Defense Falters, Terps Head to Loser’s Bracket

By Ben Harris

Maryland’s infield defense didn’t wake up for their second straight early morning start, making three errors that led to two unearned runs that proved to be the difference in their loss to Michigan State Friday.

In Taylor Bloom’s second start in two weeks against the Spartans, his infield defense left much to be desired. Last Saturday, four Terrapin errors (three from Andrew Bechtold at third and one from Nick Dunn at second) gave Michigan State an extra innings 4-3 win.

The infield spread around the errors today in another 4-3 loss: a botched slow-roller by Dunn in the fourth and another on a hard hit one-hopper in the eighth to Kevin Smith both led to runs.

With the weather compressing the schedule, and creating the possibility of playing four games in the next two days, effective (and rested) combinations of batterymates can be few and far between for many teams.

But Maryland’s roster is well-suited for the postseason with three aces, an above-average good fourth starter in freshman Hunter Parsons, and two catchers to boot in Nick Cieri and Justin Morris.

John Szefc slotted Morris at catcher today and was immediately rewarded. The sophomore ended the top of the second by gunning down Marty Bechina attempting to steal second, following up his defensive effort with an RBI single through the right side in the bottom half of the inning to get the scoring started. Morris impressively gunned down Kris Simonton in the following inning on a 76 mph changeup from Bloom, his thirteenth runner caught stealing on the year.

Designated hitter Cieri continued to see the ball well against Landon after going 2-3 against him last Friday with two RBIs. Cieri reached base in each of his three at-bats against Landon (two walks and a single), scoring on Morris’ second-inning single.

After punishing the Terps from the leadoff spot last weekend—7-13, five runs, an RBI and two walks—Brandon Hughes was nullified by Bloom today, striking out looking in his first two at-bats. Keeping him off the bases for the entire day benefited Maryland two-fold: Hughes is the Spartans’ top base stealer (17 for 22) and stole three of his club’s four bases against Maryland last weekend.

Instead of utilizing their top weapon, Michigan State was forced to try and create runs with lesser base runners. Neither attempt was successful.

Senior Anthony Papio launched a solo homer in the fifth to give Maryland a 2-1 lead after having unsuccessfully attempted to bunt for a hit in his previous at-bat. The next inning, the Big Ten’s leading hitter Jordan Zimmerman (.386) matched Papio, taking Bloom deep to left for his ninth long ball of the season.

Bloom sported a line nearly identical to his outing Saturday against the Spartans. Today he allowed seven hits, four runs (two earned) with no walks and four strikeouts in 7.1 innings. Saturday, he surrendered seven hits, three runs (two earned) with no walks and three strikeouts in 6.2 innings.

Zimmerman proved too much for Maryland, going 2-5 with a clutch go-ahead RBI single two innings after his game-tying homer in the sixth.

When Joe Mockbee relieved Landon after seven innings, Cieri continued to thrive, greeting him with a two-out solo shot to right, his first home run since the Terps’ second series of the year (February 28 vs. Rhode Island).

The Terps nearly came back against star closer Dakota Mekkes in the ninth. Freshman Dan Maynard slapped a pinch-hit single to left before stealing second on a well-read slider in the dirt. However, Bechtold ripped a liner directly at the second baseman Dan Durkin who gloved it and took it to the bag, doubling off Maynard to end the frame.

Entering the loser’s bracket, Maryland will play later today due to yesterday’s rainout, facing an Indiana team playing on a full day’s rest after losing to the Terps on Wednesday.

Shawaryn K’s 16 in Tournament Opener, Terps Beat Hoosiers 5-3

By Ben Harris

Mike Shawaryn brought his swing-and-miss stuff to Omaha, Nebraska, sitting down 16 Hoosiers (13 swinging) in the Terps’ 5-3 tournament-opening win.

The bespectacled veteran’s 16 strikeouts topped his previous career-high of 13 set last April against Cal State Fullerton, and are the most in the six-year, 247-game history of TD Ameritrade Park.

He fell one shy of tying a Big Ten Tournament record of 17 set by Bill Cunningham of Ohio State in 1985, and tied by Greg Everson in 1987.


Not even a 9:00 a.m. start could cool off Shawaryn. The junior right-hander opened the game with six straight strikeouts and, despite allowing an unearned run in the first, rung up eight of the first eleven Indiana hitters. Bearing down from the first at-bat of the game, the Unicorn’s third complete game on the season came on 125 pitches (91 strikes).

Not an inning went by that Shawaryn didn’t sit down a Hoosier on strikes. On the year, 67 of his 97 strikeouts have missed opponents’ bats, including his 300th career punch-out in the fourth inning.

Shawaryn allowed just four hits on the day, filling the zone with a devastating mix of fastballs low and away, sharp sliders on the same corner and down in the dirt. Eight batters were rung up on fastballs, seven on sliders and one on a changeup. Tracking each putaway pitch tells a similar story: Shawaryn’s fastball command down and away allowed him to exploit the corner with sliders and expand the zone. Furthermore, Shawaryn wasted no time, attacking hitters who fell behind early. Seven of his 16 strikeouts came on three pitches, six came on 1-2 counts and just three on 2-2 counts. His only three-ball counts on the day came on his three walks.

With their eldest starting pitcher Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 10.36.55 PM.png
shoving, the youth movement of freshman Nick Dunn and Marty Costes stepped up in a big way. The pair combined to go 6-9 with three runs (all Costes), four RBI (three from Dunn) and four extra base hits, and found themselves in the middle of each of the Terps’ three run-scoring rallies. Three of those extra base hits came from Costes in the two-hole.

