Series Preview: Indiana Hoosiers

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A brand-new season starts Friday for Maryland baseball, as the Terps begin conference play at home against Indiana, the team that helped officially eliminated them from a Big Ten tournament berth last season.

When Maryland traveled to Bloomington for the final series of the 2018 campaign, it controlled its own destiny and knew its path to the postseason. Win all three games, and the Terps would’ve been headed back to the conference tournament.

The exact opposite happened. Indiana won the first two games of the series, and before the series finale even started, the Terps had already been mathematically eliminated. Then, Maryland suffered a season-ending 13-3 defeat to end the year with a sour taste.

That difficult weekend can be vindicated, to an extent, this weekend in College Park. For the first time since 2014, Maryland didn’t play a midweek contest in the days before the conference opener, giving the Terps a full work week to prepare for the typical conference powerhouse.

Maryland has lost its last six games at home — a three-game sweep two weekends ago against East Carolina and the same result last weekend against Creighton. The Terps are only averaging two runs per game during the tough spell at home.

After last weekend, no player is hitting above .300 for the Terps. Third baseman Taylor Wright’s .297 average is the closest to that mark. Wright leads the conference with 10 doubles and ranks third with 27 hits.

Outfielder Randy Bednar and first baseman Maxwell Costes sit near the top of the Big Ten in runs batted in. Bednar’s 20 RBI are the fourth-most in the conference, and Costes’ 19 are tied for fifth. That production will need to continue as Big Ten play kicks off.

Indiana Hoosiers (15-9, 3-0 Big Ten)

Last Season

Indiana had another very successful season, finishing the year 40-19 with a 21-5 record at home. After ending the regular season on a six-game winning streak, including the sweep over Maryland, it participated in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. A win over Michigan State was sandwiched between a pair of losses to Iowa, and then the Hoosiers suffered season-ending losses to a pair of ranked teams in No. 25 Texas A&M and No. 14 Texas.

This Season

Indiana enters this series with eight wins in its last nine contests, including a sweep at home against Iowa to begin its Big Ten slate. The Hoosiers are 9-1 at home, but 6-8 away from Bloomington. Indiana has tested itself against three ranked opponents, and won one of those games. The Hoosiers lost to No. 1 Oregon State, 8-3, and No. 11 Coastal Carolina, 6-5, but beat No. 21 UConn, 9-6.

Hitters to Watch

Junior outfielder Matt Gorski is the consistent bat in the Hoosiers lineup, hitting a team-high .299 with 26 hits. His six home runs are the fifth-most in the conference. Sophomore infielder Cole Barr is only hitting .259, but his nine homers lead the Big Ten and are 12th-most in the entire country. In total, Indiana has four hitters sitting at or above a .284 batting average. Maryland only has one of those.

Pitchers to Watch

Sophomore righty Connor Manous is the go-to arm out of the bullpen. His 21.1 innings in 13 relief appearances are third-most on the team, including the starting pitchers. He owns a 2.95 ERA and holds hitters to a .149 average. Junior lefty Andrew Saalfrank has split six appearances between relief and starting. In 17.1 innings, he has a 2.60 ERA with 19 strikeouts and only six walks.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Thursday, 6:30 p.m. EST

Sr. RHP Hunter Parsons (3-2, 2.63 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Pauly Milto (4-1, 2.28 ERA) 

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Parsons only allowed three earned runs in his first four starts of the season. He’s now allowed nine in his last two starts. Still, the righty went eight innings last weekend against Creighton, striking out 10 batters. It was his first performance of the year without a walk. Parsons allowed two earned runs over six innings last year against the Hoosiers.

