New York Yankees draft Ben Cowles in 10th round

The New York Yankees selected Maryland shortstop Ben Cowles in the 10th round (303rd overall) of the MLB Draft on Monday. The rising senior was the second Terrapin taken in the 2021 MLB Draft.

The Newark, New York product starred both on the mound and at the plate in high school, but was recruited by the Terps as a position player. His presence was immediately felt in the lineup, as he started 50 of the 58 games during his freshman season. However, Cowles struggled with his bat, slashing just .200/.317/.314 with three homers and 15 RBIs.

After spending most of his freshman year at second base, he transitioned to shortstop prior to his sophomore season, where he started every game. Albeit the shortened season, Cowles saw his offensive numbers surge in his limited time at the plate. He matched his freshman total with three home runs in only 15 games while ranking third on the club with 14 RBIs. Cowles credited his offensive success to hitting coach Matt Swope, who worked with shortstop on his swing and helped fine-tune his approach at the plate.

Although Cowles made strides on offense during his sophomore campaign, no one could have expected the breakout season he would have in 2021.  

The righty, who does not consider himself a power hitter, began the season hot at the plate and never cooled off. In March, he hit five homers in three games against Rutgers, which earned him Big Ten Player of the Week honors for the first time in his career. In mid May, the junior went 7 for 15 including homers in three straight games. By the season’s end, he finished with 18 home runs, fourth most in program history and most by a Terp in nearly two decades. He ranked second in the conference with 51 RBIs and finished top four on the team in OPS (first), hits (second), runs (third), average (fourth) and stolen bases (fourth).

He also excelled in the field, ranking second in the conference in both assists and fielding percentage among shortstops. His breakout season earned him a spot on the First Team All-Big Ten list and he also was named a Third Team All-American by Baseball America.

It is unknown whether Cowles will sign a contract with the Yankees or return to College Park in the fall.

Chicago White Sox draft Sean Burke in third round

The Chicago White Sox selected Maryland right-hander Sean Burke in the third round (94th overall) of the MLB Draft on Monday. The rising junior was the first Terrapin taken in the 2021 MLB Draft.

The Sutton, Massachusetts native went undrafted out of St. John’s High School in 2018 and chose Maryland over various Power 5 schools such as Virginia and Boston College. Burke’s time in College Park got off to a rough start when the righty missed his freshman year while recovering from Tommy John surgery. 

When Burke finally returned to the hill, he shined. He made four starts and led the team in multiple pitching categories, including innings pitched, ERA and strikeouts. His 35 punchouts ranked first among freshmen in Division 1. Burke credited Tommy John surgery for his success in 2020.

“Obviously, at the time, I was upset that it happened,” Burke said in an interview with Baseball Prospect Journal prior to the 2021 season, “But because of that, I don’t think I would be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for that surgery,” he said.

The Perfect Game Preseason Big Ten Pitcher of the Year picked up where he left off to begin the 2021 campaign, striking out 13 Spartans in six innings at Michigan State on Opening Day. Three weeks later, the imposing right hander, who stands in at 6’6 and 230 pounds, recorded 11 strikeouts and allowed one earned run against Iowa. 

He pitched his best down the stretch, striking out 12 and taking a no-hitter deep into the seventh inning against Indiana in the final regular-season series of the year. With the Terps’ season on the line, Burke stepped up once again, tossing six scoreless frames and striking out eight against Norfolk State in the NCAA Tournament. He finished the year with 107 strikeouts, which ranked second in the Big Ten and sixth-most in program history. His 12.96 strikeouts per nine innings was the fourth-best mark in Terrapin history and he finished third among starters in the conference with a .178 batting average against.

The right-hander boasts a four-seam fastball, changeup, curveball and slider from a three-quarters arm slot, which he added last offseason. He relies primarily on his fastball and curveball, which he experimented with prior to the 2021 season and changed his grip from the traditional grip to a knuckle curveball grip.

Burke’s fastball sits in the 92-95 range and elevates up in the zone, which has led to his high strikeout rates. His secondary pitches have led to some inconsistency, with some scouts wishing he would choose between his curve and slider. His command is also an issue, as he walked five or more batters three times in 14 appearances last season. 

