By Ben Harris
Fresh off a home-and-home sweep of the VCU Rams, Maryland hosts High Point University this weekend in their final three-game set against a non-conference opponent. This marks the second straight time Maryland will enter their weekend series coming off a midweek victory after beginning the year 0-4 during the week.
The back half of the Terrapin rotation has proven vital to Maryland’s weekend success. Maryland has allowed just 2.75 runs on average in the last eight games started by sophomore righties Taylor Bloom and Brian Shaffer who have been downright devastating on Saturday’s and Sundays. Despite a series loss last weekend in the Big Ten opener in Iowa, the Terps are 4-2 in weekend series with home series wins against Bryant and Rhode Island and road wins in the Keith LeClair Classic and against Cal State Fullerton.
Kevin Biondic – Maryland’s top hitter – looks to extend his six-game hit streak during which the sophomore is hitting .428. Freshman Nick Dunn went 5-9 in the midweek series against VCU with three doubles.
High Point (18-7), currently in the midst of their best start in nearly 40 years, will be tested on the road, their lone area of difficulty this season. While the Panthers are 14-4 at home this season, their road record is a middling 4-3.
The High Point offense trots out five .300 hitters atop their order: Dominic Fazio (.372), Austin Zente (.367), Chris Clare (.353), Carson Jackson (.343), and Hunter Lee (.316). This top-heavy talent fuels the Panthers 89th-ranked run producing offense in the NCAA, and their success has come despite minimal contributions from Josh Greene, the Big South Preseason Player of the Year.
One year removed from posting a .355/.441/.532 slash line and leading his team in hits, homers, and stolen bases, Greene has yet to heat up as High Point nears the season’s halfway mark. His .214 batting average ranks second to last of any Panther to start double-digit games this season.
Clare (ranked 65) and Jackson (ranked 82) both post top 100 nationwide hit totals. Clare’s 36 hits rank ninth in the Big South, while Jackson (35 hits) and Fazio (32 hits) both crack the top 20.
After starting no more than 13 games in any of his first three seasons, Fazio exploded to begin his 2016 senior campaign with multi-hit outings in six of the first 10 games. The senior’s batting average didn’t drop below .500 until High Point’s eleventh game on the year by which point he had already posted 10 RBIs, nine runs and 17 hits. Having reached base in 23 of 25 games this season, his .491 on base percentage is tops on the roster.
The exceptionally consistent Chris Clare leads the team in runs, hits and doubles, holding two double-digit hitting streaks on the year. The junior infielder greeted the 2016 season with a 10-game hit streak, and had another 13-game streak (.381, 11 runs, six extra base hits) snapped Tuesday at North Carolina Central in a 14-1 loss. Clare has hit safely in 23 of High Point’s 25 games this season.
Carson Jackson, named Big South Player of the Week two weeks ago, had his own eight-game hitting streak snapped against NC Central in which he hit .444 and slugged .806. The sophomore posted a double, three triples and two homers over those eight games and leads the Panthers with 12 extra base hits.
Fellow sophomore outfielder Austin Zente was the only Panther to extend his hit streak against NC Central; he’s hitting .393 (.420 OBP) with a base hit in each of his last 16 games. High Point ranks seventh nationally in stolen bases, partially due to Zente’s team-leading 16 bags swiped; that’s more than 62 Division I teams have posted in all of 2016.
STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP
FRI at 4:00 PM
R-Sr. Scot Hoffman (2-2, 5.40 ERA) vs. Jr. Mike Shawaryn (2-2, 3.82 ERA)
After a rough start to the season, Scot Hoffman has rebounded nicely. The Panthers have won his last four starts and the redshirt senior has earned the win in the last two. In his last three starts, Hoffman has posted a 1.57 ERA with 16 punch outs. While Mike Shawaryn tied a season-high with eight strikeouts last Friday, he simultaneously tied a season-worst five earned runs over five innings against Iowa. The unicorn has struck out 31 on the season in 35.1 innings.
STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP
SAT at 2:00 PM
Jr. Andre Scrubb (5-1, 3.44 ERA) vs. Taylor Bloom (3-2, 1.84 ERA)
Junior Andre Scrubb has been anything but his namesake this season, tied for first in the Big South with five wins and second in the conference with 48 strikeouts (1.3 K/inning). After losing his first outing on the year, Scrubb has been the winning pitcher of record in his last five starts during which he’s allowed just four extra base hits (all doubles) with a 1.93 ERA. Taylor Bloom has allowed just one walk/hit per inning pitched over his last three starts, sporting a 1.44 ERA with 13 strikeouts and two walks.
STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP
SUN at 1:00 PM
Fr. Andrew Gottfried (2-2, 3.51 ERA) vs. Brian Shaffer (3-1, 2.39 ERA)
Andrew Gottfried, High Point’s youngest starter, rounds out the rotation. The freshman right-hander hadn’t allowed more than three runs in a start before Saturday when he allowed four earned runs over 3.2 innings in a loss to Winthrop. High Point’s conference-best .247 opponent’s batting average is due in large part to the efforts of Gottfried and Scrubb; the opposition hits .216 combined against the Panthers’ Saturday and Sunday starters. Shaffer backed up his Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week honor with a second consecutive complete game, stealing Game 3 against Iowa and avoiding the series sweep. The sophomore stud’s ERA is a miniscule 0.72 over his last three starts.