Ohio State baseball bounced back in a big way during the midweek after being swept by Illinois last weekend. A 20-7 pummeling of Miami University on Tuesday and a 6-0 shutout of Cincinnati on Wednesday helped the Buckeyes improve to 33-13 on the year with just seven regular season games remaining. The team is an undefeated 11-0 in midweek contests this season with only one left to play (Tuesday at Youngstown State).
At 12-6 in Big Ten play, Ohio State is just one game ahead of Maryland, which will be making its first trip to Columbus as a member of the conference this weekend. Seeding for the conference tournament in Minneapolis at the end of the month will be on the line, as well as national stature for the NCAA tournament.
The sweep by the Illini was the first series loss for Ohio State in the Big Ten, and just its third all season. While hopes of hosting a regional may have been destroyed, the Buckeyes are still firmly in contention to make their first postseason appearance since 2009, and a strong weekend against the Terps would help to solidify their standing.
Encouraging in the midweek was the performance at the plate by sophomore Ronnie Dawson. After taking a 1-for-10 against Illinois, the former Freshman All-American tore through the Red Hawks and Bearcats, going 6-for-11, with two doubles, a home run, six runs scored, and eight RBIs. If Dawson can find consistency in his production at the plate heading into the postseason, Ohio State's lineup becomes much more dangerous.
Head coach Greg Beals, who picked up his 400th career victory in Wednesday's win, will be looking for the weekend rotation to bounce back from a tough go of things against Illinois. The trio of sophomores Tanner Tully and Travis Lakins and senior Ryan Riga, who have been solid throughout the season, gave up 20 runs, 17 of which were earned, on 25 hits in 16.1 innings of work against the Illini. Things could have been worse for the Buckeyes, but the bullpen was outstanding, tossing a collective 10.2 shutout innings.
With a lot on the line for both sides, a series win this weekend would be huge. Let's take a look at the Terps.
Maryland Terrapins (29-18, 11-17 in B1G play)
A season removed from being one win away from a trip to the College World Series, head coach John Szefc's Maryland team is not having the type of inaugural season it expected in the Big Ten. The Terps, like Ohio State, were swept at home last weekend (by Indiana), but unlike the Buckeyes, are on the bubble to make a regional.
Maryland is currently ranked 51st in the country in RPI, and fell out of all of the national polls following the sweep by the Hoosiers. The team needs a strong showing in Columbus in the worst way.
Despite their struggles in the win column, the Terps are leading the Big Ten in runs scored and home runs, and are among the best in RBIs, on-base percentage, and slugging. Scoring nearly 6.5 runs per game, Maryland has been hurt by inconsistency, particularly at the bottom of the lineup.
The Terps do feature two studs on offense, though, and Ohio State's hurlers will have their work cut out for them in trying to limit the amount of damage they do. Junior catcher Kevin Martir is fourth in the Big Ten in hitting with a .365 average. The Brooklyn native is also in the top ten in the conference in doubles (15), home runs (7), RBIs (36), on-base percentage (.456), and slugging (.554). Martir's season has placed him in serious contention for All-Big Ten accolades.
Second baseman Brandon Lowe, a Freshman All-American last season, has also been terrorizing conference pitching. A year after batting .348 and driving in 42 runs, the Suffolk, Virginia product is hitting .349, with 15 doubles, a team-high nine homers, and 39 RBIs. Like Martir, Lowe should get consideration for all-conference status when the season concludes.
Junior Jose Cuas, another native of Brooklyn, leads the team with 42 RBIs and is right behind Lowe with eight longballs. Kevin Smith, who should receive Big Ten All-Freshman consideration, is hitting .268 with six home runs and 26 RBIs in his first season in College Park.
The Buckeyes had a rough time with some elite pitching last weekend, and Maryland will not prove much easier to deal with. Perhaps no team in the country will face two more high-quality arms on back-to-back Fridays as Ohio State will having faced Kevin Duchene last week and seeing the Terps' Mike Shawaryn in this series.
Another Freshman All-American in 2014, Shawaryn is already Maryland's career leader in wins, and was recently selected by USA Baseball to play for the collegiate national team. The New Jersey native is 10-1 this season, and has proved to be among the best on the bump in the country. Shawaryn has a 1.74 ERA and holds the opposition to a .201 batting average, with a 0.89 WHIP, a 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings. Needless to say, runs could be in short supply for the Buckeyes on Friday evening.
Beyond Shawaryn, though, the Terps rotation is a work in progress. A season-ending injury to sophomore Tayler Stiles last month against Cal-State Fullerton has left Szefc in a tough spot. The past two weekends, juniors Robert Galigan and Jake Drossner have followed Shawaryn, with mixed results.
Game times and probable pitching matchups
Friday, May 8th, 6:35 p.m. ET
Tully (4-3, 3.58 ERA) vs. Shawaryn (10-1, 1.74)
Saturday, May 9th, 3:05 p.m. ET
Lakins (3-3, 3.55) vs. Galligan (2-3, 2.27)
Sunday, May 10th, 1:05 p.m. ET
Riga (5-3, 2.30) vs. Brian Shaffer (4-0, 4.97)