Series Preview: Johnny Gardner Law Group Tournament

Coming off its best pitching performance of the season against VCU—with five arms combining for a shutout—Maryland (4-4) will continue to south this weekend as a participant in the Johnny Gardner Law Group Tournament. The Terps, who went 4-2 in two regular season tournaments last season, will face Radford, Coastal Carolina and Ball State in Conway, South Carolina.

Maryland opened up its 2017 campaign in the Clearwater Tournament, losing to Ball State and No. 12 Louisville before beating Alabama State to avoid a weekend sweep. Two weekends later with a 1-5 record, the Terps started an eight-game winning streak with a trio of wins against Notre Dame, No. 6 North Carolina State and Dayton.

This will be the only regular season tournament that the Terps will play in this season, however. While none of the opponents are from Power 5 conferences, Ball State beat the Terps last season, Radford made the NCAA Tournament a year ago and Coastal Carolina won a National Championship in 2016. It’ll be a challenging weekend for the Terps, but wins will surely be there for the taking.

The Terps are winners of two straight, but the victories have not come easily. Maryland is slashing just .202/.335/.366 as a team, with four starters (Marty Costes, Kevin Biondic, Will Watson and Justin Morris) hitting under .200. Nick Dunn (.259/.417/.667, 3 HR, 7 RBI) has been the offensive star for the Terps so far this season, while Zach Jancarski (.250, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 SB) and AJ Lee (.441 OBP) have also contributed at the plate.

Lately, Maryland’s pitching staff has carried the Terps to victory, giving up just ten runs over the past four contests, including a shutout victory Wednesday. Kevin Biondic and John Murphy have been rock solid at the back end of the bullpen, tossing 11 combined innings with 19 strikeouts and no earned runs allowed. Murphy has not yet allowed a hit in his five frames of work. Sean Fisher and Elliot Zoellner have come on strong out of the bullpen recently as well. Fisher, a freshman left-hander, leads the team with five appearances, and has three straight scoreless outings, while Zoellner, a sophomore right-hander, tossed two scoreless innings on Wednesday.

Here’s a look at the Terps’ competition this weekend.

Radford (3-5)

The Highlanders finished last season with a 27-32 record, but dominated the Big South Tournament to earn their second NCAA Tournament berth in the last three seasons. Radford lost both games in the regional, but won a pair of games in its 2015 appearance. So far this season, the Highlanders split games in the opening-weekend tournament against North Florida and Elon. They lost two of three against Jacksonville State last weekend before losing in 12 innings to Virginia Tech on Tuesday.

Radford is led offensive by sophomore infielder Spencer Horwitz, redshirt junior infielder Kyle Butler and redshirt junior outfielder Andrew Szamski. Horwitz led the Highlanders last season with a .311 batting average, and through two weekends, is leading them with seven RBI to start this season. Butler had team-highs in hits (70) and doubles (13) in 2017 and is hitting .357 through seven games this year. Szamski, in his first season with Radford, has a .455/.606/.526 slash line this season, all marks that lead the team.

The Highlanders have scored at least nine runs in each of their three wins this season, showing they can put up runs. However, they’ve also shown inconsistency already in their losses, as they have combined for just seven runs in their five defeats. Radford averaged 5.4 runs per game last season.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Friday, 11 a.m. EST

Jr. RHP Ryan Sande (0-0, 1.80 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Taylor Bloom (1-1, 2.57 ERA)

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The Terps open up the weekend with Radford, so they’ll likely see the Highlanders best arm in Sande, who started in 11 games last season as the typical Sunday starter. He’s taken the hill for Radford to start each of its first two weekends, allowing just two earned runs in 10 innings. He’s holding opposing hitters to a .147 average, but he hasn’t been able to last longer in his outings due to seven walks in those 10 innings thrown.

Bloom had didn’t have his best stuff when he took the hill against Army last weekend, but still pitched well enough to give the Terps a chance to win. The right-hander allowed 11 hits in seven innings, but battled through to concede four runs in his start. Bloom has lasted seven innings in each of his two starts, a trend that would be optimal to continue to preserve Maryland’s relievers for the rest of the weekend. Bloom will look to have a similar outing to the one he had against Tennessee two weeks ago when he allowed no runs and recorded nine strikeouts.

Coastal Carolina (8-2) 

Just one year after an improbable run to the College World Series title, the Chanticleers missed out on the tournament last season despite a 37-19-1 record. Coastal Carolina wasn’t able to properly defend its title because of its low strength of schedule and an early loss in its conference tournament. Regardless, the Chanticleers will be a tough test as an established mid-major program.

