Feature photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Maryland looks for spark in USA-Irish Baseball Classic

Maryland baseball didn’t stack up well against LSU last weekend, with a sweep dropping them to 1-5. In the upcoming USA Baseball-Irish Classic tournament, a fearsome lineup belonging to North Carolina State awaits Saturday, but Notre Dame and Dayton have losing records and could give Maryland a chance to find a spark.

Notre Dame has struggled in ways similar to the way Maryland has to kick off 2017. The Fighting Irish are 1-6 and have hit for a low average with little power, slashing .245/.320/.378. On top of that, the team’s pitching has been giving up nearly a run per inning with an 8.85 ERA. Many of the most unsightly ERAs belong to the relievers.

Those numbers are eerily similar to what Maryland has put up in six games: they are slashing .243/.369/.337 with their pitching staff owning a 7.92 ERA. Likewise, the bullpen has been a source of many of the runs given up by the Terrapins, especially in their 14-0 loss to LSU Saturday. Relievers were charged with eight earned runs in that contest.

As unsightly as they are momentarily, the statistics of both teams should come back to earth with enough games played. For instance, Brandon Bielak, the Notre Dame pitcher who will start against Maryland on Friday, led the team with a 2.10 ERA in 55.2 innings last year, mostly as a reliever. He’s been unimpressive in his first two starts of 2017, giving up 10 hits and 10 walks in the 6.2 innings he covered in two losses.

Bielak could be off to a slow start adjusting to being a full-time starter, but it would be hard for Maryland to bet they’ll face the version of Bielak who has been pounded to the tune of a 10.80 ERA so far. Expect Maryland to prepare for a Bielak that dominated in 2016.

If Maryland should ignore Bielak’s cold streak, they should also pay attention to the hot start of infielder Kyle Fiala. Fiala hit just .215 with no home runs in 40 games last year, but already has hit two out of the park to go along with a .333 average. No one on the team has touched more bases than his 20.

Fiala was more successful against lefties in 2016, but Terps right-handed starter Brian Shaffer should still be wary of the senior batsman, who already owns five extra base hits.

The Terrapins face their toughest challenge of the tournament Saturday when they play No. 6 North Carolina State.

Though they’ve only gone 5-3 so far, the Wolfpack boast five hitters batting at least .280 on their roster. Outfielder Brett Kinneman is at the heart of the order slugging .667 with two home runs and a .444 on-base percentage. Infielder Will Wilson has hit directly before or after Kinneman in every game, and has capitalized on Kinneman’s presence with a team-leading eight RBIs.

The two underclassmen present a difficult duo to navigate for Terrapins starter Taylor Bloom. The 2016 third-team All-Big Ten selection was shaky in his first two starts against Louisville and LSU, two national powerhouses. Taking the loss both times, Bloom gave up eight runs and 13 hits in five innings. That’s resulted in a 14.40 ERA, which is nearly 12 runs higher than the mark he posted in 2016.

Teams have hit .520 against Bloom thus far, which could make for a bad matchup for Maryland if Bloom can’t correct his mistakes before taking the mound against the Wolfpack.

In the weekend finale, if Dayton’s season trend holds up, the scoreboard should see plenty of action Sunday.

The Flyers have given up 69 runs through six games, but have scored 56 runs themselves, nearly 10 per game.

Dayton has engaged in plenty of high-scoring affairs to start 2017, but the wildest came last Saturday. The Flyers led 16-6 halfway through the fifth inning against South Carolina Upstate. The game ended up going 12 innings. Dayton retook the lead in the 12th, but couldn’t nail down the save and lost on a walk-off double.

Flyers relievers gave up 15 earned runs in 7.1 innings that day, resulting in a 21-20 loss.

But even when Dayton loses, it doesn’t go without offense, and freshman outfielder Tate Hagan has been at the forefront of the lineup’s production. Hagan has bashed three home runs in his first 19 at-bats, leading to an extremely healthy .842 slugging percentage.

Sophomore infielder Connor Echols has also pestered pitchers with 14 hits in 30 at-bats and a .500 on-base percentage.

Freshman right-hander Tyler Jones will take the hill for the Flyers, who are hoping to get their pitching staff in order. Batters have hit .432 against Jones in his first two starts with 16 hits in nine innings. In that time, he’s also allowed nine earned runs and struck out two.

At the very least, Maryland should find it easier to hit against Dayton’s pitching staff than against LSU’s Jared Poche’, who carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Terrapins last Saturday.

Tyler Blohm will pitch for Maryland Sunday looking to get back in the win column following a loss to LSU in which he lasted 2.1 innings. The freshman left-hander is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA.

Edited by Austin Kleber.

Connor Mount

Connor Mount

Senior Staff Writer at The Left Bench
Connor Mount is an analytics enthusiast, which is polite for "sports nerd." Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, Class of 2017.
Connor Mount
About Connor Mount 164 Articles
Connor Mount is an analytics enthusiast, which is polite for "sports nerd." Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, Class of 2017.