The hot bat of Costes was a welcome site for the Terps, as the freshman left fielder struggled against Michigan State last weekend. Starting the series 0-13, Costes notched a hit in the Sunday rubber match, but ended the series 1-18.

Unable to string together hits for the majority of the season, Maryland did just that in the tournament opener. In the first, the Terps rattled off three-straight base knocks—capped by a Costes triple and Dunn RBI single—to take an early 1-0 lead on Indiana’s Kyle Hart.

Tied 1-1 in the fifth, Zach Jancarski and Anthony Papio hit back-to-back singles, and Costes came through again, ripping an RBI ground-rule double over the fence in deep left center to plate Jancarski, and put Maryland ahead 2-1. Two pitches later, Dunn laced an RBI single to right field, but hit it too hard to score both runners, scoring just Papio. With the Indiana infield playing back, Kevin Smith grounded out to shortstop to score Costes and give Maryland a three-run lead.

Shining on both sides of the ball, Costes backed up Shawaryn with a spectacular leaping catch to end the fifth.

After a tough series defensively against Michigan State last weekend, Andrew Bechtold watched a ball go through his wickets in the third, leading to an unearned run that tied the game 1-1.

The only other inning of trouble for Maryland came in the fifth when a Colby Stratten RBI double scored Brian Wilhite and a Logan Sowers sac fly brought the game to within one. But that was as close as the Hoosiers would get. Both of Indiana’s first two runs originally reached base on leadoff walks surrendered by Shawaryn.

Again in the bottom of the seventh, Costes doubled to left and scored one batter later on another Dunn RBI, this time a double down the right field line to give their starter a two-run cushion.

While his shutdown stuff has persisted throughout the season, Shawaryn has struggled to stay locked into the strike zone. When he found himself amid a brief detour from the zone today, he quickly regained his poise and control of the plate.

Maryland will face the winner of No. 2 Nebraska and No. 7 Michigan State tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. ET, with Jake Eisenberg and Matt Present live on the call in Omaha.

Notes: Shawaryn won his 30th career game Wednesday, and became Maryland’s all-time leader in innings pitched. His impressive career postseason record (ACC/Big Ten Tournaments, NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals) of 5-2 is only surpassed by his 2.83 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 47.2 innings pitched. Over thirty-two percent of those strikeouts came this morning.

Top Pitching Performances According to Bill James’ Game Score

By Ben Harris

The secret to Maryland’s second consecutive Big Ten Tournament appearance is, well, anything but a secret. A starting rotation comparable to any in the country features three top-notch arms. Their 2015 NCBWA first-team All American and 2016 preseason Golden Spikes watch list candidate, Mike Shawaryn, is their third-best pitcher. That’s the type of season it’s been for head coach John Szefc and his three-headed pitching rotation. Two sophomores, Brian Shaffer and Taylor Bloom, comprised the remaining two weekend Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 2.41.34 PM.pngslots. Each of Maryland’s three starters rank in the top 19 in ERA in the Big Ten, combining to allow just 89 earned runs in 279.2 innings, good for a 2.86 ERA.

Looking at Bill James’ Game Score, a metric that quantifies the effectiveness of any starting pitcher’s outing, we can see just how masterful these three aces have been when at their best.

Game Score calculates the overall dominance of a starter’s outing and is relatively simple as far as advanced statistics are concerned. Each pitcher begins with 50 points, and by weighting different measures such as earned runs allowed, outs recorded and strikeouts, a final score is given to encompass the entirety of a pitcher’s contributions in any given start. The full calculation and weighting can be seen to the right.

For reference, if we assign average stats to a “quality start”—six innings, three earned runs allowed and six hits, two walks, four strikeouts—that pitcher’s Game Score would remain 50. The following graphic breaks down the best start of the season for each of Maryland’s three aces according to Bill James’ Game Score.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 12.57.07 PM.pngScreen Shot 2016-05-24 at 12.57.44 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 12.53.21 PM.pngOn the heels of a 13-2 2015 season (1.71 ERA) that propelled the right-hander atop the school’s all-time wins leaderboard, it looked as if “The Unicorn” picked up right where he left off this spring. In the Terps’ home opener February 26 against Rhode Island, Shawaryn dazzled, facing the minimum over eight innings without allowing a hit after the first. Connor Foreman, the Rams’ only base runner on the day, reached base in the first and fourth innings.

After Foreman’s single in the first he was immediately erased on a 4-6-3 double play. Shawaryn started to roll beginning with the twin killing, putting the next 10 hitters in two-strike counts. When Foreman reached in the fourth on a hit by pitch, the following batter lined into a 6-3 double play. Shawaryn set down the next 13 hitters in a row to complete his afternoon.

The game marked just one of two starts on the year in which Shawaryn didn’t walk a batter (May 7 vs. Illinois) and didn’t surrender a run (April 23 vs. Purdue). In the latter, he tied his season-high Game Score of 85 in a 10-strikeout, three-hit performance.

The Terps needed every bit of Shawaryn’s dominance that Friday afternoon. Opposing him was Rhode Island’s Steve Moyers, who threw an eight-inning complete game allowing just one unearned run in Maryland’s 1-0 series opening win.

Average Game Score: 54.35 (lowest of all three starters)
Standard Deviation:
18.27 (highest of all three starters)


Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 12.53.27 PM.pngThe best start of Bloom’s breakout sophomore season came on April 8 in game one of a double header against Ohio State. In the first Friday start of his career—stepping in for a struggling Shawaryn—Bloom took a perfect game into the sixth en route to a 90-pitch Greg Maddux complete game shutout. The nine-inning effort was good for his third on the year to that point. By season’s end, his five complete games led the Big Ten and tied for seventh in the nation. Other than Rutgers’ Howie Brey (four), no other pitcher in the conference had more than two.