Milto was in the middle of Indiana’s rotation a season ago, and he’s transitioned into the ace without much trouble. He only allowed one earned run with 10 strikeouts last weekend against Iowa, pitching into the ninth inning. He’s conceded one or fewer runs in three of his six starts this year. The right-hander only allowed one run against Maryland last season.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Friday, 2:00 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Zach Thompson (1-2, 3.63) vs. Jr. RHP Tanner Gordon (2-3, 3.98 ERA)

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Two weekends ago, Thompson had his best outing when he allowed two runs over eight innings against a very good East Carolina team. He followed it up with a solid, but less impressive two-run, five-inning outing against Creighton. After transferring and sitting out a season, this will be Thompson’s first taste of Big Ten competition.

Gordon’s junior campaign didn’t start very well, allowing 12 earned runs in his first 16 innings of the season in four starts. Since then, though, he’s been untouchable in his previous two outings. He’s allowed seven hits in 15 innings, only conceded two earned runs, and struck out 22 hitters. In those two starts, he recorded double-digit strikeouts in each and only had one combined walk.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST

Fr. RHP Trevor LaBonte (1-2, 2.63 ERA) vs. Jr. LHP Andrew Saalfrank (1-1, 2.60 ERA)

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For the first time in LaBonte’s starting career, he didn’t last a full five innings last weekend against Creighton. The freshman only conceded one run in 4.2 innings, but a pair of career-highs with eight strikeouts and five walks, his pitch count couldn’t carry him through the fifth frame. LaBonte hasn’t conceded more than three runs in the first five starts of his college career.

Saalfrank has made six appearances this season, notching a start in three of them. He only pitched two innings last weekend, but didn’t allow a run before his departure. Two weekends ago, the southpaw had in incredible outing. He allowed one earned run in seven innings, recording 14 of his 21 outs via the strikeout. He hasn’t walked more than two batters in an appearance this season.

Maxwell Costes earns 2nd Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors

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Photo credit: Maryland Athletics

Maryland’s Maxwell Costes was named the Big Ten freshman of the week after helping lead the Terps to a 3-1 record, the conference announced Monday afternoon. This marks the second time Costes has earned this award, after he won it in conjunction with the conference’s player of the week earlier this season.

The cleanup hitter picked up six hits and seven RBIs this week, as the Terps beat Delaware at home before winning 2-of-3 on the road against Stetson.

After several weeks of clutch hitting with runners on base, Costes finally delivered home-run power. The freshman hit his first-career long ball last Tuesday against the Blue Hens, the finishing touch on a convincing win.

Then in Friday’s series-opener against Stetson, he crushed a go-ahead, no-doubter to left field in the sixth inning to break open what was a scoreless game. The Terps went on to win 7-0 — their largest shutout win since 2015.

The Baltimore native had his best performance in Maryland’s only loss of the weekend. Costes hit a two-run single in the first inning and later hit a bases-loaded double that scored all three runs to finish his night with a career-high five RBIs.

Costes now leads Maryland with a .327 batting average, 15 RBIs and a .446 on-base percentage. His 17 hits — seven of which are for extra bases — are tied for the most with third baseman Taylor Wright. His RBI total leads the entire conference.

His older brother Marty, who played at Maryland and is now in the Houston Astros’ minor-league system, also won two Big Ten freshman of the week awards before going on to Big Ten All-freshman team honors.

Maryland (9-5) travels to Delaware for the second half of a home-and-home series on Wednesday, and then will host No. 18 East Carolina in College Park this weekend.

 

 

Chris Alleyne began the season on the bench. Now, he’s atop Maryland’s lineup.

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Photo credit: Maryland Athletics

Chris Alleyne often refers to himself as Maryland baseball’s “jack of all trades.” He has the ability to play multiple positions, reach base in various ways, and when he’s standing on first, use his speed to swipe second or score easily on a ball hit into the gap.

But the sophomore’s skillset started this season where it spent almost all of last year — on the bench. Despite transitioning from infield to center field in the offseason to help address a team need, he didn’t earn a start until the Terps’ third game. He hasn’t sat out since.

His role was clear. On defense: cover ground in center. As the nine-hole hitter: get on base for the top of the order. On the bases: wreak havoc in opposing pitchers’ minds. He wasn’t expected to lead Maryland to wins.

