Game Preview: Delaware Blue Hens

After losing a midweek game to William & Mary and dropping two of three to Army at home, Maryland rebounded last week without a loss. The Terps shut out VCU last Wednesday before winning all three games in the Johnny Gardner Law Group Tournament over the weekend in South Carolina. Returning home after its trip south, Maryland (7-4) will host Delaware Thursday at 4 p.m. (5-4) in the first of a two-game home-and-home series between the Terps and Blue Hens.

Maryland is 18-10-1 all-time against Delaware, but have split the last four meetings. The Terps swept a home-and-home series in 2015, but the Blue Hens returned the favor in 2016.

Maryland is currently on a five-game winning streak after winning all four games last week. While the pitching came into the season with unknown expectations, the Terrapin arms threw really well last week. Freshman right-hander Mark DiLuia and four bullpen arms combined for a five-hit shutout against VCU. The Terps starting pitchers allowed just five earned runs in their three-game tournament sweep over the weekend. Maryland outscored its competition 31-11 in the tournament.

Right-hander Hunter Parsons had his best start of his season Sunday against Ball State, allowing no runs in seven innings while recording a career-high seven strikeouts. After allowing eight earned runs in his first start of the season, Parsons has completely turned it around over his last three appearances. He’s allowed just three earned runs in his last 13 innings. With Taylor Bloom and Tyler Blohm anchoring the weekend starts, the Terps will be a tough out if Parson can continue to increase his confidence.

Kevin Biondic had a busy weekend for the Terps, both offensively and defensively. He recorded three hits Friday against Radford while also pitching the ninth inning. He picked up another two hits while recording the save on the mound against Coastal Carolina. If that wasn’t enough, Biondic collected three more hits and seven RBIs on Sunday against Ball State. He came just a double shy of a cycle and one RBI shy of tying the program record, and now leads the Terps with a .310 batting average and 13 hits.

The Terps entered the weekend with a .212 batting average, but scored 31 runs over the weekend and increased that average. Second baseman Nick Dunn hit his fifth home run of the season against Coastal Carolina, tying the five he hit all of last season. Center fielder Zach Jancarski spent the last two games atop the Maryland lineup for the first times this season, and he reached base five times.

Similar to Maryland, Delaware made it to the NCAA Tournament a year ago before being eliminated in the regionals. The Blue Hens earned a 4-seed after earning a 34-23 record in 2017. Delaware went 8-14 in true road games last season, but 22-4 at home. The Terps will play in Newark for the second game of the home-and-home series next week. Delaware is projected to finish second in the CAA this season.

The Blue Hens started off slow, winning just two of their first six games. They took a series from Charleston Southern, but were swept by Florida Atlantic the following weekend. Through the first six games, Delaware was averaging just 2.7 runs per game. The team bounced back this past weekend though, scoring at least nine runs in each contest en route to a weekend sweep at home against Delaware State.

The Delaware offense had significant turnover from last season. While the Blue Hens had eight different regular starters hitting over .300, five were seniors who graduated last year. This group of seniors included the three highest batting averages on the team. It’s shown early on how much the Blue Hens miss this class of offensive production, as they’re hitting just .233 as a team so far this season.

Among the top returning hitters for the Blue Hens is junior infielder Nick Patten, who lead the team with 14 home runs, 54 RBIs, 58 runs scored and a .446 on base percentage. He was named to the 2018 Colonial Athletic Association preseason team. He has struggled out of the gate, though, hitting just .121 through nine games. His average is the lowest of any of Delaware’s regular starters.

Blue Hens senior outfielder Calvin Scott also received preseason honors by the conference after he hit .332 with over 40 RBIs last season. He entered this season as the top returning hitter for Delaware in terms of batting average. He, like Patten, has struggled incredibly in the early stages of the season. The senior is 5-for-31 on the season, the second-worst qualified average on the team.

Only two hitters for Delaware have averages over .300, but those players are currently hitting over .400. Junior outfielder Kyle Baker owns a .457/.743/.487 slash line through nine games, atop the team lead in runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs and RBIs. Junior infielder Erik Bowren is hitting .421 and is reaching bases in every other at bat this season. The Delaware offense is being carried completely by these two juniors. If you take out Baker and Bowren, the rest of the team is hitting .184.

The Blue Hens have gotten by this season on the strength of their pitching staff. Two of their three weekend starters have sub-2.00 ERAs, and the team as a whole owns a 2.76 mark. Two key bullpen arms – Clay Conaway and Colman Vila – have not yet allowed an earned run in eight combined appearances, while James Meeker, who leads all relievers with 10 innings pitched, has a 2.70 ERA and a 2.11 opponents’ average.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Thursday, 4 p.m. EST

Sr. LHP Matt Hornich (0-0, 1.69 ERA) vs. Fr. RHP Mark DiLuia (1-0, 4.00 ERA) 

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Hornich appeared in 13 games last seasons—including six starts—but he only pitched 34.2 innings. He has a career 6.85 ERA through three seasons with the Blue Hens. The southpaw has been successful in limited bullpen appearances this season, allowing just one earned run in in 5.1 innings. In his last outing on Feb. 23 against Florida Atlantic, Hornich tossed two scoreless frames while allowing one hit. He hasn’t pitched in over a week and will be well-rested for his first start of the season.

Freshman right-hander Mark DiLuia may have solidified his spot as a consistent midweek start for the Terps after his performance against VCU last week. In his first collegiate start, the right-hander tossed the first four innings against the Rams, allowing no runs on four hits while striking out seven batters and walking only one. He has now struck out 10 hitters in just nine innings this season. Because of how well Maryland’s starters threw over the weekend, DiLuia didn’t have to pitch. With plenty of rest, the freshman has another good opportunity to get quality innings under his belt.