The Chanticleers got off to a hot start this season, beating Virginia Tech 17-2 in their first game. Coastal also picked up a pair of extra-inning wins during the opening weekend against No. 18 Oklahoma and Kansas State. Both of Coastal’s losses this year have been by just one run and its average margin of victory is 6.3 runs.

Coastal’s lineup will be the best the Terps have seen so far this season, as they’re hitting nearly .300 as a team through 10 games. The Chanticleers, who have won by at least 10 runs three times already, have hit 26 doubles and 11 home runs. It’ll be a worthy test for the Maryland pitching staff in the middle of weekend.

Sophomore second baseman Cory Wood and redshirt sophomore outfielder Cameron Pearcey are among the Sun Belt’s top-10 prospects for the 2019 draft. Wood is hitting .372 and Pearcey is batting .318 so far this season. Coastal’s pitching staff has been just as dominant this season, allowing an average of three runs per game. The Chanticleers have given up more than five runs just twice, and they’ve scored double-double runs totals four times.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Saturday, 3 p.m. EST

Sr. RHP Zach Hopeck (0-1, 4.76 ERA) vs. So. LHP Tyler Blohm (0-1, 3.38 ERA)

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Hopek has started the second game of both weekend tournaments that Coastal has played in, so he’ll likely get the ball against Maryland. Hopeck pitched 6.1 innings against No. 18 Oklahoma, allowing no runs on two hits while striking out seven hitters. He also walked just two. His second start was much shakier, allowing seven runs (six earned) in just five innings against Illinois.

Blohm pitched well enough to earn a win last weekend against, but received no run support in the game. The left-hander allowed just four hits in six innings while striking out five. He conceded two runs, but only one earned was earned. Blohm will surely have the toughest test of any of the Terps starting pitchers this weekend, having to face a hot and lethal offense in the Chanticleers.

Ball State (3-4)

Maryland’s season didn’t start off positively last season thanks to the Cardinals, who defeated the Terps, 8-3, in the opening game of the season during the Clearwater Tournament. The Cardinals finished last season 30-28, but were bounced in two quick games in the MAC Tournament to end their season.

Last season, the Cardinals had three hitters that hit above .300—Caleb Stayton, Sean Kennedy and Matt Eppers, all three graduated. Kennedy led the team in hits, home runs and RBI, and shared the team-lead with Eppers with 58 starts. Stayton’s .331 batting average and .455 on base percentage both led the team, as well. Offensively, the Cardinals have had to replace a significant amount of their production.

William Baker leads the team offensively so far, hitting .448 through seven games. Colin Brockhouse and Seth Freed lead the team with two homers and six RBIs, but Freed has been all or nothing so far, hitting just .148 in 27 at-bats.

Similarly, two of Ball State’s three primary weekend starters graduated, too. BJ Butler posted a team-best 2.74 ERA and Kevin Marnon pitched a team-high 70 innings; both those players have had to be replaced. John Baker received the most starts last season of Ball State’s returning pitchers. Along with Baker in the current weekend rotation is sophomore left-hander Garrett Simmons and freshman right-hander Kyle Nicolas. Cody Freed is the Cardinals’ go-to reliever so far, with a 1.50 ERA in a team-high four appearances (six innings).

Ball State played in two tournaments to start the season. The Cardinals defeated UMass Lowell twice in the same weekend they lost to Morehead State twice. Last weekend, Ball State beat Iowa but lost to New Orleans and Virginia Tech.

Probable Starting Pitching Matchup 

Sunday, 11 a.m. EST

So. LHP Garrett Simmons (0-1, 5.63 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Hunter Parsons (0-1, 14.14 ERA)

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Coming off two weekend starts to begin his sophomore campaign, left-hander Garrett Simmons will likely return to the mound Sunday for the Cardinals. He allowed two earned runs in 5.1 innings against Morehead State and three earned runs in 2.2 innings against Virginia Tech. Simmons, like Maryland right-hander Alec Tuohy, is a transfer from the University of Buffalo, which cut its baseball program after last season.

After struggling in his first start of the season against Tennessee, Terps right-hander Hunter Parsons has settled into two solid performances since. He retired all four batters he faced in the Terps midweek game against William & Mary, and then he allowed three earned runs in just under five innings in a win against Army last weekend. If Parsons can continue to get better with each start, Maryland will become much more dangerous each weekend.