Series Preview: Nebraska Cornhuskers

After a very encouraging weekend, Maryland will head to the midwest to take on the first place team in the Big Ten, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Maryland went 3-1 over the weekend with wins on Friday and Saturday against Northwestern, and a thrashing of Michigan, 17-7 on Monday. It was the Terps’ first win over Michigan in nine tries.

Leading the way over the weekend was junior shortstop Benjamin Cowles, who was on base four times in the win on Monday, as well as senior second baseman Tommy Gardiner, who homered several times. Maxwell Costes also had a good weekend, as he went 4-5 with 4 RBIs on Saturday vs the Wildcats, and he finally logged his first extra base hit of the season on Monday against Michigan.

Maryland’s offensive onslaught on Monday was the second time they have scored at least 17 runs in a game this season, as they scored a season-high 19 against Penn State on March 20.

Nebraska is going to be a very big test for Maryland’s pitching staff, as they are currently at the top of almost all offensive categories. They are second in the conference in home runs and hits. They lead the Big Ten in runs, batting average, and RBI. The Cornhuskers pitching staff ranks sixth in the Big Ten with a 4.31 team earned run average. Their opposing batting average ranks eighth in the Big Ten at .255.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-6)

Last Season

Before the pandemic shut games down, Nebraska finished last season at 7-8. They hit an impressive .281 which was ranked fifth in the Big Ten. However, their pitching struggled mightily in their 15 games as they were second-to-last in the conference with a 5.94 ERA. They were very good on defense finishing tied for first in the conference with a .980 fielding percentage.

This Season

Nebraska has not lost a series in the 2021 season, as they have been carried by their potent offense all season long. The Cornhuskers are coming off of a series win in Champaign against Illinois, as they took two out of three games. They scored at least eight runs in all three games. Prior to the series against Illinois, Nebraska swept Minnesota in a four-game series at home. Even though two of the games only went seven innings, Nebraska scored at least six runs in all four of those games.

Hitters to Watch

Nebraska is led by their junior shortstop from Saginaw, Michigan, Spencer Schwellenbach. He has started every game this season, and is hitting an astounding .353, with three home runs and 14 RBI. He has also made seven appearances on the mound, and has not given up a run. The Huskers lineup also features junior infielder Cam Chick, who is hitting .298 with six homers and has driven in 21.

Pitchers to Watch

Nebraska’s staff is led by junior left-hander Cade Povich. Povich has made five starts this season with a 3.95 ERA and is 2-1 on the season. He has thrown 27 1/3 innings, given up 12 earned runs, and has 36 strikeouts. The Terps can also expect to see right-hander Shay Schanaman. Schanaman has also made five starts on the year, but he has struggled, with a 5.87 ERA. He has given up 15 earned runs in 23 innings pitched and has also struck out 25. Schanaman has gone 2 2/3 innings in two of his last three starts, but went 7 1/3 against Minnesota on March 28.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Friday- RHP Sean Burke (1-1, 4.78 ERA) vs LHP Cade Povich (2-1, 3.95 ERA)

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Burke pitched a decent game in his last time out against Northwestern. The Massachusetts native went five innings, gave up three hits, and only two runs, but he did walk five Wildcats.

Povich, in his last start, went into the sixth inning but was unable to complete it. He gave up three earned runs on six hits and only walked one. Nebraska would win the game, 8-6.

Saturday RHP Nick Dean vs RHP Chance Hroch (2-0, 5.04 ERA)

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Dean threw a decent game in his last start out against the Wildcats. He went five innings, gave up three earned runs and struck out five, the Terps would go on to win the game.

Hroch, the New Mexico State transfer, is coming off of a tough outing last time out. He went just four innings, gave up seven hits, and allowed five runs. Nebraska would end up falling to Illinois late in this game.

Sunday RHP Jason Savacool (4-0, 3.82 ERA) vs RHP Shay Schanaman

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Savacool, the freshman phenom, is coming off the first rough start of his college career. He was beaten around pretty bad by Michigan, but thanks to an offensive onslaught, Savacool was let off the hook and the Terps won big.

Like Savacool, Schanaman is also coming off of a tough start against Illinois. He threw two and two-thirds innings giving up five earned runs and four hits while throwing just 43 pitches.