Some scouts envision Burke moving into a relief role due to his fastball-breaking ball combination if he struggles as a starter at the next level.

It is unknown whether Burke will sign a contract with the White Sox or return to College Park in the fall.

Savacool, Vought lead Terps to doubleheader sweep 

A cloudy day in Champaign did not stop the Terps from shining both at the plate and on the mound, propelling Maryland to a doubleheader sweep of Illinois. 

Starter Jason Savacool had a memorable outing in game one, only to be topped by his battery-mate Justin Vought in game two. 

Starter Nick Dean set the bar high with an outstanding performance on Friday night, but Savacool was up for the task. The freshman phenom shined on the mound for the Terps in game one, falling just two outs short of his third complete game of the year. He recorded a career-high seven strikeouts and allowed just four hits against an Illinois offense that came into the day leading the conference in batting average.

The Terps were firing on all cylinders in game one. After being silenced last night, Maryland’s bats came alive and capitalized on many of their chances. Bobby Zmarzlak tallied a career-high three hits and Chris Alleyne drove in three runs. Six Terps recorded multi-hit games. 

The Terps also found success on the basepaths. The team was successful in all seven of their stolen base tries, with Zmarzlak, Troy Schreffler and Ben Cowles swiping two bags apiece. It was a great all-around game for the Terps, who bounced back in a big way after Friday’s tough loss.

The Terps scored their first run of the series in the third on Alleyne’s RBI single. Alleyne scored from first on freshman Matt Shaw’s RBI double down the third base line, giving Maryland a 2-0 lead. That is all the run support Savacool needed.

Sporting No. 45 for Gerrit Cole, the freshman flashed shades of the Yankees right-hander early on, retiring the first nine Illini hitters. Illinois got on the board with an RBI fielder’s choice from Justin Janas but the Illini were unable to tack on any more runs.

Savacool continued to shine, striking out Janas and right fielder Cam McDonald for his career-high seventh strikeout of the afternoon. The freshman sailed through the seventh with only three hits allowed. 

In the eighth, Alleyne extended the Terps lead to 5-1 with an RBI single, his third of the afternoon. Still in search of his first home run of the series, Cowles came up later in the inning but struck out swinging. 

Savacool worked around one hit in the eighth and got slugger Jackson Raper to fly out to center and end the inning. The freshman was back on the hill to begin the ninth, but following a hit batsmen and a single, Savacool’s stellar start ended just two outs short of a complete game. 

Closer Sam Bello entered the game, and things got a little too close for comfort for the Terps. With the bases loaded and the Illini down to their final out, catcher Jacob Campbell hit Bello’s offering off the wall for a two-run double, cutting the Terps’ lead to two. Bello was able to close out the game with a strikeout of pinch-hitter Tom Jurack, and the Terps evened the series at one apiece by taking game one 5-3. 

While the story of game one was the Terps’ success on the hill, Maryland’s offense led the charge in game two.

Down 1-0, the Terps were held quiet until the fourth inning. After being bogged down all series long, the Terps’ bats finally came alive. Maxwell Costes led off the fourth with a single before Tommy Gardiner laced a single into right, moving Costes to third. With one out, left fielder Tucker Flint stepped up to the plate and delivered an opposite-field three run homer to left. 

But the Terps weren’t done. Catcher Justin Vought followed up Flint’s homer with one of his own, a solo shot to left center.

Maryland’s offensive onslaught had just begun.

Vought led off the sixth with his second homer of the day, another solo shot to left. Alleyne followed with a homer of his own, and the Terps went back-to-back for the second time in three innings.

The Illini pushed across one run in the sixth and seventh innings to cut Maryland’s lead to three, but that was the closest they would get.

Vought’s career day at the plate was not over. The catcher unloaded on a 1-1 offering from reliever Ryan Kutt for his third home run of the game, becoming the first Terp with a three-homer game since 2009. Two batters later, Ben Cowles joined the home run party with his Big-Ten leading 14th homer of the season, giving him a home run in each series this season. The two solo home runs gave the Terps an 8-3 lead.

