Big Ten play is finally here, and the Terps couldn’t look hotter going into the weekend.
Despite a rough outing against the No. 1-rated RPI team Dallas Baptist, the Terps had a record-setting midweek performance against Towson, followed by a decisive victory over George Mason.
The 26 runs and 23 hits that the Maryland lineup produced Tuesday evening were season-highs, and the highest the program has totaled since March 14, 2007. A few players, including Nick Lorusso and Troy Schreffler, enjoyed career days at the plate. The two combined for 11 RBI and two home runs, and their teammate Maxwell Costes picked up his 34th home run as a Terrapin, tying Will Frazier (2002-2005) for the second-most home runs in a Maryland uniform.
The win over George Mason was a much closer contest, featuring typical midweek hurler Logan Ott pitching a career-high five innings of shutout baseball against George Mason. The game came down to the wire, with senior Sean Heine defending a 3-1 lead against a bases-loaded threat in the ninth inning before neutralizing the Patriots for good.
Maryland now turns its head to its first Big Ten opponent — a struggling Penn State — as it looks to add to its current winning streak.
Penn State Nittany Lions (9-13)
An 18-24 record in 2021 led to the Nittany Lions finishing in the bottom-half of the Big Ten standings, and with no Big Ten Tournament last year, their season came to an end on May 29.
Despite its losing season, Penn State’s overall performance held up a lot better than it has this season. The Lions were tied for third in the conference in batting average and sixth in on-base percentage. Part of that has to do with the presence of Gavin Homer and Justin Williams in the lineup, who were the Lions’ best two hitters.
The Nittany Lions are on track to finish with a similar record to last season’s as they own a .409 winning percentage. They also happen to be crawling into the weekend, losing four of their last six games. Two of those losses came against Rutgers last weekend, featuring a 20-6 blowout in the series finale. Their second taste of Big Ten play against the Terps may be even more bitter as Maryland is off to its best start in program history.
Penn State comes into the weekend hitting at the bottom of the Big Ten with a .669 OPS, and is last in the conference with seven home runs. The Lions pitching hasn’t been doing them many favors either, as seen last weekend with 32 total runs surrendered to Rutgers and nine total games where they’ve given up 10+ runs. Their staff has a 6.00 ERA, which is fourth-worst in the conference.
The departures of Bailey Dees, Kyle Virtbitsky and Conor Larkin have left Penn State with a completely new rotation that’s still getting figured out, but the Lions may have a long way to go in order to do that.
Hitters to Watch:
Juniors Matt Wood and Johnny Piacentino are the two next best hitters remaining on Penn State’s roster with Homer and Williams gone, but it’s Wood who has easily been the Lions’ top performer. In 21 starts at catcher, Wood is batting .375 and has a 1.134 OPS. He’s done just about everything Penn State could want, leading the squad with four home runs, hitting five doubles, two triples and even one stolen base.
Pitchers to Watch:
As of now, Penn State hasn’t really gotten ahold of a new rotation since the departure of its past weekend trio. Five pitchers have shared weekend starts, but the two who have performed the best — Mason Mellott (3.86 ERA) and Kellan Tulio (3.52 ERA) — haven’t had starts since mid-March and February, respectively. With those two pitchers in shifting to the bullpen, along with closer Jaden Henline (2.75 ERA) and Steven Miller (3.38 ERA), the Nittany Lions boast a very solid bullpen.
Probable Starting Pitcher Matchups
Friday, 6:30 p.m. ET
Jr. RHP Nick Dean (2-1, 3.54 ERA) vs. So. RHP Travis Luensmann (0-2, 6.18 ERA)
After a couple of rough outings in a row, Nick Dean looks to take advantage of a weak Penn State offense to get back on track of what started as a picture-perfect season for the Terps ace. Prior to that rough patch, Dean was cruising with a 0.93 ERA, but the junior has given up nine runs in his last two starts, including a tough battle against Dallas Baptist.
Luensmann has been given the ball every Friday for Penn State thus far, but he has yet to go more than 4 2/3 innings since February 25. With a 6.18 ERA, clean starts have been hard to come by for the sophomore, and he’s had just one shutout performance (March 11 vs. UMass), albeit he combined to surrender 11 hits and walks.
Saturday, 2:00 p.m. ET
Jr. LHP Ryan Ramsey (6-0, 2.11 ERA) vs. Fr. RHP Tommy Molsky (0-3, 5.40 ERA)
A big part of Maryland’s lone win against Dallas Baptist was the valiant effort put out by Ryan Ramsey. Despite an abnormal four walks and two strikeouts, Ramsey navigated through seven innings of one-run baseball to pave the way for an 11-5 victory over the Patriots. With his season ERA down to 2.11, he’ll look to get it to sub-2.00 in his start Saturday afternoon.
Just like the Lions’ ace, Molsky has been the only other Nittany Lion getting consistent starts, as he’s taken the ball every weekend thus far. His best performance came in his very first, pitching six shutout innings, but the freshman hasn’t had a clean slate like that since. Molksy’s last start did come Wednesday afternoon, but despite pitching on short rest a couple of times this season, it’s uncertain if he gets the ball at all.
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
So. RHP Jason Savacool (4-2, 2.72 ERA) vs. Fr. RHP Chase Renner (1-1, 9.00 ERA)
Savacool went from the highest of highs against Siena to the lowest of lows this season against Dallas Baptist, so like Dean, he’ll also be hoping to take advantage against Penn State to right the ship. Compared to last year, Savacool has been much more consistent, and has been showing a lot more life in his fastball which contributed to his season-best 14 strikeout performance against Siena. While Penn State’s hitting has struggled immensely this season, they’ve kept strikeouts to a minimum (third-lowest in the Big Ten), so Savacool will need to work hard to bounce back from last Sunday’s blunder.
The final spot in Penn State’s rotation has been tricky all season, as it has yet to find a reliable arm to fill the start with. However, Chase Renner pitched in that spot most recently, throwing an inning in what could have been an “opener” role. Renner could have hoped for better, allowing three runs in the frame before being replaced in the second. He did pitch a pair of innings in Penn State’s win over St. Bonaventure Wednesday, so like Molsky, it’s unclear if he will get the ball Sunday.