Bart Kaufman Field, Bloomington, Indiana
Friday, April 28, 4:05 p.m. ET
Saturday, April 29, 2:05 p.m. ET
Sunday, April 30, 12:00 p.m. ET
When Maryland’s season ended last year, it meant the end of the fantastic college baseball career of ace Mike Shawaryn, a Friday night ace who won 30 games for the Terrapins over three years and made it nearly impossible for Maryland’s opponents to get their weekends off to good starts. For the other 12 teams in the Big Ten, it must have felt like a burden had been lifted. But the Terps’ pitching staff may be even better in 2017, and is deeper at the very least.
Brian Shaffer offers the same kind of Friday-night challenge that Shawaryn presented. And the Hoosiers know all about how good he can be. Shaffer, who is 5-2 on the season with a 1.77 ERA, eliminated Indiana from last year’s Big Ten Tournament, ending the Hoosiers’ season, by throwing a complete-game, two-hit shutout. He struck out eight batters along the way and and faced just three hitters above the minimum.
Tyler Blohm and Taylor Bloom have 12 wins between them on Saturdays and Sundays, and over the last three weekends, the Terrapins are allowing less than three runs per game on those days.
But it is not just the pitching that makes Maryland tough. Five Terrapins are hitting above .300, led by Marty Costes, who is hitting .350 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs. Those five players hitting above .300 does not include Kevin Smith, the Maryland shortstop who was widely expected to be the Big Ten Player of the Year this season. Smith is hitting just .252, but does have seven home runs and 24 RBIs and is a threat to get hot and do damage at any point in any ballgame.
All in all, the Terps have hit 38 home runs, just under one per game, and are scoring more than six run per contest.
If there is a weakness or a flaw in this Maryland club, no one has found it yet. At 28-11, 12-3 in the Big Ten, the Terrapins are running away from the pack in league play and have found their way into nearly every Top-25 poll. D1Baseball has the Terps projected as a 2-seed and, if they continue their winning ways (16 of their last 20), there’s no reason this club can’t find its way onto the 1-seed line.
But the Hoosiers are on a bit of a roll themselves, having won seven of their last 10 and taken the last two Big Ten series against Minnesota and Michigan, respectively. Thanks to their play of late, D1Baseball has Indiana projected as a 3-seed, and there is plenty of opportunity ahead of the Hoosiers to improve their NCAA chances. Friday’s game against Maryland marks the beginning of a stretch where the Hoosiers will play 10 of 11 games at home.
Indiana will face tough competition in Maryland and Louisville in four of the 10 home games, but even a split in those games will give the Hoosiers a great chance for a wildly successful homestand as Xavier and Penn State are the opponents for the other six contests. And for that reason, two wins this weekend would do wonders for Indiana’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
What to expect
Given the struggles of the Indiana pitching staff and the dominance of the Maryland battery, the Hoosiers appear to have a long weekend ahead of them. What would seem to favor the Terrapins even more is that they seem equipped to take away Indiana’s greatest strength.
The Hoosiers’ offense has thrived this season thanks to the long ball, hitting 45 home runs, more than one per game. But Maryland has allowed just 18 dingers, just over one per weekend.
On paper, it would appear that this weekend will come down to whether Maryland can keep the Indiana power in check and whether the Hoosiers can get a couple quality starts out of Stiever, Hobbie, and Milto. Both may be easier said than done, but only one of the clubs have demonstrated that they have the ability to pull off the task in front of them. Two wins for Indiana this weekend would be a great achievement.