Maryland baseball swept Iowa last weekend at home and received the help it needed to qualify for the Big Ten tournament as the No. 6 seed — the Terps’ first trip to the postseason under second-year head coach Rob Vaughn.
It took inspired pitching performances from senior ace Hunter Parsons and junior Zach Thompson, a walk-off homer from shortstop A.J. Lee in the series opener and a clutch eighth-inning, game-winning hit in the finale from Chris Alleyne.
Maryland entered the last three games of conference play in 10th place in the standings, needing to finish in the top eight to extend its season. Not only did the Terps sweep their first conference series of the year, but they also won a Big Ten series at home for the first time. Because of tiebreakers, the sweep propelled Maryland to the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which starts on Wednesday.
Lee, who went 10-for-17 in the final week of the regular season, earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors. The conference also announced its yearly awards on Tuesday, which recognized Maxwell Costes as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and an All-Big Ten first team recipient. Randy Bednar was an All-Big Ten second team outfielder, while starting pitcher Hunter Parsons, third baseman Taylor Wright, Michael Pineiro and Lee were featured on the third team.
Costes and Pineiro were also named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team.
Now, the red-hot Terps (28-27, 12-12 Big Ten) will look to continue their momentum in the double-elimination tournament in Omaha. Here’s a breakdown of which teams stand in the way of Maryland and its first-ever Big Ten tournament title, and how the Terps fared against them during the regular season.
Let’s start with Maryland’s first opponent, the No. 3 seed Illinois Fighting Illini:
#3 Illinois (36-17, 15-9 Big Ten)
Maryland went on the road and took two of three from Illinois in April, a huge series win for the Terps against a team that has the 22nd-best RPI in the country and could potentially host a regional in the NCAA tournament.
Hunter Parsons tossed eight innings and only allowed two runs on six hits before closer John Murphy successfully recorded a save to secure a 4-2 win in the series opener. The Illini scored two runs in the second inning and wouldn’t score again.
The Maryland offense was held mostly stagnant by Illinois ace Andy Fisher, who took a shutout into the ninth inning. But the Terps scored four runs in their final trip to the plate to steal a game, using two sacrifice bunts to tie the game at two before a wild pitch plated two additional runs.
The Terps lost the second game of the series, 5-1, but won 8-4 in the Sunday game to leave Champaign with a series victory. More importantly, Maryland won the game with Parsons and Fisher battling it out on the mound. The two pitchers will face off again in the first game of the conference tournament.
#1 Indiana (36-19, 17-7 Big Ten)
The Hoosiers are the 2019 Big Ten regular season champions. Maryland won the series opener against Indiana, when Hunter Parsons tossed eight scoreless innings and only allowed two hits to a powerful lineup.
The final two days of the series, however, did not go quite well for the Terps. Indiana won 20-5 and 19-4, one of the worst two-day stretches in recent Maryland baseball history.
The Hoosiers showcased their home run ability throughout the weekend, and they finished the regular season with a Big Ten leading 90 home runs. Ohio State, which is second in the conference in home runs, only had 62.
Indiana is led by Big Ten pitcher of the year Andrew Saalfrank and first-year Hoosiers head coach Jeff Mercer, who won the conference’s coach of the year award. Indiana had two players on the All-Big Ten first team and three on the second team.
#2 Michigan (38-16, 16-7 Big Ten)
Maryland hosted Michigan in the first weekend of May, and the Wolverines won all three games pretty easily, as the Terps’ pitching staff struggled all series.
Maryland’s pitchers conceded 10 runs in all three games of the series. The Friday game of the series was the only conference game the Terps lost when Hunter Parsons started on the mound.
Maryland hasn’t beaten Michigan since 2017, and the two teams would meet up if both won its respective first game of the tournament. Michigan leads the Big Ten with a .285 team batting average and a 3.40 pitching staff ERA.
Outfielder Jordan Brewer won the Big Ten Player of the Year after ranking first in batting average (.358), second in slugging percentage (.637), stolen bases (19), hits (69) and RBI (52), and third in runs scored (51) and doubles (18).
#4 Minnesota (26-25, 15-9 Big Ten)
The Golden Gophers return to the postseason as the reigning Big Ten tournament champions.
Maryland went on the road and took the series opener against Minnesota before dropping the final two games of the series. Randy Bednar and Michael Pineiro combined for five runs batted in during the lone win of the weekend.
After dropping the middle game of the series, Maryland had its opportunities to take the series on Sunday. But the Terps wouldn’t score until the ninth inning and were contained offensively with only four hits.
Catcher Eli Wilson represents the Golden Gophers on the All-Big Ten first team, while their ace Max Meyer earned a spot on the conference’s second team as a starting pitcher. Minnesota won the tournament last year as the top overall seed.
#5 Nebraska (28-20, 15-9 Big Ten)
Maryland and Nebraska did not meet during the 2019 regular season.
The Cornhuskers beat up on the weaker teams in the Big Ten play and didn’t have a signature conference series win until the final weekend of the regular season. Nebraska beat Michigan in the first two days of the series, outscoring the Wolverines 12-2.
Nebraska had a chance to sweep the series and earn a higher seed in the tournament but fell 10-8 on the final day of conference play.
Outfielder Aaron Palensky and designated hitter Cam Chick earned spots on the All-Big Ten second team as Nebraska’s representatives. Like Maryland, Nebraska did not qualify for the Big Ten tournament last season.
#7 Ohio State (31-24, 12-12 Big Ten)
Maryland lost two games of three against Ohio State at home earlier this season. The Terps arguably should have won that series but timely Buckeyes hitting stole a series away on the road.
Maryland won 14-8 in the first game of the series in an offensive explosion and, after jumping out to a 7-2 lead in the second game, it appeared the Terps would finally win a Big Ten series at home. But the Buckeyes did not quit.
Ohio State chipped away, then scored five runs in the final two innings to force extras, before hitting a game-winning solo homer in the top of the 11th off Maryland closer John Murphy. The Buckeyes went on the win the rubber match on Sunday.
The Buckeyes’ .273 team batting average ranks third in the conference. Outfielder Dominic Canzone earned All-Big Ten first team honors, Dillon Dingler and Brady Cherry were on the second team and starting pitcher Seth Lonsway was a third-team recipient.
#8 Iowa (30-22, 12-12 Big Ten)
Maryland’s biggest series of the season came last weekend against Iowa, when the Terps played their way into the Big Ten tournament by convincingly sweeping the Hawkeyes.
The Hawkeyes were on the fringe of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament several weeks ago, but their recent performances put them in desperate need of a conference tournament championship. Iowa lost its final five conference games of the season to fall to the last eligible spot in postseason play.
Reliever Grant Leonard earned All-Big Ten second team honors. Maryland, though, was a thorn in the side of Leonard throughout last weekend. Terps shortstop AJ Lee hit the first homer off Leonard all season for a walk-off win on Friday, then outfielder Chris Alleyne hit the game-winning knock off Leonard in the eighth on Sunday.
Leonard earned the loss in two of the three games against the Terps in the final weekend of the regular season.