Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics
After a stunning win over then-No. 1 Florida (it has since dropped to No. 3), the Maryland Terrapins are headed to the Mardi Gras Invitational this weekend with their first season victory under their belt.
Despite losing four of seven games to mercy rule prior to the win, the Terrapins shocked the Gators by maintaining a 4-2 lead throughout the game. The upset lends the Terps a new dynamic coming into this weekend — they are a team capable of beating anyone.
Maryland is set to face Drake, Bowling Green, Bradley, Louisiana-Lafayette and Dartmouth in a busy weekend with two consecutive days of doubleheaders.
The Drake Bulldogs are up first, and the 7-4 team will stand out most in the circle. Junior pitcher Nicole Newman is a winning force for the team.
Newman has a 0.98 ERA on the season so far, a dauntingly low number that may foreshadow difficulty reaching home plate for Maryland.
Over the past weekend, when the Bulldogs played in the Wildcat Invitational, Newman pitched three whole games, recording an impressive 34 strikeouts in 25 innings.
Newman also boasts the team’s highest batting average. She is followed by senior Megan Sowa, who logged at least one hit in all but one game last weekend.
Newman and the Bulldogs will test the struggling Maryland offense. The Terrapins have lost four games so far this season on mercy rule, and their success this weekend may depend on how quickly they can get runs on the board.
Later on Friday, the Terrapins are set to play the Bowling Green Falcons. The Falcons are 6-3 for the season and currently lead the Mid-American Conference (MAC) in batting average with an outstanding .339 clip.
Bowling Green’s strength is its lineup, anchored by junior Chelsea Raker. Raker holds second-place for batting average in the MAC, and she batted a .611 last weekend at the Charlotte’s First Pitch Classic.
Raker’s hitting ability alone is enough to test the Terrapins, but as the team average shows, she is not acting solo.
Maryland’s defense will have to look to make big plays like Kassidy Cross’ diving catch against Florida A&M last weekend if it wants to be able to outdo the Falcon’s top-notch lineup.
For the first game on Saturday, the Terrapins meet the Bradley Braves. The Braves, like most of the other teams at the Mardi Gras Invitational, have a near-.500 record and are4-6.
Maryland and Bradley have never crossed paths before and this weekend’s game is the team’s first time as opponents.
Compared to Bowling Green’s startling high batting average, the Braves are more on par with the Terrapins. The Braves are hitting .293 and the Terrapins .286.
While the team average is on the lower side, individual players like senior Caitlyn McCarron is hitting 8-for-12 with runners on base for this season and hit five runs and six RBIs last weekend.
Despite the lower batting numbers, the Braves excel the most on defense with a team average fielding percentage of .948.
Although the Braves are more evenly matched to the Terrapins, a win will not be in the books for Maryland without the same level of dedication seen in the Florida success.
The Terrapins then get to meet their host team, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, in Saturday’s second game.
The Ragin’ Cajuns are currently ranked No. 16 nationwide, taking the place of now-No. 12 Minnesota, whom the Terps lost to twice during their opening weekend.
Louisiana-Lafayette is currently 6-3 and coming off of a 46-9 record to end the 2016 season.
The Ragin’ Cajuns beat No. 4 Alabama twice last weekend to win their series, earning the team weekly awards. Junior DJ Sanders was named Sun Belt Conference (SBC) Player of the Week and freshman Alyssa Denham SBC Pitcher of the Week.
Denham also was chosen as USA Softball’s Collegiate National Player of the Week for her performance against Alabama, which featured a two-hit shutout game to win the series for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
In the past, the Ragin’ Cajuns relied on high run scoring to get them to a win, but head coach Michael Lotief told Louisiana-Lafayette Athletics that he sees this season’s team operating a little differently.
“I think this team will be more suited toward pitching and defense,” he said.
Dartmouth is last on the Terrapins docket for the Mardi Gras Invitational. The Dartmouth Big Green is opening their 2017 season this weekend, although they are 7-4 in preseason play.
The Big Green have a relatively young roster this season, with eight freshmen joining the team this year. They replace several graduated seniors, including one of Dartmouth’s most talented softball players ever, Katie McEachern, who holds the all-time record in four hitting categories.
This new freshmen class follows a successful 2016. Dartmouth boasted an Ivy League win streak throughout last April that lasted 13 games and ultimately ended in a losing series to Harvard to just miss the conference title.
The Big Green’s 2017 season will be centered on the hunt for revenge for the loss to Harvard, and this weekend will set the tone for what that journey may look like.
Although Maryland is still a 1-8 team, last weekend’s upset will likely go down as the greatest in the 2017 NCAA softball season, and certainly one of the greatest in Terrapin softball history.
If it is going to be even moderately successful this weekend and the rest of the season, Maryland must hang on to that momentum and drive that pushed its win against Florida.
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