If there’s one thing that Jason Savacool has brought with him in both of his first two starts, it’s the ability to pitch to contact and keep the ball on the ground. Savacool displayed that proficiency once again Monday evening, throwing his second complete game in three starts and limiting the Nittany Lions to one run en route to a 7-1 Terps victory.
The lone, unearned run that Savacool surrendered couldn’t have been more characteristic of his ground ball proficiency, as it came via a fourth-inning, bases-loaded double play in the only inning that Savacool struggled with throughout his seven innings of work.
The standout freshman still hasn’t shown much electricity with his 94 mph fastball just yet, but his 3-0 record as Maryland’s Sunday starter proves that pitching to contact is getting the job done thus far.
With three strikeouts on the day, Savacool efficiently navigated through eight innings, allowing five hits and forcing 14 groundouts in 92 pitches. He also held 17 of the last 18 batters he faced hitless.
Another growing theme of Savacool starts has also been the offense’s ability to back up their starter with runs.
In Savacool’s three starts, the Terps’ bats have scored an average of 6.3 runs per game, but they primarily benefitted from Penn State’s pitching in Monday’s contest.
Maryland would have edged Penn State on walks alone, as four walks from relief pitcher Jared Freilich assisted the Terps in scoring three runs in the seventh inning alone with zero hits in the frame.
The Terps also benefitted from poor defense, as a combination of wild pitches and passed balls allowed them to retake the lead for good after Penn State tied the game in fourth inning.
Austin Chavis, who made his first appearance of the season at third base after Matt Shaw exited early in the game, reached on a passed ball after striking out. He advanced to second on a wild pitch, got to third after Maxwell Costes was hit by a pitch, and scored on an infield single with the bases loaded.
That entire sequence was representative of the issues that Penn State’s starter Kyle Virbitsky and the rest of their staff faced, and more so how the Terps were able to take advantage of those issues.
Only two of Maryland’s seven runs came on hits, one being the bases-loaded infield single and the other being a sixth-inning Chris Alleyne solo home run to right field.
Regardless of how they were scored, seven runs from the Terps is a great way to rebound after Sunday afternoon’s walk-off loss, where Maryland fell short on many chances to separate themselves from Penn State.
The Terps leave Happy Valley with their first series win of the season, and plenty to be happy about with Savacool as they look towards Columbus, Ohio, next weekend.
After Saturday’s season opener, which saw a combined 29 runs scored between Maryland and Penn State, Sunday’s matinee featured a much lower-scoring affair as starters Connor Staine and Conor Larkin were locked into somewhat of a pitchers duel throughout much of the game. Ultimately, it was Maryland’s pitching, both the starter Staine and the bullpen, that would eventually snap as Penn State tied the series with a 6-5 walk-off win.
Maryland would get off to a similar start to yesterday, grabbing an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, but the offensive explosion from Saturday afternoon wouldn’t make a return.
Besides the first-inning score, which was a Randy Bednar RBI single to score Chris Alleyne, the only other offense the Terps bats could muster up was a two-run home run via the bat of Bobby Zmarzlak, giving him his second home run of the season.
The absence of a strong offense was hard to blame on the Terps, as Larkin was nothing but nails outside of the two run-scoring hits he allowed. The junior has been nothing short of a strikeout machine in his three starts of the season, as his eight punch outs Sunday gave him 23 on the season.
It took the Terps 6 2/3 innings and 89 pitches to knock Larkin out of the game, but Penn State’s Tyler Shingledecker came to fight as well, keeping Maryland scoreless for much of the remainder of the game — until the very last out.
Staine did as good of a job as he could to keep up with Larkin, but he failed to match his efficiency, despite helping maintain a 3-3 tie for most of the contest. Staine got through three scoreless innings to begin his day, but it was eight hits, two walks, three wild pitches and several hard hits that kept the Nittany Lions’ offense on the prowl.
Looking to keep Penn State scoreless through four innings, Staine faced Tayven Kelley with two runners on and two outs. Down to his last strike, Kelley pulled a shot down the right field line to score Penn State’s first pair of runs, putting the pressure on Staine.
The 3-3 tie would come to fruition an inning later, as Justin Williams — who reached base three times in the series opener, including a 107 mph double — crushed a Staine pitch over the left field wall for a solo shot.
Sean Fisher entered the game in his first bullpen appearance of the season, but he suffered the same issues that Staine had displayed in his start, as he walked three Nittany Lions and threw two wild pitches, both wild pitches allowing Penn State to take the lead and then some.
