Series Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

Maryland enters its weekend matchup with Illinois desperate for a series win. The Terps suffered three consecutive series losses, including back-to-back sweeps from the East Carolina Pirates and the Creighton Bluejays.

A midweek loss to William & Mary on Tuesday sent Maryland below .500 for the first time since February, a sign of the Terps’ struggles both at the plate and on the mound.

While the team is capable of reaching base, Maryland has struggled to plate runs of late. In their 8-1 loss to the Tribe on Wednesday, the Terps’ only run came from a Justin Vought solo homer in the fourth.

Senior Taylor Wright leads Maryland’s offense with a team-high 12 doubles and .301 batting average. The third baseman, with a .301 average, is the only Terp batting over .270. Center fielder Chris Alleyne has the second-highest average at .267.

Head coach Rob Vaughn has been the first to say that offense is more than batting average. But, for the Terps, the “quality at-bats” the second-year coach stresses aren’t as apparent. The team holds a .350 OBP, as every player but Wright has a sub-.400 OBP.

Both Maxwell Costes and Caleb Walls sit on the cusp of the .400 OBP mark, with .390 and .398, respectively. Costes started the year hot, but has struggled of late, and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against the Tribe on Wednesday. Even so, the freshman leads the Big Ten with 10 hit-by-pitches, and has the ability to provide the Terps with a baserunner.

Maryland’s bullpen has also struggled in recent weeks, as there are now only two relievers with sub-2.00 ERAs: right-hander Mike Vasturia (0.00) and left-hander Andrew Vail (1.42). Additionally, the Terps may be without freshman Will Glock (2.38 ERA) and junior Elliot Zoellner (6.14 ERA), after Glock left Sunday’s match with an apparent arm injury and Zoellner left Wednesday’s game with finger discomfort.

Illinois Fighting Illini (19-8, 0-3 Big Ten)

Last Season

Illinois finished fourth in the Big Ten with a 15-9 conference record, before Purdue knocked it out of the conference tournament. When the Terps faced the Fighting Illini in College Park, Illinois won the series 2-1 after Maryland forced a rubber match with a Saturday victory.

This season

Now, the Fighting Illini enter the weekend on a two-game win streak, after defeating No. 19 Coastal Carolina in a two-game midweek matchup. After reaching a No. 25 ranking last week, Illinois dropped out of the top-25 after suffering a midweek loss to Indiana State and a weekend sweep at the hands of Iowa.

Hitters to watch

Illinois boasts five players batting above .300, though one, Zac Taylor, has not played since early March. Whether Taylor makes an appearance at the plate against the Terps, the Fighting Illini still have a battery of strong hitters. Junior Michael Massey leads the team with 35 hits, while senior Grant Van Scoy has the highest OBP (.446) of Illinois’ consistent starters.

Relievers to watch

The Fighting Illini have two relievers with sub-2.00 ERAs: Garrett Acton (0.00 ERA) and Ryan Schmitt (1.69 ERA). The pair have a combined 24 strikeouts in 27.2 innings pitched.

Probable Starting Pitching Matchup 

Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET

Sr. RHP Hunter Parsons ( 4-2, 2.20 ERA) v. R-Sr. LHP Andy Fisher (3-1, 3.60 ERA)

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Parsons, Maryland’s senior ace, has provided the Terps with solid Friday starts. Though the righty leads the team with 40 strikeouts in 49 innings pitched, he has also hit a team-hit 10 batters, and walked 11.

For Illinois, Fisher has provided a number of strong outings, leading the team with 42 strikeouts in 40 innings pitched, though the southpaw has also walked 16 batters.

Probable Starting Pitching Matchup 

Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET

Jr. RHP Zach Thompson (1-3, 5.02 ERA) v. Jr. RHP Ty Weber (1-1, 1.87 ERA)

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Though Thompson’s numbers don’t necessarily prove it, the right-hander has shown he deserves the Saturday starter spot. With 33 strikeouts in his 37.2 innings pitched, Thompson has given up 19 free bases so far this year.

Weber, with the lowest ERA among weekend starters, has recorded only 13 strikeouts in his 17 innings pitched, but has walked 17 batters and hit four.

Probable Starting Pitching Matchup 

Sunday, 2:00 p.m. ET

Fr. RHP Trevor LaBonte (1-3, 5.16 ERA) v. Jr. RHP Cyrillo Watson (3-1, 3.34 ERA)

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As the Terps’ Sunday starter, LaBonte is still developing his craft in his freshman season with Maryland. The righty has 27 strikeouts in his 29.2 innings pitched.

For the Fighting Illini, Watson has walked a team-high 20 batters, though the righty has also struck out 24 in his 32.1 innings of work.