However, his 6-for-13 weekend against Stetson did just that. His first two career homers on Sunday guided Maryland to a series victory — a powerful performance beyond what head coach Rob Vaughn anticipated from the 5-foot-9 spark plug.

“[He] didn’t even start the first two games of the year,” Vaughn said, jokingly adding, “That shows you how dumb I am sometimes.”

In his freshman season, Alleyne mustered only two hits in 25 at-bats. On the bases, he even tripped in between third and home and was consequently tagged out as the game-winning run against James Madison (Maryland still won in 12 innings).

That’s all water under the bridge now, a distant blip already rectified only 14 games into a new season.

Alleyne is hitting .275 after his six-hit weekend against Stetson. He ranks first on the team in runs scored (12), second in home runs (2), and third in RBIs (7) and on-base percentage (.408). He’s also one of two Terps who doesn’t have more strikeouts than walks.

“Everyone’s going to struggle,” Alleyne said. “But there’s always a point where you’re going to see success if you can just stick with it.”

With regular leadoff hitter Caleb Walls entering Saturday on a 2-for-24 skid, Vaughn elected to switch things up midway through the series. He handed the role to Alleyne, who led off regularly at Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia.

While his hot bat was the highlight during Maryland’s two-win weekend, Alleyne had already become a mainstay of the lineup more for his speed and defensive abilities than his offense.

His incredible gap-to-gap range as a first-year outfielder became evident a week earlier against Louisiana Lafayette — especially in Maryland’s 14-inning marathon loss Saturday. In the 13th frame, he sprinted into deep right-center field and contorted his body to make an acrobatic, game-saving web gem, momentarily evading defeat.

The solid defense carried into this past weekend, when Stetson decided to test Alleyne’s arm. While the Terps lost on Saturday, Alleyne’s inning-ending, run-saving play maintained a two-run game. His throw moved catcher Justin Vought slightly up the third-base line, but not far enough to prevent a lunging tag at the plate.

“I love it out there,” Alleyne said. “It’s what [the team] needed. So as long as they need me out there, that’s what I’ll be doing.”

And then came Sunday, when Alleyne provided his team with much more offense than anyone thought he would provide. He drove in four runs and scored three times, playing a part in all but one of the team’s eight runs.

He reached base in all five trips to the plate: a leadoff double to start the game, a hit by pitch, his first-career homer, a walk and another two-run blast to seal the game. The first homer came from the right side of the plate against preseason All-American Mitchell Senger, and the other from the left side of the plate with the Terps clinging to a two-run lead.

“That home run he hit in the eighth there at the end to give us some breathing room … finally allowed us to squash [Stetson’s] momentum,” Vaughn said. “Even in our dugout, you could feel them coming a little bit and we were on our heels.”

Alleyne’s four-RBI afternoon was the difference in The Terps’ 8-4 win, which clinched a Maryland series victory over Stetson for the second consecutive year. It marked the Terps’ first road series victory since last April.

So, while “power” might not have been an established attribute in Alleyne’s self-proclaimed nickname, that’s exactly what Maryland needed from its jack of all trades for a big bounce-back weekend.

“I’m feeling good,” Alleyne said. “I’m not trying to do too much up there, just trying to allow my ability and my approach to take me where it wants to go.”

Maryland experimented on defense so it could use its hottest hitter vs. Delaware

As head coach Rob Vaughn watched backup catcher Sebastian Holte-Mancera’s success at the plate last weekend against Louisiana, he pondered how to regularly feature the hot-hitting junior college transfer in the lineup.

There was no simple answer, despite the junior’s 5-for-11 start to his Maryland career.

The Terps had an everyday catcher in sophomore Justin Vought. Three superior defensive outfielders filled Holte-Mancera’s secondary positions. Freshman Maxwell Costes had been the designated hitter in every game, and his .300 batting average and team-leading eight RBIs were too productive to withdraw from the lineup.