Maryland struggled to find any opportunity to score late in the game, but Chris Alleyne and Matt Shaw would come up with the Terps’ biggest hits of the afternoon, hitting back-to-back extra-base hits to tie the game at 5-5.
The late rally fizzled out before Maryland could grab the lead, and with Elliott Zoellner entering the ninth hoping to give his offense a chance in extra innings, the late rally turned out to be in vain. Just as fast as Maryland tied the game in their half of the frame, Penn State loaded the bases, and it was Penn State’s hottest hitter Josh Spiegel who blasted a Zoellner pitch into the left-center gap to win the game.
Just like the series opener last week against Rutgers, what looked like a potential pitchers duel between Sean Burke and Penn State’s Bailey Dees transformed completely into an all-out slugfest, with Maryland reigning supreme, 19-10.
The Terps couldn’t have hoped for a better start than when they exploded for a four-spot in the first inning of the series opener against Penn State.
At this point, who else but Benjamin Cowles, who secured last week’s Big Ten Player of the Week honors, would be the one to put the exclamation mark on the first inning?
The junior, who crushed five home runs in last weekend’s series against Rutgers, would deliver a two-run single to put Maryland up 4-0 in the first after the Terps had eight batters come to the plate.
Cowles’ offensive onslaught wouldn’t stop there, as he blasted a Dees pitch over the center field wall for a three run homer, his seventh of the season.
Those Cowles hits would turn out to be much-needed, as a mix of walks and poor defense from Maryland helped keep the Nittany Lions in the game from start to finish. They would come as close as down two runs in the middle innings before Cowles’ three-run blast, and were in position to come even closer as a Matt Shaw error allowed Penn State to score and put two runners in scoring position.
A strong relief appearance from Ryan Ramsey prevented further damage, but Penn State would threaten once again after the seventh-inning stretch, putting two runners in scoring position with nobody out.
Redshirt freshman David Falco entered, hoping to clean up the seventh-inning mess, but his defense failed to back him up as catcher Justin Vought lost a passed ball in the backstop, allowing enough time for a Penn State runner to score from third. A fielder’s choice brought in yet another Penn State run, narrowing Maryland’s lead to just two runs in the late inning.
Although the Terps defense had been less-than-spectacular all day, it eventually came up with a potentially game-saving play, as Justin Vought was able to tag a Penn State runner out at home on a huge relay from the left-center outfield wall. However, with two outs, Penn State would knock in the tying run after a Falco balk sent Justin Williams to third base.
The Nittany Lions had come all the way back after being down 6-0 early in the game, putting an exclamation on what had been a rollercoaster of a game for Maryland’s pitching and specifically the bullpen.
Penn State’s bullpen, on the other hand, seemingly was having a strong outing, holding Maryland scoreless after starter Bailey Dees’ surrendered all of the Terps’ nine runs. Eventually, even their relievers faltered late, as they gave the lead back to Maryland immediately after grinding to tie the game at nine runs apiece.
What had become a close game due to Penn State’s comeback turned back into a Maryland blowout, as Penn State’s bullpen hit a rough patch in the eighth inning, giving up a five-spot before ending the inning. The crooked number that Maryland put up that inning was capped off with a Tommy Gardiner two-run single with the bags packed.
Tyler Blohm would continue an appearance that started in the seventh inning into the eighth, but Penn State’s offense wouldn’t give in. After loading the bags with one out, Blohm would exit in favor of Sam Bello, and after walking a run in, Bello was able to end the inning before it could get any messier.
Chad Rogers entered the ninth inning for Penn State, but the Terps topped off the game with the same aggression they showed in the first inning, loading the bases and ultimately running their run total up to a season-high 19 and the most runs scored in a Terps game since 2016.
Bello continued his appearance into the ninth, and made quick work of the Penn State ninth.
The win is certainly much-needed, as the Terps bats were able to overcome sloppy defense and a subpar outing from the bullpen, and then some. Maryland will be counting on the bats to continue their aggression into tomorrow afternoon’s game, as well as a strong start from Connor Staine.
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.
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.
Nearly nine months after Jason Savacool could have been taken in the 2020 MLB Draft, the now-freshman took to the mound Sunday afternoon hoping to lead the Terps to their first win of the season.
The right-hander was ranked No. 156 on MLB Pipeline’s list of top draft prospects, and in the series finale at Fluor Field in Greenville, South Carolina, he showed Maryland fans why.
