After dropping the first two games against High Point to extend their season-long losing streak to four games, the Terps rebounded with a 9-2 victory over the Panthers on Sunday afternoon to send them into the Big Ten Tournament on a winning note. Maryland cooled off near the end of the regular season, losing its last four weekend series. However, the Terrapins (34-19, 15-9 Big Ten) led the Big Ten for a good chunk of the season and they split six games with the top two seeds in the Big Ten Tournament (Nebraska and Michigan). This is a team that has the ability to make a deep run in the tournament and it will start that journey in the first round against No. 5 seed Iowa at Bart Kaufman Stadium in Bloomington, Ind, Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.
The Hawkeyes (34-19, 15-9 Big Ten) finished the regular season with the same overall record as the Terps, as well as the same conference mark. The two teams did not meet during the regular season, so some advanced tiebreaker math ruled that Maryland would be the No. 4 seed and the “home” team, while Iowa would be seeded fifth and bat first instead. The practical implication of that ruling is that fans will get to see a matchup between the best pitcher and the best power hitter in the conference within the first three batters of the game. That would be newly minted Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Brian Shaffer (more on him below) and Big Ten Player of the Year Jake Adams, Iowa’s imposing first baseman.
Adams has been the proverbial straw that stirs the drink for the Hawkeyes this season, coming within 19 batting average points of winning the conference’s triple crown. He settled for fourth in the Big Ten with a .344 average, but led the league in home runs (24, a single-season Iowa record and nine more than anyone else in the league), RBI (65, eight more than his closest competitor), and total bases (159, fourth in the nation and a whopping 41 more than anyone else in the Big Ten). The 6-foot-2, 250-pound junior already boasts three multi-homer games this season, including his most recent outing, a two-home run performance against Illinois on Sunday.
Although Adams is an ever-dangerous figure in the heart of Iowa’s lineup, he’s far from a one-man band. Three Hawkeye position players were named to the all-Big Ten Second Team: catcher Tyler Cropley, shortstop Mason McCoy, and outfielder Robert Neustrom. Cropley is an asset both with his bat and behind the plate. He posted a .773 OPS and hit six home runs, while also throwing out 17 of the 27 would-be base-stealers that tested his arm.
McCoy, who usually hits second in the Hawkeye order, hit .329 this season and demonstrated excellent bat-to-ball skills, striking out fewer times than he walked, the only Iowa starter to accomplish that feat. He got on base at a .398 clip and led the team with 16 doubles, while also adding four home runs. His fellow all-conference performer, Neustrom, turned in an identical .329 batting average out of the cleanup spot and ranked fourth in the Big Ten with 114 total bases (one more than Maryland’s leader in that category, Marty Costes). The sophomore outfielder turned in a .886 OPS and provided more-than-capable protection for Adams. A trip through the McCoy-Adams-Neustrom heart of the order will be a test for even as dominant a pitcher as Shaffer.
Iowa’s offense was very good, ranking third in the Big Ten in runs scored and second in home runs, but it’s pitching staff was not nearly as intimidating. Ace Nick Gallagher (more on him below) was a solid Friday starter, but the Hawkeye bullpen includes only one pitcher with an ERA below 3.00. That would be closer Josh Martsching, a 6-foot-2 senior, who worked 34.1 innings and posted a 2.88 ERA with 38 strikeouts. He only allowed more than one earned run once all season, though that came just two weeks ago against Ohio State. Overall, the staff posted middling marks in ERA (4.40) and WHIP (1.57).
Starting Pitching Matchup
WED 8:30 p.m. EST
Jr. RHP Brian Shaffer (7-3, 1.67 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Nick Gallagher (8-1, 2.59 ERA)
Shaffer was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year on Tuesday, and it was well-deserved, as he led the league in ERA, WHIP (0.91) and innings pitched (97), while ranking second behind Michigan’s Oliver Jaskie in strikeouts with 98. The 6-foot-5 Shaffer is no stranger to the pressure of the Big Ten Tournament. A year ago, he faced third-seeded Indiana in an elimination game and rose to the occasion, tossing a complete game shutout and holding the powerful Hoosier lineup to just two hits while striking out eight in a Terps victory. He’ll face an ever tougher test this year, but he comes in rolling, having completed eight innings in each of his last three starts.
Gallagher is a familiar postseason foe for the Terps. Last season, the Hawkeyes and Terrapins met in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, and the 6-foot-3 right-hander struck out nine Terps over six innings en route to a victory. The junior followed up that performance with a stellar 2017 that saw him strike out 77 hitters in 83.1 innings and earn a spot on the all-Big Ten Second Team. He’s pitched at least six innings in five straight and at least seven in 8 of his 13 appearances this season, covering for the so-so Hawkeye bullpen. Entering the season, Baseball America ranked Gallagher’s curveball as the best breaking ball in the Big Ten.