At 1 hour and 42 minutes, the game was the shortest of Maryland’s season. Shawaryn’s start against Rhode Island was the second shortest (1:52).

The dominant start lowered Bloom’s ERA to 1.99 and raised his innings total to a Big Ten-leading 58.2. Exactly one month later, his ERA was identical and led the Big Ten.

At the regular season’s conclusion, he ranked third in the conference with 95 innings pitched despite a gimpy ankle scratching him from the Purdue series. Had he pitched and lasted his average of 7.1 innings, he would have finished with the most innings pitched in the conference.

Average Game Score: 59.23
Standard Deviation:
15.66 (lowest of all three starters)


Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 12.53.32 PM.pngWith the Terps dropping the first two games against Rutgers in their second to last regular season series, Brian Shaffer got the ball on Sunday, brought his best stuff, and saved the season. Had Maryland lost that series final and been swept at home by the Scarlet Knights, they would have missed out on the Big Ten Tournament. (Maryland would have lost the head-to-head tiebreaker against Iowa, assuming the Terps still took two of three from Michigan State in the final weekend.)

Shaffer overpowered Rutgers with a career-high eight strikeouts and fell one short of a career-best with 12 groundball outs. Including an infield pop out, 21 of his 24 outs recorded didn’t leave the infield. He didn’t allow a hit through the first 3.1 innings, keeping Maryland in the game long enough for their feeble offense to break through against Rutgers’ starter and take full advantage of a weaker bullpen. The Terps broke a scoreless tie, putting up runs in the bottom of the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

Building off his breakout performance in last season’s Big Ten Tournament in which he snapped Illinois’ conference record 27-game winning streak, Shaffer emerged as a formidable weapon for Szefc worthy of pitching any day of the week, let alone as the Sunday starter. In six starts between March 13 and April 16, he lasted no fewer than seven innings and tossed consecutive complete games in his best 2015 Shawaryn impression (1.67 ERA, 0.82 WHIP).

In a crucial spot, Shaffer spun his best game of the season, topping his complete game shutout of No. 23 Cal State Fullerton in which he posted a Game Score of 80, the fifth highest for any starter this season.

Average Game Score: 59.5 (highest of all three starters)
Standard Deviation:
15.98


Interestingly, Shaffer didn’t hold the best per-start average in any of the categories that dictate Game Score, but averaged the highest Game Score per outing at 59.5 (Bloom 59.23, Shawaryn 54.35). His consistency at the back end of the rotation proved vital for the Terps who went 9-5 in games the sophomore started, and explains how, without having the best numbers in any of those six stat categories, his average Game Score was highest.

As further evidence of Shaffer’s reliability, the standard deviation of his Game Scores (15.98) was nearly identical to Bloom’s rotation-best 15.66.Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 12.52.08 PM.png

Using the Game Score metric, Shaffer led all Maryland starters with seven outings that scored 60 or higher. Bloom had six. Bloom posted five Game Scores over 70, Shaffer had four, and Shawaryn just three. However, only Shaffer and Shawaryn had multiple starts scoring 80 or higher. Each starter had four outings that scored between 50-59. Both Shaffer and Bloom had just three starts with Game Scores under 50, compared to Shawaryn’s six, and Bloom was the only one without a Game Score below 30 on the season.

No Maryland starter’s Game Score was higher than Shawaryn’s two games of 85. He and Shaffer were the only two pitchers to post back-to-back starts that scored 78 or higher. Despite making just four starts on the year, freshman Hunter Parsons cracked the Terps’ top ten Game Scores, posting a 72 after a seven-inning, two-hit outing against James Madison for which he earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week plaudits.

**Update: This article covered the 2016 regular season. In the third game of the Big Ten Tournament, Brian Shaffer posted the most dominant start of the season for Maryland. In the 3-0 season-extending win over Indiana, he tossed a complete game shutout, striking out eight, walking none and allowing just two hits. He needed just 102 pitches to post a Game Score of 91, six points better than any performance from a Terp starter this season.**

Graphics by Ben Harris copyright-symbol.gif 2016

Terps Heading to Big Ten Tournament After Shaffer’s Gutsy Performance

By Ben Harris

With a trip to the Big Ten Tournament on the line Saturday, it looked as though Brian Shaffer’s day might be over as quickly as it started. Just four pitches into the regular season finale, Michigan State’s leadoff hitter Brandon Hughes sharply grounded a ball back up the box off of Shaffer’s right knee. The ball helplessly skittered into foul territory down the first base line, and Shaffer lay on the ground, leg outstretched and in pain.

After a lengthy delay, he couldn’t pull the trigger on his first warm-up pitch, wincing as he pushed off the mound with his right leg.

“I just took a stride and my knee buckled,” said Shaffer after the game. “For a second I thought, ‘uh oh,’ but it just had to loosen back up it was really tight.”

But, the tenacious right-hander gritted his teeth and fought the discomfort, carrying Maryland to a 6-4 win and into the conference tournament.

When it was all said and done, he had thrown 126 pitches over eight innings, allowing four runs and keeping Maryland in the game long enough for the offense to break through.

Head coach John Szefc wasn’t sure he would be even be able to stay in the game.

“When I went out there I thought it was maybe 50-50 that he might continue,” he said.

One batter after Hughes’ ground ball caught his knee, Shaffer walked Jordan Zimmerman, the Big Ten’s leading hitter, on four pitches. Dan Durkin then singled up the middle for his first RBI on the day to score Hughes. In all three games this series, the Terps trailed 1-0 after two innings.