Coming off three straight losses, including being on the brush-end of a doubleheader sweep Saturday evening, Maryland needed a spark from any source they could find. Savacool delivered, as he dazzled in his collegiate debut, pitching a complete-game and leading the Terps to a 3-2 victory over the Spartans.
With a pitching arsenal that features an electric 94 MPH fastball, Savacool didn’t get a lot of his outs via the strikeout but rather by pitching to contact, which the freshman did very efficiently. In his nine innings of work, he forced 16 groundouts from the Spartans’ bats, including two inning-ending double plays.
The proficient infield defense was also a change of pace from Saturday’s doubleheader, which featured four total errors that the Spartans were able to take advantage of.
While the Maryland bats didn’t necessarily heat up in the finale of what’s been a frustrating weekend at the plate, they did muster up some offense when it came to situational hitting.
Two of Maryland’s three runs came with two outs, with Randy Bednar and Benjamin Cowles driving them in during the third and seventh innings, respectively, with men in scoring position.
Michigan State’s Sunday starter Nick Powers — like the three to toe the rubber before him this weekend — doused out much of the threat that the tough Maryland lineup poses, but with Savacool stymieing the Spartans’ bats to just two runs (one earned), the Terps lineup was able to score those three runs and never have to look back.
With a one-run lead in the ninth inning, Savacool returned to the mound with nobody warming in the pen. A day after the Maryland bullpen allowed a four-spot in the seventh inning to fuel a Michigan State comeback, Coach Rob Vaughn let his starter attempt to finish the job himself. Savacool did just that, as he sent the Spartans down in order on seven pitches.
After a very rough start to the season, Savacool displayed a bright look into the future of Maryland baseball and one of the few positive takeaways from the four-game weekend.
In Maryland’s first doubleheader of the season, the Terps hoped to gain momentum and swing the series with Michigan State in their favor after a quiet Friday night at the plate, but Michigan State’s pitching did not make it easy for a sluggish Terps lineup, starting with Mason Erla, who took the ball in game one.
Nearly replicating his fellow Spartan Sam Benschoter’s stellar start from Friday night, Erla, who was named a 2021 Big Ten Preseason Player to Watch, struck out six Terps over five two-run frames of work. Erla also greatly benefitted from a Terps lineup that — similar to Friday night — failed to convert on plenty of opportunities as the Spartans defeated Maryland, 7-4.
While Maryland was able to score their first three runs of the season in game one, none of them came from base hits, continuing to highlight the hitting struggles the team has had when having runners on base. In total, the Terps went a cold 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
The Terps’ bats were able to put pressure on Erla late into the redshirt junior’s start when freshman catcher Luke Shliger blasted his first collegiate hit for a leadoff triple in the fifth inning, but the cold hitting with RISP carried deep into the seven-inning contest as Maryland could only pick up one run on a Chris Alleyne sacrifice-fly.
As for Michigan State, they converted on nearly all of their chances to score, starting from the beginning of the night.
The Spartans came into their half of the first inning hungry, and some shoddy defense made it easy for Michigan State to give themselves three runs on a silver platter despite having just two hits.
Their fourth run of the night came two innings later, when sophomore Zaid Walker, who brought home Michigan State’s first two runs, picked up his third RBI of the night on a single through the left side of the infield.
Maryland was able to cut the deficit to one run in their half of the fifth inning, but the Spartans weren’t going to let that go without retaliation, as they tagged on another pair of runs in the same inning.
The Spartans put the cherry on top of their offensive showing with a run of insurance in the sixth, giving them a comfy four-run cushion as they entered the seventh and final inning of the night.
Michigan State’s Jordan Beatson entered the final frame hoping to quickly shut down the Terps bats for good. However, Maryland didn’t go down in the seventh without a fight, as Benjamin Cowles crushed a leadoff home run and Maxwell Costes came to the plate as the tying run. With such a threat at the plate, Michigan State turned to Zach Iverson, who pitched in the ninth inning of Friday night’s game to record the final out, and that is what he just did.
Costes went down swinging, encapsulating what was a very frustrating first half of the night at the plate for the Terps.
Moving on to game two, the first inning gave early impressions that the Terps’ hitting struggles would continue, going down in order in the first frame against freshman Adam Berghorst. An inning later, those impressions did a full 180-degree turn, as Berghorst’s lack of control gave Maryland the offensive spark they needed to get runs on the board, but it wasn’t enough as the bullpen presented a problem of its own, allowing Michigan State to bounce back late and defeat Maryland in game two, 5-4.