As the rain started to fall, the Terps continued to pour it on. Schreffler came around to score on a wild pitch and give the Terps a 9-3 lead in the ninth. Later in the inning, Vought stepped to the plate with a chance at history: a four home run game. While he did not hit one out, the catcher did lace an RBI single to left field for his fourth RBI of the game. Shaw kept the line moving with a two-run single to give the Terrapins 12 runs on the day. 

The Illini tacked on one in the bottom half, but David Falco shut the door on the Illini’s comeback hopes, giving the Terps another series win.

Maryland has won eight of their past nine and 11 of their last 13. With only three series left in the regular season, the Terps have caught fire at the right time.

The Terrapins will be back at the “Bob” next weekend for a three-game set versus a struggling Purdue ball club that has lost five of their last six.

Terps’ winning streak snapped in 2-0 defeat to Illinois

The Terps (19-14) saw their six-game win streak come to an end on Friday night, dropping a 2-0 pitchers duel to Illinois (16-16).

The starters for both clubs were the stories of the night, with both pitchers going 7 2/3 innings. Illini sophomore Andrew Hoffmann recorded a career high 12 strikeouts, with the first eight coming through the first four innings. Hoffmann threw 80 of his 111 pitches for strikes, giving up only three hits, no runs and no walks. The sophomore’s 12 strikeouts were the most in a game for an Illini pitcher since April 2016. 

Hoffmann got out to a hot start and never cooled off. The tall, lanky right-hander made quick work of the Terps early on, striking out six through three frames. He caught hitters off guard on his breaking ball, which sat about 20 miles per hour slower than his fastball. The two-time transfer student pounded the strike zone all night, getting the Terps hitters to chase. The righty reached two strike counts against each of the first nine Terps hitters.

Dean retired the first seven batters he faced, but faced trouble in the third. Left fielder Nathan Aide came up with the first hit of the game for either side with one out in the bottom of the third. Two pitches later, Freshman Cal Hejza hit an opposite field RBI single to put the Illini on the board. 

Chris Alleyne got things going for the Terps with a leadoff single in the fourth. Hoffmann responded with his seventh strikeout of the night, getting Matt Shaw to strike out swinging. Alleyne promptly stole second for his conference-leading 19th steal of the season. The speedy Alleyne advanced to second on a Ben Cowles groundout but the right hander worked out of trouble and recorded his eighth strikeout, stranding Alleyne on third. 

In the bottom of the fifth, leadoff hitter Taylor Jackson reached third on a three-base error off an errant throw from third baseman Tommy Gardiner. Illinois was unable to drive Jackson home as slugger Jackson Raper ended the inning with a flyout to right.

The Terps were unable to capitalize off of catcher Riley Langerman’s one out single in the sixth, as Hoffman continued to cruise through six. 

Designated hitter Justin Janas got on base to start the bottom half of the inning with a slow roller that hugged the third base line for a single. Tommy Gardiner made up for his fielding blunder in the fifth with a heads-up play. Gardiner intentionally dropped a lineout to third to get the lead runner at second, but catcher Ryan Hampe was called safe at first after a lengthy review, leaving manager Rob Vaughn displeased and looking for an explanation from the umpiring crew. The questionable call did not seem to phase Dean, though. He left Hampe stranded on first and recorded his first strikeout to end the inning.

With one out in the seventh, Maxwell Costes reached first on his 15th hit by pitch of the year, the second most in the conference. It was just the fourth base runner allowed by Hoffmann. The sophomore recorded his career-high 10th strikeout of the game after Tommy Gardiner was caught looking to end the top of the inning.

Both pitchers shined through seven innings, with Dean giving up just one earned run on four hits, and Hoffmann striking out a career-high ten on just two hits while giving up no runs. Neither pitcher allowed a walk through seven innings. Maryland saw only two runners reach scoring position through the seventh. 

Hoffmann recorded his 11th strikeout for the first out of the eighth, which gave him 7 1/3 innings pitched on the night, a new career-high. Hoffmann seemed to get better as the game went on. He recorded four straight strikeouts in the seventh and eighth innings as he climbed over 100 pitches. Catcher Riley Langerman ended Hoffmann’s excellent outing with a two-out bloop single in the eighth, but Cole Kirschsieper came on in relief, getting Alleyne to pop out to shortstop. 

