Up against No. 18 Michigan’s Megan Betsa, ranked No. 1 in strikeouts in the NCAA, and Rutgers’ Big Ten-worst team ERA, Maryland’s upcoming week presents two pitching squads in sharp contrast.
This weekend the Maryland Terrapins will return home to College Park to face the 29-8-1 Michigan Wolverines. The Terrapins are fresh off of their first conference win against Northwestern last Sunday, a 5-4 victory that came after a five-run second inning for the Terps.
Then on Wednesday, Maryland will travel three hours north to Rutgers for a doubleheader. The Scarlet Knights are 10-26 overall and, like Maryland, have won just one game in the Big Ten.
These two Maryland opponents are at opposite ends of conference rankings with the Wolverines leading the pack after their latest win against rival Michigan State.
Both teams offer different challenges for the Terrapins.
A force to be reckoned with: Megan Betsa and Michigan’s defense
The Wolverines are home to one of the best pitchers in not only the Big Ten, but in the entire country.. The right-hander is in the top 50 for ERA, ranked first in strikeouts and second in strikeouts per seven innings in the country.
This isn’t the first time the Terrapins have faced such a highly-ranked pitcher, however. Fellow Big Ten competitor Minnesota’s star pitcher Sara Groenewegen is consistently near the top of the rankings. Maryland kept the Golden Gophers close, only losing 3-2 in its first game of the season At the Terrapin-hosted Maryland Invitational, James Madison pitcher Megan Good pitched a shutout in an 8-0 victory against the Terps.
What sets Betsa apart isn’t necessarily speed or power, but technique. She has the ability to throw a wide variety of pitches, from change-ups to backdoor curves. That range could spell trouble for the Terps.
Maryland has spent the week preparing for Betsa’s range, practicing with machines that throw every pitch.
“[Against Betsa] we expect we’re going to attack early,” head coach Julie Wright said. “That’s going to be our key.”
Senior catcher Kristina Dillard echoed this statement.
“You see some of the better pitchers early in the count so you got to take advantage of them they’re given to you,” Dillard said.
Aside from Betsa, Michigan is also strong defensively in the infield and outfield with the highest fielding percentage of any Big Ten team.
That efficient defense will require the Terps to hit early in the count to get on base and prevent outs.
“If you’re going to be an out, be a tough out,” Wright said.
On the same level: Rutgers
Admittedly, the Terrapins have had a frustrating season so far. Despite two wins over top 25 teams and season highlights like last Sunday’s defeat of Northwestern, Maryland still sits at 8-28-1 for the season.
The Terps’ difficulty capitalizing on opportunities for runs by leaving runners on base or allowing runs on errors (albeit mostly earlier in the season) have prevented some potential wins.
Rutgers, meanwhile, is 10-26, and both teams have won just a single conference matchup.
The Scarlet Knights are the most geographically close Big Ten opponent for the Terrapins, another dynamic for a potential budding rivalry.
In the fight to avoid placing last, Maryland plans to take advantage of Rutgers’ struggles in the circle — it has the conference-highest ERA.
In their practices this week ahead of the two series, the Terrapins practiced the “spinny” pitches of Betsa to be prepared for all that can come at them. “Working hard and soft” was the focus of the batting practice this week, Wright said.
She noted, however, that Betsa isn’t a particularly fast pitcher. Her variety is her strength, making preparing for both Rutgers and Michigan not as tough as it might seem.
While Rutgers’ defense has demonstrated struggles, its lineup is a high point for the team with batters like Taryn Atlee, who is hitting .418, and Rebecca Hall, who has 11 home runs.
The Terrapins have recently been mixing things up in the circle, giving freshman pitcher Lauren Graves more playing time in addition to senior standbys Madison Martin and Hannah Dewey.
The Terrapins face Michigan at 6 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday in College Park. At Rutgers on Wednesday the teams will play at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
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