In the second inning, Berghorst hit Troy Schreffler Jr. with the bases loaded to give Maryland the first run of the night, catcher James Heffley cashed in Maryland’s first hit of the night with runners in scoring position, driving in a pair of runs to put Maryland up early, 3-0.
The same lack of control came back a second time for Berghorst, as he loaded the bags again in the fourth inning before walking in another Terps run.
The shaky control that Berghorst displayed in the second and fourth innings was nearly reflective of what allowed Michigan State to score seven runs in the doubleheader’s first leg, as Fisher had similar control issues in the early going of his start.
As for Maryland’s game two starter, sophomore Connor Staine couldn’t have put the Terps in a better position to split the doubleheader. In his debut as a starter, Staine steadily cruised through six one-run innings.
Staine did work himself into some trouble in the fourth inning, when the first two Spartans reached base and both advanced into scoring position. Staine refused to give in, striking out the next two before forcing a ground out to escape the jam.
In Michigan State’s sixth inning, the Spartans got on the board for the first time in game two, as some great pieces of hitting placed a couple of Spartans on base before Iverson plated a run on a single.
Staine ended his night with career-highs around the board, pitching six innings and recording nine strikeouts while allowing six hits and no walks. The career night for Staine was exactly what the Terps needed to allow the offense to get over its hitting struggles as they were able to take the lead right away and wouldn’t have to look back — that was, until the seventh inning.
After Staine exited with an excellent night of work under his belt, Elliot Zoellner entered the game holding a three-run lead over the Spartans, but staged a complete meltdown without being able to record an out.
A couple Spartan batters later, and Michigan State had the winning run at the plate after a Peter Ahn double rolled under Costes’s glove, making it a 4-3 Maryland lead. Mitch Jebb came up to the plate a couple batters later, and with Sam Bello replacing Zoellner on the mound, proceeded to tie the game up on a blast to the left-field corner that scored Ahn.
The Spartans rally wouldn’t stop, as Maryland’s biggest concern had quickly shifted from their hitting to the bullpen. Michigan State grabbed their first lead of game two as Walker plated Jebb on an infield single, but had their rally halted before they could potentially break open the game.
Bello recovered an inning later, but the damage had already been done as Maryland couldn’t start a rally of their own in the ninth, and ultimately fell to the Spartans after leading for most of game two.
With the weekend series already going to the Spartans, Maryland can now just hope they can at least win tomorrow afternoon’s contest to avoid the four-game sweep.
After a 359-day long hiatus, Maryland Terrapins baseball returned Friday night as they open up a four-game weekend series against the Michigan State Spartans down in Greenville, South Carolina.
With the stage set at Fluor Field — home of Red Sox minor-league affiliate Greenville Drive — the Terps started the season off on a mild note, as the Spartans defeated them, 6-0. However, there was at least one positive takeaway from the season opener.
The headline of the night for Maryland was far and away redshirt sophomore Sean Burke’s pitching gem. Nearly a year separated from when Burke recorded his collegiate career-high in strikeouts with 11 against Bryant (March 8, 2020), he set a new career-high with 13 Friday night.
The stellar Opening Day start presents plenty of promise ahead of Burke as he looks to settle into his role as Maryland’s Friday starter in the future.
Burke was just half of the overall pitchers duel that took place at Fluor Field, as Michigan State’s Sam Benschoter reached a career-high of his own with ten strikeouts through seven innings, stunting a Terps’ lineup that boasts plenty of hitting prowess.
The senior managed to out-duel his counterpart just enough to secure his team the shutout win over Maryland, as the Terps fell short on many RBI opportunities while the Spartans took advantage of whatever opportunity they could get.
Michigan State put themselves up early, scoring its first run after Maryland catcher James Heffley allowed a ball to get away from him. Sophomore Zaid Walker followed up on the passed ball with a sacrifice-fly to put the Spartans ahead 2-0.
They added another run in the sixth inning in nearly the same fashion, as Michigan State’s Bryce Kelly hit a sacrifice-fly to center field, giving freshman Mitch Jebb his second run of Friday night.
Maryland’s opportunities to score were very few and far between due to the dominance of Benschoter, but with Maxwell Costes coming to the plate as the tying run in the eighth inning, the rally fizzled out as he grounded into an inning-ending double play. The failed opportunity highlights an 0-13 night at the plate for Maryland when runners are on base.
