Series Preview: Northwestern Wildcats

The Maryland Terrapins (12-13, 0-0 Big Ten) open their conference schedule this weekend with a home series against the Northwestern Wildcats.

Consistency has been an early-season problem for Maryland, the Terps are hoping the team that scraped out two gritty wins against Stetson shows up, not the team that collapsed in Tuesday’s loss to Richmond after allowing six Spider runs in the sixth frame.

Now, a scuffling Northwestern team (7-12, 0-3 Big Ten) becomes the newest opportunity at a potential momentum-shifting series.

The Wildcats are in the midst of a five-game losing streak, but have lost those games by an average of less than two runs. That stretch includes a pair of extra inning losses to then-No. 24 Illinois this past weekend.

There were bright spots for the Wildcats to take from the weekend, however. Their pitching, which has been lackluster and currently ranks last in the Big Ten with a 5.83 ERA on the season, allowed just 14 runs in three games against the powerful Illini.

Northwestern’s offense has also been inconsistent, hitting just .235 as a team but plating nearly five and a half runs per game. No Wildcat starter is hitting over the .300 mark; Alex Erro and Jack Dunn lead the team with averages of .296 and .286, respectively.

Erro will look to resume his hot streak after a fantastic series against the Illini, during which he went 5-for-11 with a home run, three RBI, reached base in 50 percent of his plate appearances, and didn’t strike out a single time. He followed that up with a 3-for-5 day in Northwestern’s midweek against Chicago State.

Willie Bourbon has provided the pop for the Wildcats, leading the team in home runs (4), RBIs (16) and total bases (34), but has cooled down greatly since a hot start to the spring. The junior infielder hit four home runs in his first eight contests but has not cleared the fence since, and has seen his average drop from .333 to .246 during that stretch.

The challenge for Erro and company — finding success against a Maryland weekend rotation that has really come into its own as of late. While Taylor Bloom has seen his productivity decline, Tyler Blohm and Hunter Parsons are coming off their best starts of the season. Blohm struck out a career-high eight batters in eight innings against Stetson while Parsons threw a complete game shutout, which garnered him Perfect Game/Rawlings National Pitcher of the Week honors and Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week honors.

Meanwhile, Maryland saw its offense sputter in its midweek game, unable to follow-up a pair of weekend wins against Stetson. The Terps only had four hits in a 10-3 loss to Richmond, three of which were solo home runs. Tuesday’s poor showing lowered the team’s batting average to .232, the third-lowest mark in the conference, and just .02 points higher than the team in the cellar of that list.

Nick Dunn continues to pace the Maryland bats, slashing .330/.438/.604 even after an 0-for-3 performance at the plate in Tuesday’s loss. The second-baseman leads the team with six homers – equaling his career total entering this season – seven doubles, 20 RBIs and 21 runs scored. Kevin Biondic has also impressed, tallying 11 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs to go with a .283 average.

Many of the Terps’ regulars and semi-regulars have yet to find their groove at the plate – Taylor Wright, Justin Morris, Tommy Gardiner, to name a few, are all below the .200 mark. But Marty Costes, who started the season ice cold, has heated up of late, raising his average from the mid-.100s to .220 over the past week and a half, with a respectable .348 on-base percentage.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Friday, 6:30 p.m. EST

Sr. RHP Taylor Bloom (2-4, 4.04 ERA) vs. Fr. LHP Quinn Lavalle (2-2, 2.84 ERA)

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Taylor Bloom’s feel-good start against East Carolina two weekends ago faded away after the senior right-hander faltered last week, allowing seven runs on 10 hits over seven innings against Stetson. He has consistently provided depth for the Terps this season, averaging seven innings per outing, and will look to return to his early-season form this weekend against the Wildcats.

Lavalle has solidified a spot as one of the Big Ten’s best young pitchers just several weeks into his freshman season. The southpaw has pitched to a 2.84 ERA, and that’s after arguably his worst start of the season last weekend when he allowed three earned runs in 6.1 innings against a talented Illinois offense. There are some growing pains for the freshman, who has 16 walks compared to 15 strikeouts, but if he can keep his pitch count down, he is already an arm worth watching across the conference.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Saturday, 2 p.m. EST

So. LHP Tyler Blohm (3-2, 3.82 ERA) vs. So. RHP Hank Christie (2-2, 5.72 ERA)

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Tyler Blohm is coming off of his best start of the season, and arguably the best of his short career. The sophomore lefty threw eight innings, allowing just one unearned run, against Stetson last Saturday. He struck out a career-high 12, and was able to keep his pitch count to just 97 pitches, facing 28 batters, and allowing just four hits. He has completed at least six innings in four of his six outings, and leads the Terps in strikeouts – a sign of what the Terps hoped they’d be getting from the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year this season.

Hank Christie, a sophomore, is the most experienced starter Maryland will face this weekend, but hasn’t continued his tremendous end to his freshman season. Last year, the member of the All-Big Ten Freshman Team went 4-0 in his last six starts with a 1.54 ERA. So far this year, he’s hit a bit of a sophomore slump, allowing at least four earned runs in four of his six starts. He did have back-to-back scoreless scarts against MacMurray and Central Michigan, and followed that up with 5.2 innings against Illinois, allowing four earned runs on three hits.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Hunter Parsons (3-2, 3.23 ERA) vs. Fr. LHP Jack Pagliarani (1-1, 2.49 ERA)

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What seemed improbable before the season has happened: Hunter Parsons has been the Terps most consistently dominant starter. The junior has thrown four superb games in a row, a streak that started with seven scoreless innings against Ball State on March 4, and culminated with a complete game shutout against Stetson last week. Through his last four starts, he has thrown 32 innings and allowed three earned runs, lowering his ERA to a team-best 3.23 mark.

Jack Pagliarani is in the midst of his best stretch of his freshman year, and is currently ranked sixth in the Big Ten in ERA. The Springfield, Ohio native has thrown six innings in each of his last three starts, allowing two earned runs in those 18 innings. He struck out seven in his first Big Ten start last week against Illinois, and didn’t allow an earned run. The only struggle he had against the Illini was with his control, as he walked a career-high four batters.