After those first three hitters Shaffer settled in, getting Matt Byars to ground into a double play to alleviate the first inning pressure. From the second through the eighth, Shaffer allowed just six hits and three runs while striking out five.

michigan-state-series-graphic

Inning after inning, Maryland refused Michigan State the opportunity to put the game out of reach. A two-run bottom of the third, courtesy of Dan Durkin’s homer, gave the Spartans an early 3-0 lead. However, the Terps manufactured two runs in the next half inning to cut the lead to 3-2.

The Spartans tacked on another in the bottom half of the fourth after a Kris Simonton triple and a squeeze bunt from Justin Hovis. Again, Maryland responded in the following frame with a run of their own. Marty Costes broke his 0-15 slump (0-13 to begin the series) with a two-out single. Nick Dunn then knocked an RBI double to left, his second on the day and third of four total hits.

But for Maryland, their most important inning of the season came in the seventh. Like so many times in the second half of the season, sophomore catalyst Zach Jancarski sparked the Terps offense with a leadoff walk when they needed it most. Two outs later Dunn grounded a single up the middle, advancing to second as Jancarski’s wheels propelled him from first to third, drawing a throw.

With two men in scoring position, reliever Keegan Baar was pulled for Cam Vieaux, Michigan State’s ace. Vieaux, who has been battling injury, received the weekend off from his regular starting duties. For head coach Jake Boss, the move made sense, especially after their win yesterday clinched a Big Ten Tournament bid.

Saturday marked the first time since 2014 that Vieaux pitched out of the bullpen. And it showed. After hitting just five batters all season, his first pitch – a rogue slider – caught Kevin Smith on the foot to load the bases. He had seemingly bounced back against the next batter, jumping ahead of freshman Dan Maynard 0-2. But Maynard worked the count to 2-2 before wearing a pitch from Vieaux, tying the game at four with an RBI hit by pitch.

The very next offering from Vieaux was laced the opposite way by sophomore Kevin Biondic (3-4 on the day), putting the Terps ahead for good, 6-4.

“Just hopped on that first fastball,” Biondic said after the game. “That’s our approach. Look for something to hunt and it was over the plate and luckily I hammered it.”

“I think a big part of that game was Brian’s ability to minimize damage,” said Szefc. “He never gave up a three-run inning. I say it all the time, it’s hard to win when you give up a three-run inning and that’s what they did in the seventh.”

The win solidified the Terps’ second conference tournament appearance in as many season in the Big Ten. They will enter play Thursday as the sixth seed.

Had they lost, Maryland would have needed John Szefc’s predecessor Eric Bakich and his Michigan Wolverines to beat Illinois Saturday afternoon.

Notes: Freshman Nick Dunn posted his second four-hit game of the season (March 1 at Delaware) with two singles and two opposite field doubles. Eight hits is the second most Shaffer has allowed this season (nine against Minnesota, April 16). Andrew Bechtold snapped his ten-game reached-base streak. Shaffer’s 126 pitches were the third-most thrown by a Maryland starter this season. Exactly one year ago Saturday, Shaffer snapped Illinois’ NCAA-best 27-game winning streak in the second game of the Big Ten Tournament.

Szefc’s Terps Need Final Weekend Push Like Never Before

By Ben Harris

For the first time in head coach John Szefc’s Maryland coaching career, Maryland will enter the week’s final season fighting for a conference tournament berth.

In 2013, the Terps entered their final series at 28-24 but had been overmatched in ACC play, ending with a 15-14 conference record and no chance at a tournament spot. In Szefc’s second season—an ACC farewell tour for the Big Ten-bound Terps—his club cruised through the season’s final month into the conference tournament on the back of a nine-game winning streak.

And last season, the Terps began their final series tied for third in the conference (35-18, 13-8). With seven of 13 teams under .500 in conference play, a trip to Minneapolis for their first even Big Ten Tournament was all but booked. Maryland would go on to finish as the runner-up en route to their second straight Super Regional appearance.

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For one final time at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, senior Rob Galligan jumps on the back of Ryan Selmer’s back to break the pregame huddle. (Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network)

But, come Thursday, Maryland won’t merely be playing for seeding as they did in 2015; they will be playing with their season on the line. The Rutgers series was the second straight Big Ten series loss at home for Szefc’s Terps, who have dug themselves into a tough spot before heading to Michigan State (33-15, 12-9) this weekend. The struggles of Friday and Saturday’s losses to Rutgers were wiped away briefly Sunday as Senior Day festivities preceded a 6-0 shutout and career head coaching win number 350 for “The General.”

“It was a big day for us coming off of, I say two frustrating days but really four in a row, that kind of put us in a really big hole, and we certainly needed to come out here and play well today to give us some hope going into next weekend,” said Szefc postgame Sunday.

Had Maryland been swept, they likely would have needed to sweep their final series for a shot at making the tournament.

For the second straight week, Maryland experienced a double-digit RPI drop after a disappointing series loss. They dropped 10 spots from 47 to 57 after losing two of three to Illinois two weeks ago, and fell 16 spots to 73 after salvaging just one game this weekend.

Conference foes with more favorable RPIs now include Michigan (29), Minnesota (41), Nebraska (55), Illinois (57), Michigan State (68) and Rutgers (72).

No team currently in the top 75 RPI in the country has dropped as far as Maryland (26 spots) over the last two weeks. Only two others, Oregon State and the Terps’ upcoming opponent Michigan State, have dropped at least ten spots.

But the door is still open for the Terps who can clinch a postseason berth with a series win against the Spartans. That could prove exceedingly difficult as the Spartans’ third-best pitching staff in the country will face one of the Big Ten’s worst offenses.