The Spartans added three more runs in their half of the eighth inning and proceeded to firmly slam the door shut on any Maryland comeback hopes.
With the Terps failing to back up Burke with offense during his magnificent start, Saturday presents a new opportunity to not just tie the series but to take the lead as these teams will play two tomorrow evening at Fluor Field.
Maryland opens up the 2021 season Friday evening when it travels south to Greenville, South Carolina, to take on the Michigan State Spartans. The beginning of an unprecedented season sends the Terps immediately into battle against the Big Ten, as the schedule features 44 games in 13 series of conference-only play.
The Terps enter this season after having a very optimistic 2020 despite the early cancellation. They finished with a 10-5 record, including a 6-1 start and winning all but one series. There was plenty to look forward to with last year’s Terps squad, as the program had brought in a recruitment class full of star-level talent, including now-sophomores Bobby Zmarzlak, Tucker Flint, Troy Schreffler Jr., Sam Bello, and Nick Dean.
This season, Maryland brought in yet another talent-filled recruitment class, featuring 2020 MLB Draft prospect RHP Jason Savacool, who comes in as the Sunday starter for this opening series.
Overall, Maryland boasts a very strong rotation heading into 2021 with redshirt sophomore Sean Burke leading the way after a fantastic collegiate debut in 2020. Next up comes senior Sean Fisher, who had a transformative junior year where he moved from the bullpen to the Friday starter spot. With sophomore Connor Staine likely going to the bullpen after his start in game two Saturday, Savacool rounds out the potential weekly three-man rotation.
At the plate, Maryland brings a very formidable lineup with them into the new season with junior Maxwell Costes headlining the pack. After leading the Big Ten with a 1.370 on-base plus slugging percentage and slugging four home runs, Costes earned a spot on the watch list for the 2021 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award. Costes is surrounded by strong bats in the forms of senior Randy Bednar and the aforementioned sophomores Zmarzlak, Schreffler, and Flint.
Michigan State enters the season opener ranked near the bottom of many publications’ preseason Big Ten polls, but their lineup is certainly capable of making noise, as three of their everyday starters had OPS’s over .900.
However, the Spartans’ biggest strength comes from their pitching. While their Friday starter, senior Sam Benschoter, recorded a 6.87 earned-run average, their Saturday starter, redshirt junior Mason Erla, earned preseason pomp after a 1.04-ERA campaign in 2020. Not only did the righty record a stellar ERA, but he was a strikeout machine for the Spartans, striking out 42 batters while walking six.
The last time these two teams met was in 2018 when the Terps took two of three games from the Spartans. One of those wins was an 8-2 beatdown that featured a pitching gem from Hunter Parsons, who is currently in the New York Mets’ minor-league system.
Historically, Maryland has played very well against Michigan State ever since they joined the Big Ten, owning an 8-3 record against the Spartans.
Michigan State (0-0)
The Spartans finished the shortened 2020 season with a 9-6 record and ended up right in the middle of the Big Ten standings. They played 12 of those games at Fluor Field (8-4 in those), so they come into this opening series with some winning experience in this stadium. As mentioned above, their pitching was their biggest strength in 2020, recording a 3.35 ERA and 1.35 walks plus hits per inning. On the other hand, the Spartans’ hitters mostly struggled outside of their top three bats, slashing .240/.337/.344 with three total home runs.
As mentioned earlier, the expectations for this Spartans squad aren’t too high according to many preseason polls. According to NCAA.com’s projected Big Ten standings, Michigan State is expected to finish 11th, only ahead of Northwestern and Penn State. However, projections are just that — projections. With a much-improved rotation over the past couple of seasons, the Spartans greatest strength is the team’s pitching, and a pitcher like Mason Erla could easily stunt Maryland’s powerful bats.
Hitters to Watch
There were three Michigan State bats that finished the 15 games of 2020 with OPS’s greater than .900, but none were better senior Bailey Peterson, who was named a Big Ten preseason player to watch. In 2020, Peterson slashed .441/.528/.542. There was a zero in the home run column on Peterson’s stat line, but while only five of his 26 hits were of the extra-base variety, he still presents a sizable threat at the plate.
Pitchers to Watch
The easy choice for a pitcher to watch on the Spartans is Mason Erla, who had a tremendous 42-6 K/BB ratio in his four starts last year. However, while senior Jarrett Olson isn’t confirmed as a starter this weekend, he comes in as Michigan State’s second-best starter stats-wise. He’s not a strikeout machine like Erla, but in four starts, the senior recorded a 2.03 ERA while limiting opposing batters to a .149 average.