But a midweek matchup against a winless Delaware team let Maryland experiment to include its hottest hitter in the lineup. Costes played first base for the first time since middle school, allowing Holte-Mancera to assume the DH role and produce his third-multi hit performance in five appearances.

“I feel pretty comfortable because I’ve been prepping myself before the game very well,” Holte-Mancera said. “Doing mobility and a lot of stuff, allowing myself to be ready to succeed whenever I come in.”

Before Tuesday, Holte-Mancera had only played in unexpected situations. But now with the lefty batting .538 in 13 at-bats this season, the Terps could increase his workload by keeping Costes in the infield.

The Minnesota native started twice at catcher during the opening weekend, but only because Vought entered concussion protocol after the season-opener and missed the rest of the series. Holte-Mancera filled the offensive void, however, going 3-for-7 in Vought’s brief absence.

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Photo credit: Maryland Athletics

He didn’t play again for more than two weeks, as Vought quickly recovered in time for the next series. But Holte-Mancera didn’t think much of his lack of action, and continued to work hard at practice while patiently waiting for another chance.

“He works hard, man,” Vought said. “He’s out here every day grinding.” 

When the Terps played 14 innings in the first half of a doubleheader against Louisiana, Vaughn turned to Holte-Mancera so Vought didn’t have to catch 23 innings in one day.

And again, Holte-Mancera made the most of a golden opportunity, recording his second consecutive multi-hit game and forcing the coaching staff to consider an option to get him in the lineup consistently.

“We tell guys all the time if you want to get in the lineup, do something to change,” Vaughn said. “If you’re not in the lineup right now, do something to change it. Give us a reason to do it.”

Five hits in three games was all the justification Vaughn needed when he took a defensive chance to keep Holte-Mancera in the lineup. And it paid off.

After only scoring eight runs in three games against Louisiana, Maryland produced a season-high 11 runs and 13 hits against Delaware with Holte-Mancera and Costes both in the lineup.

In the sixth inning, Holte-Mancera mashed his first-career Terrapin homer. Two innings later, Costes muscled a line drive over the left-field wall for his first collegiate blast — the final touch on an 11-6 victory.

Defensively, Costes successfully fielded the only two balls hit his way and didn’t commit an error in the nine other putouts he was a part of. For Holte-Mancera’s sake, Costes didn’t do anything that would warrant quickly ditching the thought of a second trial run at first base.

“It’s just nice to know we have an option if we need another left-handed bat in the order,” Vaughn said. “We can throw Maxwell over there and he can hold his own.”

With first basemen Michael Pineiro and Kody Milton still adjusting early in the season — both hitting below .200 — the Costes option at first gives Vaughn and the coaching staff an enjoyable sense of flexibility.

Even though it’s uncertain whether the same lineup will be used when Maryland battles 2018 NCAA Super Regional participant Stetson this weekend, the Terps don’t seem to care which combination of players take the field. 

“Everybody’s going to do their role. Everybody’s going to contribute,” Vought said. “No matter who’s in the lineup for us, we’re confident with the guys we roll out there.”

Two first-year starters had breakout weekends vs. Maine

Maryland designated hitter Maxwell Costes’ visit to second base was short-lived in the first inning Sunday against Maine.

Just one pitch after the freshman’s two-run, bases-loaded double, Costes leisurely jogged home as the ball flew off first baseman Michael Pineiro’s bat and over the right-field fence. In consecutive swings, a tie game turned into a 5-0 Terps lead.

Neither Costes nor Pineiro touched the field last season — the latter watching the entirety of his first year in College Park from the dugout and the former still at The Gilman School in Baltimore.

But the young duo drove in seven of the team’s nine runs in the series finale against Maine, each breaking out in the Terps’ three-game sweep over the Black Bears.

“All we want is quality at-bats,” Costes said. “Get up there, do your job and do whatever you can to get on base.” 

And so far this season, with the Terps now on a four-game winning streak following an 0-2 start, the pair of first-year starters are doing just that.

