By Jacob Weinberger
The Maryland Terrapins (11-12) will play a mid-week home-and-home series with the VCU Rams (16-7). The series begins at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium in College Park, Maryland Tuesday 4 p.m., before heading south to Richmond, Virginia to The Diamond, the home of the Rams, Wednesday afternoon. The two teams met twice last season, with the Rams winning 2-1 in 10 innings at home, and 3-1 in College Park, Maryland.
Maryland is coming off a three-game weekend series against the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City, Iowa. The Terps dropped the first two games, but avoided the sweep with a 4-1 win on Sunday behind sophomore RHP Brian Shaffer’s second consecutive complete game win.
First baseman Kevin Biondic had a strong weekend in Iowa. Biondic went 1-for-3 with a walk in Friday’s 8-1 loss, 1-for-4 with a home run in Saturday’s 4-1 loss, and 2-for-3 in Sunday’s 4-1 win. The sophomore leads the Terps in hitting this season with a .342 batting average and a .444 on-base percentage. He’s currently riding a four-game hitting streak.
The VCU Rams enjoyed one of the best seasons in program history (40-25) in 2015. Although finishing the regular season in fifth place (14-10) in the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Rams won the conference tournament and therefore an automatic bid into the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament. In 2015, the Rams earned their first NCAA Super Regionals appearance after upsetting #1 seed Dallas Baptist in the Regionals.
This season the Rams are 16-7 following a three-game sweep over conference foe St. Bonaventure in Richmond, Virginia. VCU is first in the Atlantic 10 standings in non-conference play (13-7), and tied for first place in conference play (3-0). The club has fared well in close ballgames – the Rams are 7-1 in one-run games, and 12-3 in any game where the difference is three runs or less.
VCU lost two key players to the MLB Draft and graduation this past offseason. Last year, infielder Vimael Machin was the Rams’ best hitter. He batted for a .339 average with 53 RBIs. The Puerto Rico native was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 10th round of the draft. Also absent from the Rams’ 2016 roster is their ace from last season, Jojo Howie. Howie, a southpaw, finished 2015 with an 8-7 record and a 2.77 ERA. The senior also tossed two complete games and one shutout. He shined against the Miami Hurricanes in the NCAA Super Regional, allowing no earned runs on four hits in 6.1 innings pitched.
Other key members of last year’s Rams team return to their lineup this year. Outfielder Jimmy Kerrigan, who was a mainstay in the lineup last season, is batting .394 with a .500 on-base percentage. The junior has started every game and leads the team in hits with 28 (seven more than the next). Also returning to the lineup is Matt Davis. Davis was excellent in 2015, putting up a .323 batting average with seven home runs and 43 RBIs. The shortstop has struggled a bit at the plate and in the field this season, hitting .256 with a .319 on-base-percentage and eight errors. Despite this, he is leading the team in home runs, with three (one more than the next).
The Rams’ weakness in 2016 could be their pitching staff. Through the first 19 games, VCU pitchers sported a 5.26 team ERA, and opponents batted for a .285 average against the staff. However, one bright spot is junior relief pitcher Sam Donko. Donko is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA and seven saves in 11 appearances and 21 innings pitched out of the bullpen.
STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP
TUES AT 4:00 PM
Fr. RHP Jack Alkire (1-0, 6.94 ERA) vs. Jr. LHP Taylor Stiles (1-2, 7.23 ERA)
Stiles hasn’t made it past the fifth inning in either of his two starts this season. In his outing in last week’s win vs. Liberty, the southpaw received a no-decision in 3.1 innings pitched. He surrendered five hits, one walk, and four earned runs. He struck out three batters and hit three batters. Tuesday will be his third start of the season.
Alkire will be making his first career start for the Rams on Tuesday. The freshman has appeared in just two games since March 16. In a loss to Monmouth 13 days ago, the righty allowed two hits, two walks, and four earned runs in 0.2 innings pitched. In last Tuesday’s win vs. Longwood, Alkire yielded four hits and one earned run in one inning of work. He features a fastball, curveball, and change-up. His fastball ranges from 88-91 mph, according to scouts.
STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP
WED AT TBD
Fr. RHP Hunter Parsons (0-0, 13.50 ERA) vs. TBD
Parsons will make his first career start for the Terps on Wednesday. In five appearances out of the bullpen, the freshman has pitched 2.2 innings and has allowed six hits, three walks, and four earned runs. He has struck out four batters and opposing hitting are hitting for a .429 average.