Probable Starting Pitching Matchup
Friday, 6:30 p.m. ET
R-So. RHP Sean Burke (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Sam Benschoter(0-0, 0.00 ERA)
After spending his shortened redshirt freshman season as the Saturday starter, Sean Burke will be taking the next step up in his career, earning not just the Friday rotation spot but the honor of being Maryland’s Opening Day starter. Leading the Terps in strikeouts just a year ago with 35, Burke will be making his debut with lots of improvement in his pitching arsenal.
During a preseason media session last Monday, Coach Rob Vaughn had high praise for the righty.
“His secondary stuff has gotten much better,” said Vaughn. “He had a wrinkle he could throw for a strike last year when he needed to get guys off his fastball. But, he’s throwing two legit breaking balls right now. He’s got four pitches that he can throw in any count.”
As for Sam Benschoter, the senior will be taking the ball during Friday’s opener after being transformed into a starter during the 2020 season. Although he recorded a 6.87 ERA in four starts, he boasted a strong K/BB with 30 strikeouts and 12 walks, showing tons of improvement from the 31-28 ratio he owned between 2018 and 2019.
Probable Starting Pitching Matchup
Saturday, Game 1, 4:30 p.m. ET
Sr. RHP Sean Fisher (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. R-Jr. RHP Mason Erla(0-0, 0.00 ERA)
With Burke starting Friday, Sean Fisher will likely be bumped down to the Saturday starter spot for now after being the Friday starter for his four starts of 2020. The southpaw didn’t have the greatest stats, recording a 5.66 ERA in 2020, but he did show that he was able to seamlessly turn into a starter after coming out of the bullpen in his freshman and sophomore years. Now, with less pressure as the series opener every weekend, Fisher has a great opportunity to keep trending upwards.
Mason Erla has far and away been the pitching star for Michigan State, and it may be ad nauseam at this point, but he is likely going to strike out a lot of Terps during his Saturday start. There is very little — if any — criticism about the redshirt junior’s stuff, and a matchup with Fisher should set the stage for a great pitchers duel.
Probable Starting Pitching Matchup
Saturday, Game 2, 7:30 p.m. ET
So. RHP Connor Staine (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs.TBD
Sophomore Connor Staine will be making his debut as a starter during game two of Saturday’s doubleheader, potentially setting him up for future starts in the four additional four-game weekends Maryland has on the calendar. Through 10 1/3 innings of relief in 2020, Staine was one of Maryland’s better bullpen arms, recording a 2.61 ERA. However, the strikeout numbers weren’t eye-popping while the 20 combined hits and walks he allowed imply that he may have benefited from the defense behind him.
While he has been given the starting spot for game two, it’s more likely than not that he’ll only pitch a couple innings in order to allow other new arms to get reps.
Probable Starting Pitching Matchup
Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET
Fr. RHP Jason Savacool (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. TBD
The highly-anticipated collegiate debut of Jason Savacool will take place Sunday afternoon, and it could very well be the beginning of a very strong Maryland career for the New York native, who was ranked the second-best overall recruit out of the state, per Perfect Game. Had the 2020 MLB Draft been more than five rounds, Savacool likely would be in a major-league team’s system as he was No. 156 on MLB Pipeline’s list of top draft prospects.
Pitching against a rather weak Michigan State lineup, Savacool has a really good chance to start his career off with a gem.
Maryland is going to have plenty of arms to choose from during later innings this season, as all but about three-to-four of the 22 pitchers on the roster will be providing their stuff from the bullpen. With a schedule that’s limited to weekend series, many of the probable bullpen pitchers will be missing out on reps they would normally get during midweek contests, but for the team’s case, it should allow the best of the group to be fresh for every weekend.
As the season countdown ticks to two days, take a look at the crowded bullpen that Maryland boasts heading into the 2021 season:
LHP Tyler Blohm(Graduate Student)
After not appearing in a game during his senior season last year, Tyler Blohm is returning as a graduate student. The former starter will likely pitch out of the bullpen with younger talent taking his place in the weekend rotation, but his veteran leadership will certainly play an important role with the seven incoming freshmen. Before his absence from the mound in 2020, Blohm recorded a career 3.98 in 150 innings.
LHP Ryan Murphy(Freshman)
Coming in as the first of two freshmen left-handed pitchers, Ryan Murphy was ranked the second-best left-handed pitcher recruit out of Massachusetts. In his final high school season, Murphy earned his conference’s player of the year award.
