Series Preview: Army Black Knights

After a season-opening series win at Tennessee last weekend, Maryland lost at William & Mary Wednesday to fall to 2-2 on the young season. Now, the Terrapins return to College Park to open their 2018 home slate with a three-game set against the Army Black Knights, starting Friday at 4 p.m.

The Black Knights come to Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium for their second-straight series against a Big Ten opponent. They opened the season last weekend against Michigan in Port St. Lucie, Florida, dropping two out of the three to the Wolverines. Army then traveled to the Bronx to take on Fordham Tuesday afternoon, losing 3-2.

Last season, the Black Knights were third in the Patriot League with a 10-10 conference record, but finished six games below .500 overall, at 25-31. They struggled mightily on the mound in 2017, with a 5.80 team ERA and a 1.55 team WHIP.

Four games into this season, it’s much of the same for the Army pitching staff, which has a 6.00 ERA and .292 opponents average in 33 innings of work. These numbers are inflated by the Black Knights’ 12-6 loss on opening night, however, as they limited opponents to three runs in two of their four contests.

Left-hander Cam Opp, a London native and member of the British National Team, has been Army’s best reliever so far, making two appearances spanning 5.1 scoreless frames. Freshman right-hander Matt Gray has also made two relief appearances this season, allowing one earned run over 3.1 innings for a 2.70 ERA. Carter Van Gytenbeek, who led the team with four saves a year ago, allowed two runs in 3.1 innings in his only relief outing thus far this season.

Army’s struggles aren’t limited to the mound, as the team owns a .239/.333/.348 slash line so far in 2018. The Black Knights are averaging less than four runs per contest, while striking out 39 times in four games. They have just one home run on the year, continuing a power shortage from last year, when they hit just 29 in 56 games. They could fly on the basepaths last spring, however, stealing a Patriot League-best 102 bags. 

Outfielder Matt Hudgins and first baseman John McKenna are bright spots in the West Point lineup early. Hudgins is slashing .412/.444/.765 with three doubles and the team’s lone home run, and has scored three of Army’s 15 runs this season. The junior led Army with seven homers and 38 walks last season. McKenna, a sophomore, earned Patriot Player of the Week honors after hitting .462 with a double, a triple, a stolen base and two runs scored over the weekend against Michigan.

Other hitters to watch include catcher Jon Rosoff and shortstop Trey Martin. Last year, Rosoff led Army with a .364 batting average, .918 OPS and 43 runs scored while hitting 10 doubles and driving home 35. The senior backstop is hitting .267 with a double and three walks so far this season. Martin hit .265 with 10 doubles a year ago, but is off to a slow start in 2018, going 2-for-9 with no extra base hits.

The Terps’ offense looked strong against Tennessee, scoring 20 runs in three contests, before faltering against William & Mary on Wednesday. Center fielder Zach Jancarski leads Rob Vaughn’s squad with a .353 average and five runs scored, including two solo shots against the Tribe. Second baseman Nick Dunn has enjoyed an early-season power surge as well, as he launched three of his nine career homers over the weekend in Knoxville. Junior transfer third baseman Taylor Wright also has five hits thus far, including a triple.

Like Army, Maryland’s pitching has been suspect early this season. Even with the season-opening shutout against the Volunteers, the Terps have a 6.09 team ERA, and gave up 13 and 10 runs, respectively, in their last two contests. Two-way star Kevin Biondic and closer John Murphy have impressed out of the bullpen to date, though, each tossing two shutout frames over the weekend. Freshman left-hander Grant Burleson also has not surrendered a run in 1.1 innings of relief.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Friday, 4 p.m. EST

Jr. LHP Tyler Giovinco (0-1, 10.76 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Taylor Bloom (1-0, 0.00 ERA)

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Coming off a rough start to the season last week against Michigan, left-hander Tyler Giovinco will return to the mound Friday for the Black Knights. The junior lasted just 4.1 frames against the Wolverines a week ago, surrendering five runs on six hits and four walks while striking out five. He was Army’s best pitcher in 2017, however, leading the team with 12 starts, 69 innings pitched and a 4.17 ERA.

While Giovinco struggled last week, Terps right-hander Taylor Bloom couldn’t have asked for a better start to the 2018 campaign. The senior tossed seven shutout innings in Maryland’s season-opening victory over Tennessee, tying a career-high with nine strikeouts en route to earning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors. Bloom is coming off a junior season in which he pitched 89 innings with a 3.83 ERA.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Saturday, 2 p.m. EST

Sr. RHP Matt Ball (0-0, 4.50 ERA) vs. So. LHP Tyler Blohm (0-0, 3.38 ERA)

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Senior right-hander Matt Ball will take the hill Saturday for Army, after surrendering two runs on five hits over four innings in the Black Knights’ win over Michigan last week. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native missed most of the 2017 season due to injury, appearing in just six games and pitching to a 9.18 ERA. He saw more action as a sophomore in 2016, however, when he made 12 appearances (11 starts) with a 5.37 ERA.

Sophomore Tyler Blohm will oppose Ball in Game 2. The left-hander lasted 5.1 innings against Tennessee a week ago, giving up two runs on just two hits and two walks. Last spring, he was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year after making 16 starts, going 8-3 with a 3.48 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 75 innings of work.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Sam Messina (0-1, 10.80 ERA) vs. So. RHP Hunter Parsons (0-1, 30.86 ERA)

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Sam Messina will toe the rubber for Army in the series finale, making just his third career start. The junior right-hander made 20 appearances (one start) a year ago, pitching to a 5.27 ERA in 27.1 innings. He struck out an impressive 36 batters in those 27.1 frames, but also walked 26. Last week against Michigan, he lasted just 3.1 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits and four walks.

Junior right-hander Hunter Parsons gets the ball for Maryland on Sunday, making his third appearance (second start) of the young season. He started the series finale in Knoxville and struggled mightily, giving up eight runs on six hits, a walk and two hit batters without recording an out in the second inning. He appeared in relief against William & Mary Wednesday and looked better, posting 1.1 scoreless innings and retiring all four batters he faced. He’ll look to continue his upward trend against Army.