Dean also came back out for the eighth, starting the inning at only 80 pitches. After recording two quick outs, the sophomore walked Branden Comia, the first free pass issued by either team. Five pitches later, Janas hit a single down the right field line to advance Comia to third, ending Dean’s excellent outing. Elliot Zoellner’s first pitch in relief was a wild one, scoring Comia from third and giving the Illini a much-needed insurance run. Zoellner escaped further trouble with a Hampe groundout on the next pitch.

Matt Shaw gave the Terps life with a leadoff walk in the ninth, but Kirschsieper recorded a huge strikeout of slugger Ben Cowles, who looked to be swinging for the fences during his at bat. Kirschsieper followed the Cowles strikeout with a punchout of Costes for the second out of the inning. The sophomore earned his second save of the year by retiring Matt Orlando, giving Illinois a 2-0 win. 

With the win, Illinois gets back to .500 for the first time since starting 6-6. This was only the Illini’s third win this year when scoring five runs or less. Dean took the tough-luck loss, and Hoffman earned his second win of the year.

Due to expected inclement weather on Sunday, the Terps will take on the Illini for two at Illinois Field. The first game starts at noon with the pitching matchup uncertain due to the sudden schedule change. The series finale will begin 30 minutes after the conclusion of game one.

Series Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

The red-hot Maryland Terrapins (19-13) look to continue their winning ways this weekend as they head to Champaign, Illinois, to take on a Fighting Illini squad (15-16) looking to get back in the win column.

Coming off a three-game sweep of Minnesota, the Terps are in the midst of a historic six-game win streak, matching their longest Big Ten winning streak in program history. Led by a pair of excellent pitching performances over the weekend coupled with timely hitting, Maryland outscored the Golden Gophers 22-10 last weekend at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium. 

The Terps have been swinging the bat great as of late. At the plate, Freshman Matt Shaw led the way with six hits last weekend while Chris Alleyne extended his season-best hitting streak to eight games. Right-hander Nick Dean went seven strong innings, allowing just one earned run and striking out eight while earning his second win of the season last Friday. Freshman phenom Jason Savacool went six innings, allowing two runs on six hits in Saturday’s walk-off win. Star shortstop Ben Cowles will look to add to his Big Ten-leading 13 home runs this weekend and first baseman Maxwell Costes heads into Friday’s contest with a five-game hit streak.

Winners of five of their last seven, the Fighting Illini were originally slated to meet Northwestern and No. 22 Michigan twice each in last weekend’s pod series hosted by Northwestern. However, the Wildcats were forced to pause team activities due to health and safety concerns within the program, leaving Illinois to face Michigan four times instead of the originally scheduled two. Illinois held their own with the Wolverines, salvaging a split but allowing a combined 37 runs in the two losses. 

Opening pitch of the three-game series is set for Friday at 7:00 p.m. on Big Ten Network Plus, while game two will be Saturday at 5:00 p.m. on Big Ten Network Plus. The series finale is set to begin at noon on Sunday on the Big Ten Network.

Illinois Fighting Illini (15-16)

Last Season:

The Illini were off to a great start last season, scoring a pair of top-25 victories as well as securing a road win against Coastal Carolina. The team finished the abbreviated season with an 8-5 record and played multiple collegiate baseball powerhouses including top-ranked West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Infielder Branden Comia led the team with a .426 average and a 1.228 OPS in 13 games. On the mound, Illinois saw Freshman Cole Kirschsieper finish 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA. 

This season:

Illinois got off to a rocky start this season, dropping their first three to No. 23 Ohio State. However, they rebounded with four straight wins. This team lives and dies with a high-powered offense. If Maryland can silence the Illini’s bats, it could be a long weekend for Illinois. Manager Dan Hartleb’s club tends to be streaky — they have a pair of four-game win streaks and a trio of three-game losing streaks. 

Hitters to watch:

Senior Jackson Raper leads the Fighting Illini offense with ten home runs and 38 RBI along with a .350 average. Raper is on the conference’s top ten leaderboard in each of those categories. He became the first Illini since 2013 to hit for the cycle, as he did so in game one of Sunday’s doubleheader against Michigan. First baseman Kellen Sarver has also seen recent success at the plate, tallying at least one RBI in ten of his last 11 contests while hitting .385/.378/.718 with four home runs over that stretch. Comia picked up where he left off last season and leads the Big Ten with a sparkling .497 OBP along with ranking sixth in the conference in hits (40) and fifth in average (.357). As a team, the Illini rank top five in the Big Ten in batting average, hits, runs and OBP. What the Illini lack on the hill they make up for at the plate.