LHP Drew Wilden(Redshirt Junior)
Drew Wilden was one of Maryland’s midweek starters in 2019 as a redshirt freshman, recording a 5.82 ERA in his 11 overall appearances. The 2020 season didn’t give Wilden much of a fair chance to show improvement on the mound, as his lone appearance saw him give up two runs over one innings against Rhode Island.
LHP Ryan Ramsey(Sophomore)
Ryan Ramsey had a tough go of it in the short 2020 season, appearing four times but recording a 12.60 ERA. While the sample size was extremely small for the then-freshman, keep in mind that Ramsey came into 2020 as the fourth-best left-handed pitcher recruit out of New Jersey, per Perfect Game, and was even drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 36th round of the 2019 MLB Draft. Although the bullpen will be especially crowded this season, Ramsey will likely get a chance to prove himself as a reliable arm.
LHP Logan Ott(Freshman)
Logan Ott enters Maryland as a LHP/OF dual-threat, but the majority of his talent comes as a pitcher. Ranked the sixth-best LHP recruit in Pennsylvania, per Perfect Game, his last season in high school ended with him being named his league’s pitcher of the year as he cruised to an 8-0 record and 1.17 ERA.
RHP Will Glock(Redshirt Sophomore)
After pitching to the tune of a 2.38 ERA over 13 appearances in 2019, Will Glock served a redshirt season during 2020 as he recovered from an injury. Having had nearly two years to get back in shape, Glock should provide some very strong innings out of the pen in 2021.
RHP Sam Bello(Sophomore)
Sam Bello couldn’t have had much of a better debut season — if that’s what you would call the 6 2/3 inning he pitched in 2020 — allowing one run in his four appearances while striking out 11 batters. Bello also led the team with an incredible .091 opposing batting average. He made his collegiate debut during Opening Day last season, and proceeded to one-hit Charleston Southern over 3 2/3 innings of relief with seven strikeouts.
RHP Chris Chaney(Sophomore)
Chris Chaney was one of the only Terps pitchers to not allow a single run during 2020, though the then-freshman had pitched just two innings. Part of a 2020 freshmen class that featured so many talented arms, Chaney will likely see plenty of innings out of the pen in 2021.
RHP Trevor LaBonte(Junior)
Trevor LaBonte was shifted to the bullpen last season after a disappointing freshman campaign as the Sunday starter, but he didn’t get many opportunities in 2020 to prove himself. The then-sophomore pitched four innings and allowed six runs while walking more than double the batters he struck out. Now one of the older members of the prospective bullpen, LaBonte will likely get his chances in 2021 to improve on a couple of underwhelming seasons.
RHP Chris Bookhultz(Freshman)
Coming in as the sixth-best RHP recruit out of Maryland, per Perfect Game, Chris Bookhultz is one of four freshmen right-handed pitchers to commit to Maryland from 2020. In his last high school season in 2019, Bookhultz recorded a 0.51 ERA and struck out 12 batters.
RHP Sean Heine(Junior)
Sean Heine looked like he was definitely trending in the right direction in 2020 after concluding his freshman season with a 10.38 ERA in 17 appearances. His ERA through four appearances in 2020 sat at 5.40, but the righty did have two appearances that displayed upside, one being two scoreless innings against Iona and the other being 1 2/3 scoreless innings against Delaware.
RHP Connor Staine(Sophomore)
Connor Staine pitched the most innings out of any freshmen last season, and certainly showed why he deserved it. In 10 1/3 innings, Staine wasn’t overwhelming in terms of whiffing batters — striking out just nine batters — but he ended the short season with a 2.61 ERA.
RHP David Falco(Redshirt Freshman)
The sixth-ranked overall recruit out of New York, per Perfect Game, did not appear during the 2020 season, but he brings plenty of potential with him into 2021. His fastball velocity came in at 93 MPH when he first committed to Maryland, good for the 98th percentile of his class. He will most likely get plenty of opportunities in 2021 to display that fastball and shine.
RHP Elliot Zoellner(Graduate Student)
The leader of Maryland’s bullpen in recent years, Elliot Zoellner is returning in 2021 as a graduate student, potentially playing a monumental role — similar to Tyler Blohm — in guiding the incoming freshmen and all underclassmen with his experience. He appeared seven times in 2020 — the most out of any relief pitcher — and didn’t allow a single run as he picked up 16 strikeouts.