Series Preview: Northwestern Wildcats and No. 25 Michigan Wolverines

The Terrapins (6-9) are back in action this weekend and will look to carry their momentum from the closing game in Columbus into the “College Park Pod.” Maryland welcomes both Northwestern (9-5) and No. 25 Michigan (11-4) to the Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium for another two-game, two-team series spanning from Friday to Monday.

Maryland’s road trip to Ohio did not go according to plan, as it dropped three straight before ending on a high note Monday. The Terps lost their opening pair of games against the Hawkeyes, 6-4 and 11-2 respectively, and were bested by the hosting Buckeyes 5-4. But they found their offensive form and snapped the three-game losing streak by beating Ohio State in the rematch, 9-3, with freshman RHP Jason Savacool securing a fourth straight win to open the season. Maryland also notched nine steals, their most in a single game since 2013.

The Terrapins will play a game per day for the next four days. Their first pair will be against the Northwestern Wildcats, starting on Friday at 4 p.m. and quickly followed by game two on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Northwestern and Michigan will then square off against one another in their own two-game series before the Terps tangle with a ranked Wolverines team for games three and four. Game three is tentatively set for 3:30 p.m. Sunday, with the series concluding at 3 p.m. on Monday.

Maryland will need the bats to come alive this weekend as they’re pitted against two red-hot offensive teams. Northwestern posted a whopping 36 runs in their three-game slugfest of a series on the road against Illinois. The Wildcats’ bats have been exceptionally hot, with the team compiling a .305 batting average through 14 games. That prolific pace was on display against the Fighting Illini, as Northwestern brought in eight runs in a losing effort to open the series before they won game two, 16-14, and game three, 12-5.

Meanwhile, Michigan racked up an equally impressive 25 in their last two games versus Penn State after being shutout in game one. The Wolverines have scored 8.7 runs per game on average in their 11 wins and have made a habit of erasing deficits in a hurry. In game one against the Nittany Lions, Michigan tallied 14 unanswered runs after trailing 4-3. Later that day, they dug out of a 6-1 hole with seven unanswered runs for another comeback win. Earlier in the season, they stunned in-state rivals Michigan State with the most remarkable rally of all, knocking in eight runs in the ninth inning to win 8-7.

Maryland will be depending on Savacool and the pitching staff to contain the opposition’s offense. The Terps will look to a few different outlets for offense of its own. Benjamin Cowles has been a core part of Maryland’s slugging success, hitting .400 with 23 runs batted in, both team-highs by far. He tacked on two RBIs in the win over Ohio State Monday, going two-for-three from the plate. Randy Bednar is on a roll, getting a hit in each game last weekend and plating a pair of runners on Monday as well.

Northwestern Wildcats (9-5)

Last Season

Spencer Allen’s squad went a modest 6-7 before COVID-19 shut down the sporting world. The 2020 Wildcats managed a .239/.327/.340 slash line and a 3.63 ERA. But…

This Season

Northwestern has shown marked improvement from a year ago. The Wildcats are at just about the same point in the season in terms of games played and their slash line has jumped to .304/.387/.554. However, the pitching staff has some room for improvement with the ERA ballooning to 5.45. Northwestern enters the weekend off the back of a 2-1 series win over Illinois and has won seven of its last 10.

Hitters to Watch

There are a multitude of dangerous batters in this Northwestern lineup, with five Wildcats averaging well over .300. But two juniors stand out for their excellent efficiency when stepping into the batter’s box. Anthony Calarco is hitting .441, including five homers and and a team-high 50 total bases. On the other hand, Shawn Goosenberg clobbered two two-run homeruns and a two-RBI double in their last outing, and sits on a .364 BA for the season.

Pitchers to Watch

The Wildcat bullpen hasn’t impressed so far this season, with a 5.45 team ERA costing Northwestern in a couple back-and-forth losses. They will turn to junior Mike Doherty in game one, who boasts a 3.20 ERA. But the late-inning options are where Northwestern’s issues are really exacerbated. Sophomore RHP Reed Smith could provide assistance in that area, holding a 1.74 ERA in 10.1 IP which is a team-best among pitchers who have thrown for more than one inning.

No. 25 Michigan (11-4)

Last Season

Like Northwestern, Michigan had a middling 2020 season, accumulating a record of 8-7 before it met an untimely end. The highlight of the season came on opening day, as they upended then-No. 2 Vanderbilt, 4-3. The Wolverines’ slash line sat at .249/.355/.344 and the pitchers collectively threw for a respectable 4.05 ERA.