About a quarter of the way through last season, though, head coach Rob Vaughn met with Pineiro, who hadn’t played in a game yet. That wasn’t going to change anytime soon. The coaching staff didn’t envision Pineiro receiving significant playing time in 2018, so he took a redshirt year to save eligibility as he further developed his skills.

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Photo credit: Maryland Athletics

After that conservation, Vaughn said, the rest of Pineiro’s year could’ve gone one of two ways.

“You [could] see a guy that kind of shuts it down for the rest of the year, and that guy usually doesn’t get any better and doesn’t turn into a player,” Vaughn said. “Or, you see what Mike did.”

The California native closely studied former Terrapin first baseman Kevin Biondic, who occupied Pineiro’s position in the infield. But when Biondic graduated and signed a minor-league deal with the Boston Red Sox after last season, that spot opened up.

Pineiro took what he learned in his season off and applied it to 37 games with the Kelowna Falcons in the West Coast League. When he returned to College Park in the fall he continued to improve, and thus earned an opportunity to start when the 2019 season began two weeks ago.

But he struggled to start strong during the Brittain Resorts Invitational, going 1-for-10 with four strikeouts in the opening weekend. Against Maine, however, he showed a dramatic turnaround with five hits, four RBIs and his first-career home run.

As much as Pineiro would’ve liked to play as a true freshman, his redshirt season prepared him for the large role he’s seeing in the middle of Maryland’s lineup.

“You can’t look back and look at it as a negative thing,” he said. “I look at it as a learning experience for me as a baseball player and as a person. I thought it was really good for me.”

While a year watching Maryland baseball from the bench preceded Pineiro’s first year as a starter, Costes spent three seasons watching from the stands before he got his chance. He cheered on the Terps while his older brother Marty was one of the team’s stars for the last three years.

Marty was drafted by the Houston Astros last June and forwent his senior year, which added to the lofty expectations for his younger brother — regardless of whether or not Maxwell has felt the weight of his brother’s achievements.

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Photo credit: Maryland Athletics

But when Maxwell rocketed a two-run single in the bottom of the eighth on Sunday, he accomplished a Maryland feat last completed by Marty — recording four RBIs in a game as a freshman.

“Maxwell doesn’t get phased by a lot. That’s what I like about him,” Vaughn said. “You talk to all of our pitchers in the fall and those guys consistently said he’s the guy they least liked to face.” 

Costes went 4-for-9 with six RBIs against Maine last weekend, earning Big Ten Player and Freshman of the week honors.  He now has hits in five of Maryland’s six games this season, and in the game he didn’t get one, he still reached base three times.

Coming off a illustrious high school career, it can be difficult for young players to avoid getting caught up in statistics and individual results. For Costes, though, he’s much more concerned with playing his role, which he credits to his work with hitting coach Matt Swope.

“Being a freshman, hitting fifth, I’m stepping into a big spot,” Costes said. “My plan at the plate is to just have quality at-bats and find ways to get on base.”

That large role hasn’t been too lofty for a freshman like Costes, who leads the team in batting average (.350), doubles (3) and RBIs (7) six games into his college career. And while Pineiro has been asked to split time between the outfield and infielder, that role hasn’t been too much for him, either.

“When you start making it a science project, you’re not too good,” Vaughn said. “But when you go out and trust yourself and go compete, you got a chance to be pretty good.”

Maxwell Costes named Big Ten Player and Freshman of the week

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Photo credit: UMTerps.com

Maryland baseball designated hitter Maxwell Costes earned Big Ten freshman and player of the week honors after the Terps’ sweep against Maine, the conference announced Monday afternoon. This marks Costes’ first two weekly awards of his college career.

Batting fifth in the lineup all weekend, the Baltimore native went 4-for-9 with three doubles and six RBIs against the Black Bears. He also drew one walk and was hit three times. In the series finale on Sunday, Costes’ four RBIs were the most by a Maryland freshman since his brother, Marty, accomplished the same feat in 2016.