RHP Mark DiLuia(Senior)
After more-or-less treading water out of the bullpen in his freshman and sophomore years, Mark DiLuia looked like a very improved pitcher in his short 2020 stint. He pitched five innings in five appearances, and didn’t allow a run. DiLuia also pitched Maryland’s final inning of the 2020 season, throwing a perfect frame against James Madison.
RHP Gavin Stellpflug(Freshman)
Part of a high school team that won a state championship in New Jersey in 2018, Gavin Stellpflug has some winning experience under his belt as he joins a Maryland team with great aspirations. The Somerville, New Jersey, native was ranked the No. 18 RHP recruit in the state.
RHP Nigel Belgrave(Freshman)
Nigel Belgrave comes to Maryland as the No. 11 RHP recruit out of Massachusetts, per Perfect Game, and the 18th-best recruit in the state overall.
RHP Jason Savacool(Freshman)
If the 2020 MLB Draft was more than five rounds, Jason Savacool would most likely not be mentioned in this list. The righty, who was ranked the 19th-best recruit in the nation, per Perfect Game, was also ranked No. 152 on MLB Pipeline’s top draft prospects. Savacool has already been given preseason praise, earning 2021 Baseball America Big Ten Preseason Newcomer of the Year ahead of the season, and while it’s unknown if he’ll be a starter or reliever for 2021, his talent is certainly going to make a difference for the Terps.
While no official rotation has been set for Maryland as we close in on three days until Opening Day, the unique 2021 schedule helps us narrow down the 22 pitchers on the roster to the few that will likely be starting games every weekend.
Since the schedule is limited to weekend series (with a few doubleheaders mixed in), the opportunity for non-starters to get starting reps on the mound is barely a possibility, so it could take more than a weekend for Coach Rob Vaughn to figure out his rotation. Before that decision is officially made, here’s a look at the prospective starters for the 2021 season:
LHP Sean Fisher (Senior)
Coming in as the likely Friday starter to kickoff the season, Fisher started four games in 2020, earning a win in three of them. Up until 2020, Fisher had only come out of the bullpen, so it was a major milestone for the senior to have thrown 5 1/3 innings while allowing two unearned runs in his starting debut last season against Charleston Southern. In his final start of the season, he cruised the Terps to a win, striking out a career-high eight batters over six innings. Nothing is official yet, but in his final season as a Terp, it seems likely that he’ll be reprising his role as the Opening Day starter this Friday.
RHP Sean Burke(Redshirt Sophomore)
After serving a redshirt season in 2019 due to an injury, Sean Burke came into 2020 roaring as the Saturday starter, a role that will likely continue to be his in 2021. Bestowed the honor of 2021 Perfect Game Preseason Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Burke looks to build off a 2020 where he pitched to the tune of a 1.99 earned-run average over four starts. The redshirt sophomore has also built somewhat of an early reputation of a strikeout machine, racking up 35 strikeouts in those starts compared to 11 walks. Assuming he slides back in as the Saturday starter, he and Fisher will form quite the formidable one-two punch to opposing Big Ten batters.
Nick Dean (Sophomore)
Nick Dean came into last season ranked the third-best right-handed pitcher recruit out of Pennsylvania, and he did not fail to disappoint through his first four collegiate starts as Maryland’s Sunday starter. While he struggled in one start against Rhode Island (five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings) his overall stats featured a 3.98 ERA and a .222 opposing batting average. The sophomore did throw a fantastic start against a strong Coastal Carolina team, and while the Terps suffered a loss, Dean helped keep it to a 3-2 ballgame, throwing five innings of two-run ball. Dean has certainly earned an opportunity to continue starting Sundays, and should he pick up where he left off in 2020, Maryland could have a very scary weekend rotation.
Zach Thompson (Redshirt Senior)
Zach Thompson was Maryland’s primary midweek starter option in 2020, but with 2021 featuring no midweek games, the redshirt senior may see his starts dwindle. A couple opportunities he might have include two early-season doubleheaders, as well as the three series that revolve around three teams playing each other in one location, like the home series from April 2 to April 5 where Maryland hosts Northwestern and Iowa and splits four games between them. Thompson’s spot as the potential double-header starter could also be in jeopardy because of his 2020 performance, pitching to a 6.75 ERA in three starts. While he did pitch five innings of one-run ball in his season debut against George Mason, his next two starts ran a total of nine earned runs over 8 1/3 innings.