Michigan State’s K/BB ratio (2.62) is ranked 24 in the nation and their 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings ranks 36 out of 295 teams. Maryland’s team triple-slash is a dismal .258/.359/.383—NCAA ranks 217/151/153—and is even worse in 21 conference games (.235/.307/.322).

“Nothings easy this time of the year, you’re going on the road to play [Michigan State] facing a good lefty, we’ll have to be at our best next weekend to win that series,” said Szefc Sunday.

The southpaw Szefc spoke of is ace Cam Vieaux, whose 2.31 ERA ranks second best in the conference. His 75 strikeouts are tied for sixth in the Big Ten with Maryland’s Mike Shawaryn, the very man who outpitched Vieaux in the tournament opener last year.

To succeed, Maryland will need a combined effort highlighted by the same manner of pitching and defense they displayed Sunday. For a team struggling offensively, the Terps must hone in on the game’s other two facets and let them trump their lacking bats.

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Mike Shawaryn will get the ball in the series opener Thursday in his second career start against the Spartans (May 20, 2015). (Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network)

“We have to get really good starting pitching and play really good defense behind those guys,” said Szefc. “And just be able to execute, get some timely hits, move runners, I don’t think we have to put 10 runs on the board but I think we have to be better than what we were this weekend offensively.”

But Maryland has their own talented trio of starting pitchers built precisely for series like this and for postseason play.

“Not too many teams in the country have three starting pitchers like we do,” said senior reliever Rob Galligan. “These guys just dominate you and attack you every single pitch of every single inning and not too many teams in the country have that. As long as these dudes just keep on attacking and keep on fighting we’ll be in a good spot.”

That depth in the rotation has given Szefc something he’s never had: reliability throughout a series.

“As good as our teams have been in the last couple years,” said Szefc. “They’ve always gotten swept one weekend or another. And this team, knock on wood, has not gotten swept. You try to take the small victories in life and that’s one of them for this season.”

Since taking over at Maryland, his club has been swept four times: twice in 2013, once in 2014 and once last season.

In order to extend the season, the Terps must not simply avoid the sweep, but play their most complete conference series all year against a formidable opponent. But despite this adversity, unlike any they’ve faced under their current head coach, the Terps can still ride their starting pitching into the Big Ten Tournament and potentially beyond.

Entering the Final Weekend, Nearly Anything is Possible in the Big Ten Standings

By Ben Harris and Matt Present

Entering the final weekend of the season, seven teams are vying for the remaining four open spots in the Big Ten Tournament. The Terps, currently seventh in the conference, control their own destiny and can clinch a tournament berth with a road series win against Michigan State, through which lies their best chance to hear their name called by the NCAA selection committee come May 30.Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 2.18.51 PM.png

Maryland got significant help last weekend from Ohio State’s three-game sweep of Michigan and 2-1 series wins from Iowa (over Michigan State) and Nebraska (over Penn State).

The top four teams in the conference have all clinched postseason berths, and will all beat up each other this weekend: No. 1 Minnesota hosts the third-place Ohio State Buckeyes, and the second ranked Indiana Hoosiers travel to face No. 4 Nebraska.

Between the bottom three teams in the conference, No. 11 Rutgers (worst record still in contention to make the tournament) faces the already-eliminated Northwestern Wildcats. Due to the Big Ten’s 13 teams, last-place Purdue is the odd team out playing Cal State Northridge out of conference.

Those two factors, good teams playing good teams and bad teams playing bad teams, open up the middle of the conference for the seven teams still in contention. There’s even a possibility that after all the dust has settled, the Terps could be one of six teams to make the tournament with identical 13-11 conference records. If teams remain tied after this weekend, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head record, followed by overall winning percentage if the teams haven’t met.

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Despite the Spartans (33-15, 12-9 Big Ten) having leveled off their winning pace (eight wins in their last 17), their pitching staff (third-best team ERA in NCAA, 2.64) could still spoil any hopes of reaching the postseason.

While the Michigan State series provides some obvious mismatches, the way the schedule has shaken out affords Maryland an opportunity to squeeze into the playoffs with a good showing this weekend.

The two series with the most significant playoff implications for the Terps – besides their own seven vs. six matchup – are fifth-place Michigan at tenth-ranked Illinois and No. 9 Iowa visiting eighth-place Penn State.

The Big Ten Tournament will take place May 25th-29th in Omaha, Nebraska. The tournament is a double elimination format, except in the championship game, which is winner-take-all. A complete schedule can be found here. Should the Terps make the tournament, all games from TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, can be heard live on the Maryland Baseball Network.

Terps Send Off Seniors With 6-0 Win Over Rutgers

By Ben Harris

Despite their series loss last week against visiting Illinois, despite dropping games on Friday and Saturday to Rutgers (25-26, 8-13 Big Ten), and despite the plummeting probability of making the Big Ten Tournament, the Maryland Terrapins (26-24, 11-10 Big Ten) still controlled their own destiny entering Sunday.

And on a Senior Day that saw just two Terps honored during the pregame ceremonies, it was a sophomore who stole the spotlight, a fitting summation of this year’s heavily youth-infused club. Starter Brian Shaffer didn’t surrender a hit through his first three and a third, and allowed just three through eight shutout innings, striking out a career high eight batters.

It was Shaffer’s phenomenal outing that afforded Maryland the ability to be patient at the plate, despite a frustrating two prior games. It wouldn’t have been surprising to see a young team’s inexperience get the better of them, causing them to press. Instead, they methodically battled back, making the most of what they were given and reaching double-digit walks.rutgers-series-graphic

“He gave our offense a chance to be patient and work through some at bats,” Szefc said after win number 350 in his head coaching career. “I say it all the time, if your starter gives your offense some time, especially at home, it’s usually going to go your way.”