Marty Costes won two Big Ten freshman of the week awards and, at the end of the season, earned a spot on the conference’s All-freshman team. His nine homers led all freshman in the conference. He never won a Big Ten player of the week award in three seasons with Maryland.

Even though Maxwell hasn’t hit a homer through two weekends, he’s started and reached base in all six games, while also securing a hit in five of them. He still reached base three times in his only game without a hit this season.

Twice over the weekend, Costes hit a two-run double in the bottom of the first to give Maryland a 2-0 lead. On Sunday, with the Terps leading 7-6 in the bottom of the eighth, his two-run single provided insurance for the eventual 9-6 win.

Costes currently leads the Terps with a .350 batting average, three doubles and seven RBIs.

Maryland beats Maine, 9-6, extends winning streak to four

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When right-hander Trevor LaBonte exited the game on Sunday after five strong innings in his first-career start, Maryland baseball held a five-run lead over Maine and showed no signs of needing the same late-inning rally it used last Sunday to beat VCU.

But Terps shortstop AJ Lee committed an error to begin the sixth, foreshadowing the freefall that ensued. Maryland watched its 6-0 lead gradually dissipate until, finally, Black Bears left fielder Hernen Sardinas tied the score in the top of the seventh with an RBI single.

But rather than succumbing to the momentum swing, Maryland used a game-winning RBI double from third baseman Taylor Wright to fuel a three-run eighth inning. And this time, it narrowly held onto a 9-6 lead to complete the series sweep and extend its winning streak to four games.

“I think every good team is good at playing from behind,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “We didn’t quite fall behind, but really all the momentum was in that other dugout for about two innings … Playing games like that is really good for us.”

In the second half of Friday’s doubleheader, Maryland jumped out to an early 4-0 lead before Maine stormed back in the middle innings to keep the game competitive. The Black Bears got the tying run on base in that contest, but the Terps staved off the comeback to earn the victory.

The same issues arose again on Sunday with the Terps in search of the sweep — something Maryland only did once in a three-game series last season. This time, though, all the early offensive success became neutralized by the seventh-inning stretch at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium.

Maryland loaded the bases in the first inning, bringing designated hitter Maxwell Costes to the plate with only one out. The freshman, coming off a two-double game earlier in the weekend, ripped another one on the first pitch he saw to plate two runs.

On the very next pitch from Maine starter Sam McCarthy, utility player Michael Pineiro deposited a three-run homer over the right-field wall. It was the first home run of his career after not playing at all last season.

“I was just looking for a first-pitch fastball, got it, got into it and saw it go,” Pineiro said. “I got pretty excited … kind of blacked out between first and third. It was exciting to get my first one out of the way.”

Outfielder Randy Bednar smashed his second home run of the weekend to increase Maryland’s lead to 6-0 after two innings, but Maine designated hitter Colin Ridley’s solo homer in the fifth negated it in LaBonte’s fifth and final frame.

LaBonte exited in prime position to earn his first win, but the five Maryland relievers used in the sixth in seventh innings were not successful in preventing Maine from eventually erasing the lead.

While Maryland’s pitching staff foiled the blowout victory, its offense knew it had more runs left to score.

“We’re always thinking about coming back and getting the job done,” Costes said. “Them tying the game up at 6-6, that didn’t mean anything to us.”

So in the top of the eighth when right-hander Will Glock stranded two inherited runners on base — and preventing Maine for taking its first lead of the series — it was the pivotal moment the offense needed to finally take control again.

With two runners on in the bottom of the eighth, Wright doubled to left-center field to bring in the go-ahead run. After an intentional walk issued to catcher Justin Vought, Costes delivered a two-run single to reach four RBIs on the day and open up a late 9-6 lead that held.

Even though Maine got the game-tying run to the plate in the ninth, closer John Murphy struck out shortstop Jeffrey Omohundro to conclude the weekend with a mere scare that didn’t ultimately spoil the sweep.

“Sweeps are about character,” Vaughn said. “I think that showed a little bit today.”