Pitchers to watch:

Illinois has not fared as well on the mound, as the team sports a collective 7.30 ERA. Friday’s starter Andrew Hoffmann has seen the most success on the hill for the Illini this year, but more on him in a minute. The pitching staff has given up at least 11 runs in half of their losses, and gave up a season-high 19 runs in only seven innings on Sunday.

Starting pitching matchups:

Friday: RHP Nick Dean (2-0, 3.51 ERA) vs. RHP Andrew Hoffmann (1-0, 3.96 ERA)

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Dean: The sophomore right-hander has been fabulous on the mound this season, allowing only more than three earned runs once in six outings. Dean is coming off a seven-inning start where he gave up just one earned run and one walk against Minnesota. The righty has outstanding control, walking only six batters in 33 1/3 innings this season. The Terps have been victorious in each of his last five starts. 

Hoffmann: As mentioned before, if you’re looking for Illinois’s ace, you’ve found him. A reliable arm on a starting staff that has struggled for much of this season, Hoffmann is tied for the team lead in innings and has a WHIP just above one. Opponents are hitting a mere .217 off Hoffmann, eighth-best in the conference. The sophomore has made seven starts in 2021, with his most recent on Saturday in a no-decision against Michigan. He limited the Wolverines to three earned runs on five hits in 5 1/3 innings. Earlier this year, the John A. Logan Community College transfer was rated the 14th-ranked MLB draft prospect in the Big Ten by D1Baseball.

Saturday: RHP Jason Savacool (5-1, 5.33 ERA) vs. LHP Nathan Lavender (5-1, 4.46 ERA)

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Savacool: The freshman had a nice bounce-back outing Saturday in the win versus Minnesota, going six innings and allowing just two earned runs on six hits. After an excellent start to the year that featured a complete-game victory, Savacool cooled down and gave up at least four earned runs in four of his next five starts. The New York native has done a nice job limiting the home run ball and does not tire easily, as his pitch count typically sits in the nineties. The Terps have won all but one of his nine starts this year.

Lavender: Lavender may not have the best stuff on the Illini roster, but he sure knows how to rack up wins. The left-hander has five wins in as many starts, although he has struggled as of late. The Hudson, Illinois native has given up at least four earned runs in three of his past four outings, including being hit by the Wolverines for five earned runs on seven hits Saturday night. The rough start raised his ERA from 3.55 to 4.46. The lefty ranks eighth in the Big Ten with 57 strikeouts. Lavender has an excellent strikeout to walk ratio of 5:1 and will look to get Maryland hitters to chase early in the count. The left-hander missed last season with an injury but has stayed healthy this year.

Sunday: RHP Sean Burke (2-3, 4.24 ERA) vs. RHP Riley Gowens (1-2, 5.14 ERA)

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Burke: The hard-throwing right hander is slated to take the hill for the Terps in the series finale. While Burke has not worked over six innings this season, he has reached double-digit strikeouts three times this season, including a career-high 13 in his season debut against Michigan State. Burke ranks third in the nation in strikeouts per nine (14.68) but is coming off his shortest outing of the year on Sunday, a scoreless appearance over three innings that included only two strikeouts. Burke is comfortable with high pitch counts and threw a season-high 117 pitches at Iowa in late April. The right hander’s electric stuff speaks for itself: he ranks No. 44 overall in Baseball America’s latest MLB Draft rankings.

Gowens: The right-handed freshman finally made his collegiate debut on the mound this season after being sidelined for two years with injuries. He has swing-and-miss stuff, striking out at least six in four outings in 2021. He has done a nice job keeping runners off the base paths and has allowed less than one hit per inning this season. Gowens’s ERA has hovered around six all season, but the bright spot was his seven no-hit innings against Purdue back in late April, earning him Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors. He’ll look to replicate that success against a tough Terps lineup.