in the Atlantic 10 from 2009-2013, an uninspiring 13-40 campaign signaled the end of the line for Rhode Island’s all-time winningest head coach Jim Foster.
In 2015, after two years as Foster’s top assistant and recruiting coordinator, Raphael Cerrato was named interim head coach heading into 2015. Despite being picked to finish 11 out of 13 in the conference preseason coaches poll, Rhode Island finished third in the A-10, losing in the conference tournament finals. Cerrato was rewarded with the removal of his interim tag and A-10 Coach of the Year honors to boot.
Cerrato’s club returns 12 pitchers and six positional starters, including its top four hitters, two best weekend starters and senior experience out of the bullpen.
Young offensive centerpiece Chris Hess – a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American and A-10 First Team and All-Rookie selections a year ago – returns after a breakout redshirt freshman season. He led the team in runs (34), hits (59), batting average (.326), slugging percentage (.481), total bases (87) and multi-hit games (17).
The second baseman’s 12-game hitting streak to end 2015 was snapped in this year’s season opener against Florida State. However, his on base streak dating back to last season is alive and well at 20 games.
Other notable offensive starters include switch-hitting designated hitter Martin Figeuroa, senior corner outfielder Ryan Olmo and sophomore center fielder Jordan Powell.
Rhode Island’s relief corps is headlined by senior Brad Applin and Taso Stathopoulos, both of whom logged three saves in 2015. The pair combined to throw 50.1 innings with 3.93 ERA.
Rhode Island was thoroughly shellacked in their season opening series against Florida State, outscored 50-6 in a three game sweep against the 14th ranked Seminoles. Their team ERA currently sits at 16.12 after allowing 42 earned runs and hitting 11 batters. Both are conference highs after one series of play. Florida State hit .413 for the weekend.
Maryland looks to benefit from some home cooking as they take to a freshly turfed Shipley Field for the first time this season. Maryland was only out-hit 20-24 in Alabama but struggled to produce runs. The Terps left 18 men on base in the series with their lone win the result of a three-homer six-run inning in Game 2. To sustain their success of the past two seasons, the Terps must improve their situational hitting and rely less on the long ball. Producing runs in bunches is a useful weapon for this young team, but timely hitting will serve them more consistently in the long run.
Nick Cieri, one of four returning defensive starters, leads Maryland after hitting at a .400 clip in the season’s opening series. Freshman Nick Dunn is the only other three-game starter with a batting average over .300 (.308). He sparked the Terps six-run fourth inning on Saturday, singling and scoring on Cieri’s two-run blast. Sophomore Zach Jancarski went 2-6 in two starts with an RBI and a run scored.
Despite a fair performance from Mike Shawaryn on Friday (five innings pitched, three hits, two runs and eight strikeouts), Maryland dropped their season opener 3-1. To begin 2015, the Terps went 10-1 in Shawaryn’s first 11 starts – he wasn’t pegged with a loss until May 1, two-and-a-half months and 46 games into the season.
STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS
FRI AT 1:00 PM
Steve Moyers (0-1, 9.00 ERA) vs. Mike Shawaryn (0-1, 3.60 ERA)
Despite striking out eight batters in five innings of work in his season debut, the athletically-bespectacled junior looks to bounce back after an uncharacteristic loss. Steve Moyers – a weekend mainstay of Rhode Island’s rotation for his entire career – will enter College Park this weekend with 221.1 career innings pitched, sporting a 2.77 career ERA and averaging 7.24 strikeouts per nine innings.
SAT AT 2:00 PM
Tyler Wilson (0-1, 12.60 ERA) vs. Taylor Bloom (1-0, 5.40 ERA)
While only a sophomore, Tyler Wilson is Rhode Island’s star hurler. The lefty earned Freshman All-American honors from both Perfect Game and Louisville Slugger last season in addition to A-10 First Team honors. After leading all A-10 starters in ERA (2.16), opponent batting average (.184), hits per nine innings (5.47), and WHIP (.096), Wilson added A-10 Rookie and Pitcher of the Year awards to his ever-growing list of accolades. This season, both D1Baseball and Baseball America projected him to repeat as the A-10’s top pitcher. Rhode Island’s ace will square off against fellow sophomore Taylor Bloom, the Terps lone starter to earn a win in their opening series. Aided by Maryland’s propensity for the long ball Saturday, Bloom got his first win of this young season after five innings of three-run ball.
SUN AT 1:00 PM
Ben Wessel (0-1, 24.30 ERA) vs. Brian Shaffer (0-1, 3.60 ERA)
The series finale will feature redshirt junior Ben Wessell getting the nod for Rhode Island, and Brian Shaffer toeing the slab for the Terps. Wessel was unimpressive in five starts last year with only a 2-3 record and 6.35 ERA to show for his efforts. He did display good command however, striking out 24 and walking just four in 34 innings on the bump. Despite taking the loss last Sunday, Shaffer – now solidified in his weekend role – allowed just two hits in his debut. Alabama, the Terps antithesis in the series, turned those two hits into two runs aided by small ball and opportunistic hitting.