For the first time in program history, The “Bob” will be hosting a NCAA Regional.
As the No. 15 seed in the nation, Maryland welcomes a treacherous field of opponents into the College Park Regional, hoping to pick up where last year’s squad left off and renew its College World Series aspirations. The field includes a Wake Forest team lined with dangerous bats, a Connecticut team loaded with pitching, and a Long Island University team that recently won its conference tournament.
Coming off a disappointing end to the Big Ten Tournament in which they lost two of their three games (outscored by eight runs), the Terps turn their attention to the Long Island Sharks when the teams butt heads in game one Friday evening.
The winner of that matchup will face the winner of Wake Forest and Connecticut, who play each other in Friday afternoon’s slot. To get a better grasp at the competition Maryland faces Friday and what it might face later in the weekend, here’s a brief preview of each opposing team in the College Park Regional.
Long Island Sharks (37-19, 18-9 NEC)
The No. 4 seed Sharks are the Terps’ game one competition, and after winning their conference’s tournament to clinch a spot in the NCAA Championship Bracket, Long Island has plenty of momentum behind it. Since LIU merged its Brooklyn and Post programs into one under the Sharks in 2019, the team’s 37 wins this season was the most in program history.
The Sharks didn’t have much of an outstanding offense — ending the season dead in the middle of the Northeast Conference in just about every hitting category. The one category they dominated the conference in — and what could prove to be their deadliest skill at the plate — is walks. The Sharks walked 313 times in 2022, 68 times more than the next best team in Mount St. Mary’s. While they might not dominate with the bat itself, elite plate discipline and the ability to manufacture runs through walks could be Long Island’s secret weapon against the Terps.
Hitters to Watch:
For the most part, the Sharks’ lineup has mostly been a revolving door of batters with only six players starting just about every game this season. The two most impactful bats of that group have been graduate student Michael Edelman and senior Giovanni Ciaccio. Both players have nearly identical slash lines, with Edelman at .326/.419/.496 and Ciaccio at .310/.436/.478.
The Sharks aren’t necessarily a long ball-dependent team, but if there’s going to be one player to send a ball or two over the fence in the College Park Regional, look to junior EJ Exposito, who has a team-leading 13 home runs.
Pitchers to Watch:
With the Sharks most likely sending out their typical Friday starter for game one against Maryland, the Terps might have a lot of work to do to move on in the regional. Senior Joshua Loeschorn is second on the team with a 3.02 ERA, and he has struck out 102 batters compared to 26 walks all season. After Loeschorn, the Sharks bring some solid bullpen arms to the table, including senior Nick Torres, who has 51 2/3 innings of a 3.14 ERA under his belt in 2022.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (40-17-1, 15-14-1 ACC)
Bringing the strongest offense in the field to The “Bob,” the Demon Deacons are an extremely formidable team. Despite not winning the ACC Tournament, Wake Forest’s seventh 40-win season in program history was enough to get them into the College Park Regional as the No. 2-seeded team.
Wake Forest’s biggest strength is its offense, which boasts seven lineup regulars with batting averages over .300. The Demon Deacons also led the way with 115 home runs in the ACC, beating out other extraordinary offenses such as Virginia Tech (110) and Georgia Tech (110). Even when they don’t win using the long ball, their conference-leading .428 team on-base percentage shows how they can easily find multiple ways to out-perform some of the country’s best offenses.
Hitters to Watch:
It’s hard to point out just a couple of Wake Forest’s best hitters when the lowest OPS in the lineup is .771. Simply enough, their whole lineup will be riddled with gritty, powerful bats. If there had to be a couple to highlight, Nick Kurtz and Brendan Tinsman will likely appear plenty in the scoring summary. The freshman Kurtz leads his team in OPS at 1.163, and the redshirt junior Tinsman — who follows Kurtz up in the lineup in the cleanup spot — leads the Deacons with 23 home runs which is tied for fifth in the country.
Pitchers to Watch:
In contrast to its offense, good pitching at Wake Forest is few and far between. In the weekend rotation, the one standout is sophomore ace Rhett Lowder. Lowder has led the Deacons’ starters with a 2.61 ERA — a wide margin over his peers. In the pen, Wake Forest has a few solid options to hand the ball to in the late innings. Three of the bullpen arms have ERA’s below 3.50, including Camden Minacci, who owns a 1.85 ERA and has six saves on the year.
Connecticut Huskies (46-13, 16-5 Big East)
The No. 3 seed Connecticut Huskies are practically complete opposites of the Wake Forest team they face Friday afternoon — stacked on the pitching end, but middle of the pack at the plate. That pitching, which led the Big East in ERA and opposing batting average, carried the Huskies to the second-winningest season in program history — just shy of the 2010 season’s 48 wins.
Out of the 17 pitchers on Connecticut’s roster, 12 of them own ERA’s below 3.50, including all three pitchers in the weekend rotation. While the offense leaves more to be desired, the pitching could easily shut down any offense. In the regular season, it certainly helped propel the Huskies to an 8-1 record against the top three offenses in the Big East (Xavier, Creighton, Butler).
Hitters to Watch:
Sophomore Korey Morton might have less than 100 at-bats with the Huskies this season and was mostly used as a pinch-runner in the early part of the season, but his .442 batting average and .726 slugging percentage in that sample size should be pretty daunting to opposing pitchers. Along with Morton, senior Erik Stock brings just as much power with his bat, but over a sample size of 240 at-bats. That power has translated to a .375/.443/.600 slash line and the best OPS on the team out of qualified batters. Ben Huber and Casey Dana round out the middle of the order that packs an extreme punch — both of those hitters owning OPS’s over .900.
Pitchers to Watch:
There are so many pitchers to choose from on the Huskies’ staff as almost three quarters of their pitchers can provide quality innings. With that being said, their starters this season — Enzo Stefanoni, Pat Gallagher and Austin Peterson — have ERA’s of 3.01, 3.21 and 3.22, respectively. Most notably, Peterson has struck out 129 batters this season compared to walking just 17. Beyond the starters, the bullpen trio of Jack Sullivan, Brendan O’Donnell and Garrett Coe could easily shut down lineups late in games with the three combining for a 1.89 ERA over 66 2/3 innings. In a regional filled with potent bats, Connecticut’s pitching could prove to be a real difference maker.