This Season

And like Northwestern, Michigan has been much better to this point in the season, both offensively and defensively. The slash line has risen to .260/.375/.426 with the pitching staff shaving the ERA down by nearly a run to 3.059.

Hitters to Watch

The Wolverines wield a wealth of offensive weapons, with fifth-year players Christian Molfetta and Benjamin Sems leading the way. The two upperclassmen both bat over .300 and have a combined 21 RBIs. Sophomore Jimmy Obertop leads the team with 14 RBIs, and keep an eye out for redshirt sophomore Jordon Rogers as well. In his first collegiate starts last weekend against Penn State, Rogers had four hits and plated five runs, including a game-winner.

Pitchers to Watch

Michigan has shown much improvement in their pitching game this season. Steve Hajjar, Cameron Weston and Jacob Denner have combined for a 5-1 record and ERAs of 2.66, 3.20, and 4.32, respectively. Joe Pace has also been stellar, with no earned runs allowed in 7.1 innings pitched. The Maryland offense will likely find this bullpen more difficult to go against, but have an opportunity to start strong Monday against struggling RHP Blake Beers (6.75 ERA).

Starting Pitching Matchups

Friday vs. Northwestern – RHP Sean Burke (1-1, 5.06 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Doherty (1-0, 3.20 ERA)

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Burke pulled out one of his best starts in Columbus against Iowa. The redshirt sophomore allowed just one earned run in six innings, striking out 11, but the bullpen would let four runs in and the Terps dropped the game.

The Massachusetts native Mike Doherty will also feel aggrieved with his last performance ending in a loss. Doherty threw for six innings and had the Wildcats in pole position up 5-4 on Illinois. Just after being pulled, the Illini ripped off an eight-run seventh en route to a 12-8 loss for Northwestern.

Saturday vs. Northwestern – RHP Nick Dean (0-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. RHP Jack Dyke (1-0, 8.59 ERA)

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Dean had his first start come to an abrupt end, yanked from the mound in the bottom of the fourth. This happened despite only conceding one run in the first three innings, and Maryland would go on to get thumped 11-2.

Conversely, Dyke let in a run in just two-thirds of an inning. But he still ended up with his first win of the season as the sophomore from San Francisco helped close out a 16-14 slugfest in Urbana-Champaign.

Sunday vs. Michigan – RHP Connor Staine (0-2, 7.17 ERA vs. LHP Jacob Denner (1-0, 4.32 ERA)

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Connor Staine has struggled to start this season and is still seeking his first win. The sophomore out of Clinton, NJ stepped in for Nick Dean against the Hawkeyes and ran into a buzzsaw, shipping six runs in 5.1 IP.

Staine will go up against a tough customer in Jacob Denner, another sophomore and Jersey native who enters the weekend off the back of shutting down Penn State through 5 IP, allowing just one run on three hits.

Monday vs. Michigan – RHP Jason Savacool (4-0, 2.83 ERA) vs. RHP Blake Beers (0-1, 6.75 ERA)

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Freshman sensation Jason Savacool will close out the twinbill series again Monday afternoon for the Terps. The two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week selection kept his unbeaten streak alive with the 9-3 win over Ohio State, in which he pitched five innings and rung up five strikeouts.

Savacool will have a leg up on his counterpart on the mound, Blake Beers. Beers has languished this season, most recently posting five runs allowed in 2.2 IP.

Series Preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

The Terps were able to salvage their first win of the 2021 season Sunday against Michigan State 3-2 behind a complete game performance from Freshman right-handed pitcher Jason Savacool. Savacool, who entered his collegiate debut with loads of preseason honors, did not disappoint in his first outing as a Terp, being named Big Ten Freshman of the Week.

Despite the good pitching from Maryland’s starters throughout the Michigan State series, the Terps were doomed by a lackluster offensive performance hitting .200 as a team, .103 with runners in scoring position and four total extra base hits through the four games. 

