Series Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions

Maryland will face Penn State in College Park this weekend, hoping to bounce back after last weekend’s Big Ten series loss to Nebraska. The Terrapins split their two midweek games, beating West Virginia at home Tuesday before losing to George Mason on Wednesday.

Maryland (21-11, 6-3 Big Ten) has lost three of its last five games, and will look to get back on track this weekend at home, where the team boasts a 12-1 record. In the Terps latest home win — against West Virginia — they rallied back from an early deficit, scoring five runs in the seventh inning and hanging on in the ninth, 7-6. Wednesday, George Mason jumped out to an 7-0 lead after two innings. Maryland crawled back and loaded the bases  down by three runs with one out in the ninth, but couldn’t complete another big rally.

Kevin Smith returned to the Maryland lineup Wednesday as the designated hitter after a seven-game absence. The junior went 1-for-4 with a solo home run, his seventh of the year. Brandon Gum, Zach Jancarski and Marty Costes each posted a multi-hit game at George Mason, and now are each hitting over .300 for the season.

Penn State (11-20, 1-5 Big Ten) comes to College Park with just a 4-15 record on the road. The Nittany Lions have lost seven of their last nine games, including series losses to Ohio State and Michigan, the latter of which Maryland beat twice earlier this season. Penn State hits just .227 as a team and has scored just 137 runs this season, ranking last in the Big Ten in both categories. However, the Nittany Lions do get an offensive spark from Jordan Bowersox, who usually is penciled into the lead off or No. 2 spot in their lineup. The sophomore outfielder is best on the team in hits (40), batting average (.331), walks (14) and stolen bases (8). He is helped by Willie Burger, who leads Penn State with four homers and 22 RBIs to go with his .290 batting average.

Penn State’s Achilles’ heel this season has been its pitching, as its 5.58 ERA ranks ninth in the Big Ten. Colin Macon owns the lowest ERA on the team at 3.86, but the junior left-hander has made just two appearances this season totaling 2.1 innings. The Nittany Lions pitches have spread innings around the team, as seven different players have pitched at least 20 innings this season. Schuyler Bates has been the most versatile Penn State pitcher on the year, making three starts and 11 total appearances, racking up 26.1 innings pitched, a 4.10 ERA and a .211 opponent’s average.

Maryland and Penn State faced each other last year in University Park, where the Terrapins took the series, two games to one. Maryland only allowed six runs the entire series. Outfielder Madison Nickens led the team offensively, collecting four hits and three RBIs during the weekend in Happy Valley.

Starting Pitching Matchup

FRI 6:30 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Brian Shaffer (4-2, 1.94 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Sal Biasi (4-3, 4.15 ERA)

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Per usual, Maryland will send right-handed ace Brian Shaffer to the mound Friday night looking to start the series off with the win. Shaffer has held opposing hitters to a mere .202 batting average in 55.2 innings. Last Friday against Nebraska, the junior tossed eight innings of three-run ball, allowing eight hits and recording four strikeouts. Maryland’s offense, however, only generated one run for the starter, putting him on the hook for the tough-luck loss. At Penn State last year, Shaffer picked up a win after allowing two runs (one earned) over seven innings.

Penn State will counter Maryland’s Friday ace with their own: junior Sal Biasi.  The right-hander earned a win against the Terps a year ago, tossing 5.2 shutout innings. Biasi’s numbers are deceiving this season – his high ERA suggests hitters have a bit of success against him, but he has held hitters to a low .169 batting average and has struck out 59 hitters in just 39 innings this season.

Starting Pitching Matchup

SAT 2:00 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Taylor Bloom (3-2, 4.93 ERA) vs. So. RHP Justin Hagenman (1-5, 4.53 ERA)

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Taylor Bloom will take the hill for Maryland Saturday after two short starts last week: 1.1 innings at Nebraska Saturday and 2.1 frames against West Virginia Tuesday. Bloom has been hit hard this season, allowing 47 hits and a .313 average in 38.1 innings, but will look to return to his 2016 form against a team that he dominated a year ago. The right-hander was handed a tough-luck loss at Penn State last year after throwing an 85-pitch complete game, allowing just two runs.

Sophomore Justin Hagenman will take the mound for the Nittany Lions Saturday. In his last start, the right-hander allowed just one run through eight innings against Ohio State, and waswas set up to receive the win before the Buckeyes scored four runs in the ninth to steal away a victory.  Hagenman is an innings-eater, averaging six innings per start and leading the team with 47.2 innings pitched.As a freshman, he allowed four runs (two earned) in six innings against the Terrapins last season.

Starting Pitching Matchup

SUN 1:00 p.m. EST

FR. LHP Tyler Blohm (5-3, 2.79 ERA) vs. TBA

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Freshman southpaw Tyler Blohm has shined in his first year, holding hitters to a .200 batting average, and his 2.79 ERA is second among starters to Brian Shaffer. In Blohm’s last start in a loss to Nebraska, Blohm pitched 4.2 innings, giving up three earned runs on six hits with three strikeouts and a pair of walks. Blohm records almost a strikeout per inning this season, striking out 36 batters in 38.2 innings. The southpaw lost his last home start to earlier this season against Michigan, so he’ll look to return to form in College Park against the struggling Nittany Lions.

Penn State has not yet announced a starter for Sunday.