Attacking early and often, Shaffer jumped ahead of eight of the first nine hitters. His most high-stress situation came in the second inning, when a deep fly ball from John Jennings bounced in and out of Marty Costes’ glove in the left center field gap. Jennings reached third on the play with one out.

Like so many times before, Shaffer buckled down. To begin the inning, he had thrown four straight sliders to Jawuan Harris to get him looking on strikes. After the error, he struck out Mike Martinez swinging, on another sharp, biting slider. Bearing down, he began the next hitter, Milo Freeman, with another. Once down 0-2, Freeman flied out to right, ending the threat.

Beyond the run-saving effort from Shaffer, escaping the jam had larger implications for the Terps’ mental approach.

“Not only does it keep the game even,” said Szefc who, “but it was a really mental thing for our team to not have to come from behind in a day that we really had to win. I hate saying ‘must-win’ but that was kind of a must-win.”

With the win, the Terps maintained control of their own conference destiny.

It was just the second time this season Shaffer has thrown to Nick Cieri, but the duo performed brilliantly. Justin Morris, Shaffer’s normal batterymate, came in as a defensive substitute in his eighth and final inning.

“J[ustin] has been my go-to guy all year, but it’s nice having Cieri back there,” Shaffer said. “We have been working really well lately and it doesn’t really matter who’s back there, but it’s nice having both of them to choose from.”

Maryland benefited from a merry-go-round sixth inning in which they knocked Rutgers starter Serafino Brito out of the game and took advantage of reliever Kyle Driscoll.

With senior Anthony Papio on third after a leadoff double and Costes aboard first with a walk, Kevin Smith couldn’t quite push a safety squeeze far enough down the first base line, and Papio was erased at home plate.

Smith stepped to the plate hitting 4-8 with two dingers and five RBIs in the series’ first two games. But in a 0-0 game, Szefc was looking for anything to jumpstart his offense.

“We were trying to get a lead and score first,” said Szefc. “That’s what we’re really trying to do and, the first and third situation, Kevin is one of our better push bunters so it really was a good situation for it, it just didn’t work out. I’d do it again in that situation.”

Before being yanked, Brito walked Madison Nickens to load the bases and plunked Biondic to bring home a run. Maryland’s patient approach worked deep counts against relievers Sunday in ways they hadn’t all series against Rutgers starters.

“Our main objective this game was to get into the bullpen early and see what we could do,” said Smith. They did, and it paid off.

Driscoll, who entered for Brito, walked both batters he faced without recording an out. Campbell, who replaced Driscoll, walked two in one and a third innings. And after recording the first out in the eighth, Ryan Fleming allowed a single to Morris and walked three of the next four, forcing in another run.

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Sophomore Justin Morris congratulates senior Rob Galligan after the final out against Rutgers on Sunday. (Hannah Evans/Maryland Baseball Network)

None of Maryland’s six runs were brought home with a hit. Four came on bases loaded walks/hit by pitches, another on a wild pitch and the remaining run on a sac fly that scored Papio in the seventh.

The Rutgers relievers walked eight Sunday, exactly half of the 16 batters they faced in their 2.1 innings of relief. For the series, the Terps scored five runs off the Rutgers bullpen, striking out five times and drawing 11 walks in 9.1 innings. Against the starters, headlined by Howie Brey’s complete game Friday, they struck out 16 times, worked eight free passes and scored nine times in 21.2 innings.

In respect for senior Rob Galligan – an elder role model the team affectionately refers to as “Dad” – the left-hander once more made the jog from the bullpen to the mound at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, called upon to retire the game’s final out.

“I think that’s just because I’m old,” Galligan jokingly admitted.

On the PA blared Kygo’s “Stole the Show,” and for a moment, the senior had done just that, strolling to the mound to a heartfelt standing ovation. Just one problem, he missed it.

“My mom just told me,” Galligan said laughing after the game. “I didn’t even know that. I don’t even pay attention to that stuff, that’s pretty cool. I had no idea, I was in the zone.”

Notes: Senior Kate Correia, manager and assistant director of baseball operations, and senior manager Phil DePase were both honored before the game. Correia and DePase’s mothers, along with Galligan and Papio’s, all tossed first pitches to their graduating seniors. In the fourth inning, Rutgers’ Harris stole second base, breaking the school’s single season team record of 106 that they tied on Saturday. Maryland wraps up the regular season in East Lansing next weekend against the Michigan State Spartans.

Terps Drop Must-Win Game, Lose Second Consecutive Big Ten Home Series

By Ben Harris

As the ninth inning of Saturday’s 7-5 loss to Rutgers wound down, ominously dark clouds – perhaps a metaphor for what may be the program’s first missed NCAA Tournament in three years – began to fittingly roll across the College Park sky.

Trailing 7-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Kevin Smith did his best to push back the looming storm and prevent a loss that would all but eliminate the Terps from Big Ten postseason play, skying a three-run homer over the batter’s eye in center. It would not be enough.

With the loss, Maryland, who entered the game ninth in the Big Ten, one spot out of the postseason, dropped their second consecutive home conference series. These losses are significant blow to their NCAA Tournament chances, as their at-large resume could have been boosted, if not sealed, by a deep Big Ten Tournament run. However unlikely, with their stellar starting pitching, a run of that magnitude was not out of the question.

In each of his first two innings, Taylor Bloom (6-4) allowed leadoff doubles down the left field line. Both would score, giving the visiting Scarlet Knights an early 2-0 lead. It echoed of Mike Shawaryn’s difficulties with leadoff hitters last night.

