Series Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

At long last, Maryland Terrapins baseball is back.

This weekend, the Terps will open their 2018 campaign with a trip to Knoxville, Tennessee to take on the Volunteers. It’ll be an early test for first-year head coach Rob Vaughn and his team, which will match up with a Tennessee team that has experience playing top-tier competition.

Last season, the Volunteers finished just two games over .500, but won just seven of their 28 SEC games. It is worth noting, however, that of those 28 conference games, 19 came against NCAA tournament qualifiers. That includes a three-game series against Florida, the eventual national champions, during which Tennessee stole two games in extra innings.

This year, the Vols have a new-look squad. They return just over half of their letterwinners, and will rely on their youth to propel them to a postseason berth.

None of their three expected weekend starters started double-digit games last season (for comparison, two of Maryland’s three weekend arms started at least 16 games a year ago) and their best offensive weapons are underclassmen.

Sophomore Andre Lipcuis, who is expected to start at shortstop, led the Vols with 53 hits, 32 runs and 26 RBIs in 2017. He earned national honors, as he was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, as well as the Tennessee team award for Defensive Player.

Fellow sophomore Pete Derkay, who was utilized at numerous positions in 2017, has forced Tennessee to find a spot for him in the lineup after leading the team in on-base percentage and walks, as well as hitting .288.

While the future of Tennessee baseball lies in the hands of the youngsters, present success could rely on the veterans to deliver. The biggest question mark: senior outfielder Brodie Leftridge, a Baltimore, Maryland native, and a St. John’s College High School alum.

Leftridge hit .302 in his sophomore season, earning the Tennessee award for Most Improved Player, before his batting average plummeted to a dismal .184 in 2017. He was high school teammates with Maryland’s AJ Lee and played with four Terps over the summer with the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts.

Like Tennessee, the Terps are without some of their stars from a year ago: Friday night starter Brian Shaffer, closer Ryan Selmer, shortstop Kevin Smith and first baseman Brandon Gum, among others. Nevertheless, Maryland’s lineup projects to be strong, with preseason Third-Team All-American Nick Dunn and 2017 All-Big Ten selections Marty Costes and AJ Lee returning, among others. Costes led Maryland with 77 hits and 13 homers a year ago, while Lee hit .307 with eight homers and 15 stolen bases. Zach Jancarski, another key returning piece, paced the Terps in stolen bases (20) and doubles (17) last season.

On the mound, the Terps do not have the depth they did a year ago, but return weekend starters Taylor Bloom and Tyler Blohm, as well as star reliever and newly-minted closer John Murphy and bullpen long man Ryan Hill. The full breakdown of Maryland’s rotation, bullpen, infield and outfield can be found here.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Friday, 3:30 p.m. EST

Sr. RHP Taylor Bloom (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. So. RHP Zach Linginfelter (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

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With the departure of Friday right-hander Brian Shaffer, senior Taylor Bloom will be the first Terp to toe the rubber in 2018. Bloom had a productive junior season, leading Maryland with 17 starts and ranking second in innings pitched (89.1) while posting a 3.83 ERA. While his 2017 campaign was solid, the right-hander will look to return to his dominant sophomore year form from 2016, when he pitched to a 2.46 ERA. By far the most experienced pitcher on staff, Bloom has 37 career starts and leads all active Maryland pitchers in innings pitched.

Meanwhile, Zach Linginfelter’s dynamic freshman year bolstered him to the top of Tennessee’s rotation — and onto the national stage. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was ranked 72nd on’s list of top draft-eligible players in college baseball after posting a 3.67 ERA in his first season. He split time as a reliever (he made 16 relief appearances, and recorded three saves) and a starter (he started six games), but always threw the ball hard. He finished the season with 61 strikeouts in 56.1 innings.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Saturday, 2:00 p.m. EST

So. LHP Tyler Blohm (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. So. RHP Garrett Stallings (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

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While Linginfelter earns the Friday start for Tennessee, the best sophomore pitcher in Knoxville this weekend might be Maryland’s Tyler Blohm. The southpaw was second among Terps starters in ERA (3.48) last year, trailing only Brian Shaffer, and earned the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award. His eight wins paced the Terps, and he whiffed 71 hitters in 75 innings.

Fellow sophomore Garrett Stallings will take the hill Saturday after impressing during his freshman season in 2017. The right-hander finished his first season of college baseball with a 3-4 record and a 3.47 ERA, and was one of the more positive signs from Tennessee’s season. He wrapped up the year with just 1.67 walks per nine innings, a nod to his command. However, his consistency with his command put a lot of balls in play, as he allowed 75 hits in 70 innings.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Hunter Parsons (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. TBD

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Hunter Parsons will get the nod for Maryland in the series finale, looking to return to his freshman year form (15 appearances, 5 starts, 3.50 ERA, .203 opponents’ average) after a rough sophomore year. The junior allowed 20 runs (17 earned) in his four starts, failing to reach the third inning in any of them.

The Volunteers were expected to send Will Neely to the hill, but he has been battling an illness and is uncertain to make his season debut over the weekend. If Neely is unable to pitch, Tennessee could send out Daniel Vasquez, a midweek candidate who went 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA last season, primarily as a reliever.