Weekend preview Feb. 23-26

And just like that, we’re already at the second weekend of the college baseball season. Another big weekend is on hand for the Big Ten. From a big time showdown in the Bayou, to the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, Rutgers looking to slay another Goliath, there’s opportunities abound for the Big Ten to make noise. The Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, where the Big Ten got off to a woeful start, will be covered on-location by 10 Innings. For more of what’s happening elsewhere, here’s a weekend preview.

Big weekend in the bayou for Terrapins

Maryland opened the season ranked #25 by the NCBWA, tabbed as Big Ten favorites by Big Ten coaches, D1Baseball.com and Baseball America. The Terps welcome back right-handed juniors Taylor Bloom and Brian Shaffer, while touting a middle infield duo of sophomore second baseman Nick Dunn and junior shortstop Kevin Smith, two Cape Cod League all-stars. Expected  to return to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years, a quality season-opening tournament in Clearwater, Fla., joined by Alabama State, Ball State and Louisville was to show Maryland has what it takes to make it through a regional-like field.

By the end of the tournament, there were questions on whether Maryland can be in a position to be considered for a regional.

Maryland dropped an 8-3 game to Ball State to open the season, Maryland’s bullpen woes of 2016 rearing their head in a five-run sixth for the Cardinals. On Saturday, Maryland showed it’s offensive capability, but, still, the pitching wasn’t good enough, falling to #8 Louisville, 10-7. The story held true on Sunday, a potent group at the plate but concerns on the mound, however, Maryland finished the weekend with a 9-7 win over Alabama State. Going 1-2 with a 7.27 ERA isn’t the start anyone in College Park envisioned. But that can quickly be erased this season.

The Terrapins will play #3 LSU this weekend for three games, going toe-to-toe with a blueblood of college baseball. A yearly contender to reach the College World Series, expectations are high as always in Baton Rogue and the Tigers have a team capable of winning it all.

LSU opened the season with three victories, sweeping a doubleheader against Army, 9-0 and 6-0, before turning back Air Force 10-3. LSU dropped a Tuesday game against New Orleans, 11-8, but rebounded to beat Hofstra on Wednesday, 8-1.

Circled in the offseason as a series that could be a potential super regional matchup, a measuring stick for both clubs, the series now has a different feel. Another rough weekend, while it’s too early to dismay their NCAA Tournament chances, back-to-back potential resume-building weekends will have come and gone without Maryland working to build a case for inclusion in the field of 64. But, with a weekend victory, Maryland throws their name right back in the mix as a team to keep an eye on, worth of being preseason conference favorites.

A look at the opponent: LSU

LSU is led by preseason All-American, potential first-round pick, junior right-handed pitcher Alex Lange. Entering the weekend with a 21-4 career record, Lange has everything you want in an ace. Last year, Lange struck out 125 batters in 111.2 innings, going 8-4 with a 3.79 ERA. If there’s a dropoff between ace and LSU’s number two, it isn’t much of one. Left-handed Jared Poche’ returned to school for head coach Paul Mainieri, turning down an opportunity to sign with the Dodgers, who drafted him in the 14th round of last June’s draft. All Poche’ did to start his senior season was toss a 79-pitch, seven-inning no-hitter against Army. At the plate, LSU has a .340 team average with 13 doubles and home runs. Junior right fielder Greg Deichmann is LSU’s top power threat, already with three home runs on the year next to a .375 average. Senior shortstop Kramer

At the plate, LSU has a .340 team average with 13 doubles and home runs. Junior right fielder Greg Deichmann is LSU’s top power threat, already with three home runs on the year next to a .375 average. Senior shortstop Kramer Robertston is pacing the club with a .500 clip through 18 at-bats, with three doubles, a triple and a home run. Mainieri is in his 10th season as LSU’s head coach, leading the Tigers to three Southeastern Conference titles, four College World Series appearances and the 2009 National Championship.

Mainieri is in his 10th season as LSU’s head coach, leading the Tigers to three Southeastern Conference titles, four College World Series appearances and the 2009 National Championship.

Rutgers looks to make noise

Rutgers garnered headlines and made people around the country take note of the Scarlet Knights after their last game. On Sunday, concluding a weekend series at Miami, Rutgers salvaged the weekend in Coral Gables with a 17-6 romp over the Hurricanes. The victory over #17 Miami came six years to the day of their last triumph over the Atlantic Coast Conference power.

Now Rutgers has a chance to do it all over again.

A tough start to the season doesn’t relent for Joe Litterio’s team this weekend as Rutgers travels to #13 Virginia for three games. Meeting on the diamond for the first time since 1962, Virginia provides another test to see how far Rutgers has come in year three under Litterio. With the new Fred Hill Training Complex, Rutgers expects to open seasons here on out, better prepared than ever before. The showing at Miami may be a testament to that.

Rutgers batted .275 against the Hurricanes, while commenting four errors in the field, tied for the fourth-fewest among Big Ten teams on opening weekend. Rutgers will need to keep the bats rolling and play solid defense to keep pace with a Cavalier team that enters 4-0, with a .358 average.

A good offensive showing in Florida, a tally in the win column with a chance to show Sunday’s win wasn’t a fluke, Rutgers is ready for what’s ahead in Charlottesville.

“Our confidence level is through the roof right now,” outfielder Tom Marcinczyk told the Daily Targum, Rutgers’ student newspaper. “We know UVA is going to be a very strong team, just as Miami was, pitching-wise and hitting-wise so I think we are prepared.”

What to watch for

Minnesota’s US Bank Stadium debut

Minnesota has an indoor home again. The Gophers open their home season with a three-game weekend set against Seattle University, the first baseball games played inside US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Minnesota last had an indoor home in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome through the 2013 season. The home of the Minnesota Vikings, US Bank Stadium allows Minnesota to stay at home and play games in the early part of the season when Minnesota winters prevent baseball from being played at Siebert Field.

The Gophers are the reigning Big Ten champions and opened the season with a two-game split at UC Irvine.

Who stay’s hot

Three Big Ten teams opened the season with a team average of .300 or better, as conference teams combined for 15 games of scoring nine runs or more.

Michigan State leads the way with a .401 average, after scoring 51 runs at Abiliene Christian. Purdue showed well at the plate, in Texas, too, batting .314 over four game. Minnesota left Irvine with an even record, but their offense dialed up 27 hits in 18 innings. Can UNC-Greensboro, Arkansas-Little Rock or Seattle, respectively keep the Spartans, Boilermakers and Gophers in check? Michigan State and Minnesota have their eyes on an NCAA Tournament trip, while Mark Wasikowski looks to rebuild the Purdue program, the week one indication is that all three may possess the offensive punch to reach their goals.

Quality foes

The Big Ten will play a combined 10 games against #3, #5 and #13 teams in this week’s NCBWA poll, but there are several quality opponents without a ranking that the Big Ten will see.

Penn State hosts Xavier for four games at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. The Musketeers are the reigning Big East championships and opened the season with a split at Troy.

Indiana heads to Florida Atlantic for three games in Boca Raton, Fla. FAU is expected to contend for the Conference USA championship and opened the 2017 season with a three-game sweep over Monmouth, scoring 34 runs.

Illinois will take part in the Kleberg Bank College Classic, alongside Houston, Missouri and Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

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