By mid game, Bloom looked to have shaken off his early game issues, continuing to attack the zone and getting hitters to pound balls into the turf. High ground ball rates are a good indicator of when the sophomore’s stuff is effective; just when players time up his below-average velocity, but well spotted fastball (82-84 mph today, once touching 85), their over aggressiveness causes them to roll over on a changeup, his best offering (74 mph).rutgers-series-graphic

Both pitches exhibit significant arm-side tail and induce groundouts, with the vertical movement on his changeup complimenting his fastball’s run. On the day, 14 Scarlet Knights smothered balls into the turf, two-thirds of Bloom’s 21 recorded outs. Only eight balls left the left the infield in his seven innings. The first six were hits, and the final two, in his final inning, were his first fly ball outs on the day.

After allowing a third inning single to Mike Martinez, Bloom induced an inning ending double play. The fourth inning came and went in seven pitches, all resulting in groundouts, and, to begin the fifth, he got Luke Bowerbank (three RBIs yesterday) to bounce out to first. Each of those five consecutive hitters rolled over on Bloom offerings – all three righties to shortstop and both left-handers to first base.

Milo Freeman, the next hitter, popped up a seemingly insignificant 0-2 pitch about 20 feet down the first base line. A miscommunication between Kevin Biondic charging from first and Justin Morris from behind the plate led to the blooper dropping between them. But, as the ball bounced off the turf spinning toward foul territory, Morris barehanded it keeping it in play.

The following hitter, Gaby Rosa, grounded out to shortstop, the would-be final out had a Terp corralled the infield pop up one batter prior or merely let it kick foul and keep the count at a favorable 0-2 for Bloom. As Freeman advanced to second on the groundout, Maryland intentionally walked R.J. Devish. It was then that Bloom lost the strike zone unlike any time throughout his dominating season.

After a first-pitch strike to Martinez, he threw seven straight balls, missing the zone on 11 of his next 13 offerings. For whatever reason, be it the flubbed infield pop up or the four intentional balls he threw to Devish, Bloom lost his groove. Entering the day with just six walks in 81.1 innings – third best walks per nine and ninth best K/BB ratio in the NCAA – he walked three including the intentional pass, all of which came in succession.

It was Bloom’s worst start of the season, allowing six runs over seven innings and striking out just two, tying a season low.

With two more steals today (Bowerbank 5, Marcinczyk 18), Rutgers tied a single season program record with 106 bags swiped on the year. They’ll go for the record tomorrow. Morris gunned down Milo Freeman to end the second, just the twentieth time this season a Rutgers base runner was cut down stealing.

For the second straight day, Maryland has held Rutgers to two steals, just under their fourth best NCAA mark of 2.13 per game.

Notes: With a two-RBI double pulled down the line, Morris has knocked in runs in consecutive games. John O’Reilly (0-5, 5.37 ERA entering today) picked his first win of the season, striking out three and allowing just one earned run over seven strong innings. Maryland left 12 runners on base compared to Rutgers’ five.

Rutgers’ Ace Brey Too Much for Terps to Handle

By Ben Harris

Rutgers stole the first of a three-game set against Maryland with a 5-4 win Friday as the Big Ten’s two newcomers clashed in College Park for the first time as conference foes.

To begin a pivoThe Terps’ lackluster offense, hitting a Big Ten-worst .231 in conference play, has struggled mightily when tasked with facing their opponent’s top arm, falling to 4-8 in series opening games with Friday’s loss. The Terps, like many a Big Ten club before them, struggled to solve Big Ten innings leader Howie Brey (6-4).

For the fourth time in his last seven starts, Brey earned a complete game victory against a conference opponent, striking out 10 in the process. Those four starts alone account for over half of the Scarlet Knights seven Big Ten wins on the year.

Maryland right-hander Mike Shawaryn opposed Brey but lasted just five innings, tied for his third shortest outing on the season. His third start back in his usual Friday slot was his least impressive. In his previous two he logged 16 innings, allowed four earned runs and struck out 11 while walking just one. But against Rutgers, the junior struggled with his command, spreading out eight hits over five innings and walking two, the same number he had surrendered over his previous three starts.

Allowing the leadoff hitter to reach base in each of his five innings of work, Shawaryn spent nearly his entire evening working out of the stretch. Just 25 of his 96 pitches on the day came from the windup.

Shawaryn is not accustomed to working from the stretch too often. Last season, he finished second overall in the Big Ten with a .202 opponent’s batting average. This season, his almost identical .203 is also good for second in the conference, to go along with a career 3.45 K/9 ratio (285 strikeouts, 76 walks).

In the face of his struggles, the right-hander allowed just two runs, stranding seven base runners and two each in three separate innings.rutgers-series-graphic

Despite consistently pitching with runners on base, the Terps kept tabs on the fleet-footed Scarlet Knights who, entering Friday, ranked fourth in the country in stolen bases. They limited Rutgers to just two steals, both of which came on a double steal in the third inning.

It helped immensely that two-sport standout Jawuan Harris (30 steals, most in Big Ten and tied for eighth most in the NCAA) was set down on strikes three times in his first game back from a two-week suspension. Harris redshirted as a freshman wide receiver for Rutgers this fall.

After relieving Shawaryn and tossing the team’s first 1-2-3 inning of the day, Andrew Green ran into trouble in the seventh, plunking the leadoff batter R.J. Devish and walking Mike Carter before being pulled in favor of Rob Galligan.

Galligan faced a similar fate, walking his first batter and allowing an RBI single to Tom Marcinczyk (fourth in the Big Ten in RBIs entering Friday) to tie the game at three in the seventh.

