Maryland hasn’t been off to the start it likely hoped for after its first two series — winning neither and entering its third with a 3-4 record — but the upcoming series against Penn State offers a great chance to right the ship early.
The Terps visit University Park, Pennsylvania, Saturday afternoon to kick off a three-game series after beginning the 2021 season with back-to-back four-game, three-day series.
Although Maryland could only split the series in its home opener against Rutgers, the offense showed great leaps and bounds from the quiet season opener at the plate. Facing the Scarlet Knights without the bat of Maxwell Costes, the Terps’ offense scored 32 runs across the four games, including a 13-run outburst in the series opener.
Junior Benjamin Cowles led the way for the explosive weekend at the plate, crushing five home runs to put himself in a tie on top the Big Ten home run leaderboards (6) with Rutgers’ standout Chris Brito. Cowles also accounted for eight RBI on six hits in the four games, including two multi-hit performances.
With the offense catching its stride against Rutgers, Maryland finds itself in a good spot this weekend, facing a 2-6 Penn State team that suffered a four-game sweep against Indiana last week.
For the majority of the Nittany Lions’ young season, the offense has remained silent, being held to two runs or less in five of their eight games. While they have posted a slash line of .228/.339/.414 thus far, the Nittany Lions have been outscored 43-29.
The pitching hasn’t been doing Penn State any favors either, posting a 5.63 team earned-run average and a .289 opposing batting average. Even on the rare occasion when the offense blew up (13-10 win vs. Northwestern, March 7) the pitching failed to suppress the opposing bats, allowing ten runs on 17 hits.
Historically, Maryland has dominated the Nittany Lions since it joined the Big Ten, owning a 7-2 record against Penn State.
Penn State Nittany Lions (2-6)
After finishing three straight seasons with a losing record before 2020, Penn State had gotten off to a 10-5 start before last season ended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Nittany Lions were clicking on both ends of the diamond, hitting for a .289/.394/.422 slash line while the pitchers — to put it bluntly — absolutely shoved, owning a 2.16 ERA.
The 2020 season did show plenty of promise for a Penn State program that had gone through great struggles in recent history, but the potential has seemingly fallen flat in the first eight games of the season. Outside of an opening day win and a slugfest win over Northwestern, Penn State’s offense has been completely stifled, scoring ten runs total in their six losses this season. One of the losses in their last series versus Indiana was close to a no-hitter for Hoosiers starter McCade Brown, who threw seven no-hit innings with 16 strikeouts.
Hitters to Watch
Penn State’s offense has struggled on a macro level, but its lineup still features a couple bats that have carried the “load.” By far, the star of the Nittany Lions is redshirt freshman Josh Spiegel, who has led the way at the plate with a .346/.414/.808 slash line in the young season. Right behind him is freshman Johnny Piacentino, who arrived at Penn State as the second-best outfield recruit of out New Jersey, per Perfect Game. Piacentino is tied for the Penn State lead in home runs with Spiegel (3) and is also the only other Nittany Lion to have an on-base plus slugging percentage above 1.000.
Pitchers to Watch
Save for a couple of starters, Penn State’s pitching has been simply atrocious in the early going of the season. The two bright spots on that staff are Conor Larkin and Jaden Henline — who has been relegated to the bullpen for this series despite recording a 3.24 ERA in his two starts. Larkin comes in as the “Saturday” starter for this series, and owns a staff-best 3.00 ERA. He has also put up flashy strikeout numbers, punching out 15 batters opposed to two walks in his two starts.
Probable Starting Pitching Matchups
Saturday, 1:00 P.M. EST
RHP Sean Burke (1-1, 5.40 ERA) vs RHP Bailey Dees (1-1, 5.79 ERA)
Burke’s second start of the season against Rutgers wasn’t as impressive as his 13-strikeout Opening Day performance, but an explosive Terps offense carried him to his first win of the season. The strikeouts were still there, as he racked up seven in his 5 2/3 innings, but he was also tagged for seven hits and four earned runs.
Dees is one of two familiar faces on this Nittany Lions pitching staff, as both he and Virbitsky pitched against the Terps during the teams’ last meeting in 2019. Dees was rocked in his last start, giving up six runs (four earned) and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings against Indiana.
Sunday, 1:00 P.M. EST
RHP Connor Staine ( 0-1 6.55 ERA) vs RHP Conor Larkin (0-2, 3.00 ERA)
After seemingly just being a doubleheader starter in the Terps’ first two series, Staine moves into the “normal,” three-man rotation for the first time this season. Staine followed up an incredible starting debut against Michigan State with a less-than-spectacular start against Rutgers, giving up seven runs (three home runs). Facing a struggling Nittany Lions lineup offers a great rebound spot for the sophomore.
Larkin has been the statistical leader for the Penn State staff, and while the offense struggled to pick up more than one hit in his last start, he shined with five innings of one-run ball before the bullpen imploded. His start against Indiana also featured his only two walks of the season as he racked up seven strikeouts.
Monday, 4:00 P.M. EST
RHP Jason Savacool (2-0 3.68 ERA) vs RHP Kyle Virbitsky (0-1, 8.38 ERA)
It would have certainly been a feat for Savacool to top the complete-game gem he tossed in his collegiate debut. The freshman earned the win in his start against Rutgers last Sunday, but struggled in doing so, surrendering five runs in 5 2/3 innings.
Virbitsky’s 8.38 ERA is the result of two very different starts, and his most recent showing against a strong Indiana team is a good indicator of what he really brings to the mound. Although Penn State fell to the Hoosiers, 1-2, in his last start, Virbitsky threw 6 1/3 innings of two-run ball with no walks.