The Terps, now 1-3 on the season, continue their Big Ten gauntlet as they turn their attention to a four-game series against Rutgers starting Friday evening. The home opener at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium will be without fans in attendance for the first time ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Historically, Maryland Baseball has dominated the Scarlet Knights, owning a 7-2 record since the two teams merged with the Big Ten. The teams’ last meeting ended in a three-game, Maryland sweep, featuring a 17-2 decimation of Rutgers.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights  (2-2, 2-2 Big Ten)

Last Season

The Scarlett Knights finished the shorthanded 2020 season with a 6-9 record, putting them last in the Big Ten standings. The Scarlet Knights struggled across the board with their pitching, recording a 5.23 earned-run average and 1.59 walks plus hits per inning. Harry Rutkowski lead the staff in both ERA and innings pitched with a 2.74 ERA and 23 total innings pitched. The Scarlett Knights hitting wasn’t much better slashing for a total of .265/.367/.377. Richie Schiekofer was the leader of the offense, starting all 15 games with a .375 batting average and 1.085 on-base plus slugging percentage.

This Season

Rutgers comes into the series with a 2-2 record and are coming off splits against Minnesota and Indiana. Against Minnesota, Rutgers won 16-1 in the first matchup on Saturday and a lost 13-8 on Sunday. Against the defending Big Ten regular season champion Indiana, Rutgers won 2-1 in the first matchup on Friday but lost 4-2 on Saturday. Rutgers was picked towards the bottom of the Big Ten in most preseason polls projected to finish 10th, only ahead of Michigan State, Northwestern and Penn State.

Hitters to Watch

The Scarlet Knights had hot bats in Minnesota with 28 runs in four games. Evan Sleight and Bradley Norton are currently pacing the team in batting average, both hitting .400. Chris Brito leads the team with .833 slugging and Jordan Sweeny currently leads the Scarlett Knights in hits with five and has six RBI so far.

Pitchers to Watch   

The pitchers to watch for the Scarlet Knights is their ace Rutkowski and Saturday starter Ben Wereski. Rutkowski got off to a great start on the season with a win against Indiana, going six one-run innings with eight strikeouts. Wereski had a similar stat line himself, also going six one-run innings but with five strikeouts.

Probable Starting Pitching Matchups

Friday, 4:00 p.m. EST

RHP Sean Burke (0-1 4.50 ERA) vs LHP  Harry Rukowski 1-0 1.50 ERA)

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Burke, coming off a loss against Michigan State, had an impressive 13 strikeouts while also only giving up two walks and three earned runs in six innings pitched and will look to build on that outing with some help from the Terps’ offense this time.

Rukowski, coming off a win, shut down a good Indiana lineup, keeping them off balance only surrendering one run with eight strikeouts in six innings.

Saturday, 12:00 EST

LHP Sean Fisher( 0-1 8.10 ERA) vs LHP Ben Wereski (1-0 1.50 ERA)

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Fisher had a rough outing against Michigan State, lasting only 3 1/3 innings giving up three earned runs. He will look to go deeper into the game this time around with the Terps looking to save arms in the first game of a doubleheader.

Before he even took the mound against Minnesota, Wereski already had a four-run lead and shut down the Minnesota lineup, allowing three hits and one earned run in six innings en route to a 16-1 win.

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST

RHP Connor Staine (0-0 1.50 ERA) vs  RHP Brent Teller (0-1 4.91 ERA)

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Staine was in position for a win with a stellar outing, going six one-run innings while striking out nine Spartans. After he exited, Maryland blew a 4-1 lead in the 7th inning, which led to a heartbreaking 5-4 loss, resulting in a no-decision and a waste of a stellar performance.

Teller on the other hand struggled with consistency in his first outing in not being able to find the strike zone against Indiana only going 3 2/3 innings allowing two runs and four walks taking the loss.

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST

RHP Jason Savacool (1-0 1.00 ERA) vs TBD

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In the series finale, the Terps will send out the Big Ten Freshman of the Week coming off a dominant complete-game performance against Michigan State. Savacool lead the Terps to their only win of the season, doing it in only 103 pitches and keeping the Spartans lineup at bay. Savacool was the first Terp to pitch nine or more innings since Hunter Parsons tossed a complete-game shutout against Stetson on March 25, 2018.

Rutgers has yet to announce its starting pitcher for Sunday. 

Preseason Countdown #1: Michigan State Series Preview

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)

Last Season

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.

This Season

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)

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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)

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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

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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

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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.