Tapped to clean up Green and Galligan’s based loaded, no-out mess, Mike Rescigno came within one strike of ringing up three straight batters and keeping the game knotted at three. Luke Bowerbank barely nicked a two-strike fastball that popped in and out of Justin Morris’ glove. Had he squeezed it, the inning would have ended. Bowerbank eventually won a tough eight-pitch battle, slapping his third hit of the day the opposite way down the left field line plating two Scarlet Knights for this second and third RBIs.

Prior to the eighth inning, Maryland managed to tally six hits, all of which were singles. But, in that eighth inning, Kevin Smith turned around a Brey offering and cranked it off the scoreboard in left-center to bring the Terps to within one.

Sophomore center fielder Zach Jancarski once again proved his youthful spark belongs in the starting lineup, just as he has done for the better part of the second half. A safety squeeze off the bat of the East Norriton, Pennsylvania native plated the Terps’ third run of the fourth inning, after a bases loaded two-strike single from Justin Morris scored Madison Nickens and Smith.

Even despite Friday’s loss, the Terps are 12-7 with him in the lineup (all 19 starts in centerfield). That’s the best split for any Terp at any position.

Notes: Maryland’s 7-33 (.212) afternoon offensively lowered their already worst in-conference batting average. Rutgers went 3-9 with two outs, compared to the Terps’ 0-8 mark. Brey’s complete game took 129 pitches. Both clubs threw strikes at a nearly identical rate, 65.1 percent for Rutgers and 65.3 percent for Maryland. Two of Rutgers three extra base hits (all doubles) scored; the Terps lone extra base hit was Smith’s solo shot in the eighth.

Series Preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (23-25, 6-12 Big Ten)

By Ben Harris

Rutgers will take the three-hour trip down I-95 to College Park this weekend in the penultimate conference series for each of the Big Ten’s two easternmost schools.

While Maryland (25-22, 10-8 Big Ten) would sneak in as the eighth and final seed in the conference tournament if the season ended today, the Scarlet Knights (23-25, 6-12 Big Ten) are all but eliminated from contention. Last week’s home series loss to Illinois didn’t do the Terps any favors. Any cushion could have benefited the Terps as they still must face Michigan State in East Lansing next weekend.

The series will pit the worst offense in conference play (Maryland, .231/.327/.317) against the worst pitching staff in Big Ten play (Rutgers, 6.19 ERA).

Before being swept in three straight games by Michigan last week, Rutgers had put together a 9-5 run with series wins against St. Joseph’s, Penn State and solid midweek play.rutgers-series-graphic.png

The Scarlet Knights are led offensively by senior catcher R.J. Devish, one of the best players in the nation at getting on base. His .525 on-base percentage is ninth highest in the NCAA and tops in the Big Ten, and his 50 runs, 56 hits 38 walks are all far and away the most on the club. Those 50 runs scored are also the most in the conference.

With a .375 batting average, fifth highest in the Big Ten, Devish is the only Scarlet Knight in the conference’s top 42 hitters. His 23 stolen bases are one fewer than the entire Terps team has swiped all season, and more than any catcher in the NCAA.

Rutgers as a team have stolen 102 bases becoming the first Big Ten club to do so since 2013.

Despite missing the last two weeks serving a suspension for violating unspecified athletic department rules, freshman speedster and two-sport star Jawuan Harris still leads the conference in stolen bases (23), a mark that ranks ninth nationally. He took a redshirt as a freshman this fall for the football team.

Outfielder Mike Carter, who wears a cage-adorned batting helmet after a bunting drill gone wrong leading up to his freshman season, is slashing .395/.457/.444 from the left side in 23 games this season.

STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

FRI 6:30 pm EST

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LHP Howie Brey (5-4, 3.19 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Shawaryn (4-4, 3.32 ERA)

Rutgers ace Howie Brey, the Big Ten innings leader, will get the ball on Friday as per usual. The senior southpaw Brey threw three complete games in the month of April alone (all against conference opponents) and enters the weekend with 68 strikeouts and 18 walks. He has, however, allowed 21 extra base hits, the most on the club. Mike Shawaryn has settled back into his usual Friday role, tossing a gem last week and shutting out the Fighting Illini through eight innings to the tune of three hits and ten strikeouts. In his last two starts, his ERA is 1.22 (two earned runs, 14 strikeouts, two walks).

STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

SAT 2:00 pm EST

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RHP John O’Reilly (0-5, 5.37 ERA) vs. RHP Taylor Bloom (6-3, 1.99 ERA)

Still in search for his first win, John O’Reilly will take the mound for the Scarlet Knights Saturday. In 11 starts this year, opponents are hitting .267 against him, and, despite his high ERA, has only allowed 18 percent of his hits to go for extra bases. Taylor Bloom has been downright dominant making his case for Big Ten Pitcher of the Year accolades. His 1.99 ERA is best in the conference, and he’s gone the distance in three of his last five starts, including his last two (three runs, nine strikeouts, one walk).

STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

SAT 1:00 pm EST

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RHP Serafino Brito (5-4, 4.61 ERA) vs. RHP Brian Shaffer (5-3, 2.97 ERA)

Serafino Brito has been very lucky this season. His 4.61 ERA, nearly a point and a half above that of Brey, has rewarded him with an identical 5-4 record. His extra base hit percentage, roughly 25 percent, is significantly higher than O’Reillys who is still winless. Excelling in his Sunday rotation slot, Brian Shaffer posted another quality start (the sixth in his last eight starts) last week against Illinois with a four-hit, seven-strikeout performance over seven strong innings.