Maryland baseball opens 2021 season facing Michigan State

Maryland First Baseman Maxwell Costes (Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

The Terps are set to return to the field on March 5, opening with a four-game weekend series against Michigan State at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C.

Maryland enjoyed a promising 2020 season, finishing 10-5, before the season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Offensively, junior infielder Maxwell Costes is the team’s leader. The Baltimore product led Maryland with a .432 batting average, while adding four home runs and 15 RBI in the shortened 15-game season. and the National Collegiate Baseball Writer’s Association awarded Costes First Team Preseason All-American honors. He was also named one of 55 players named to USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List, awarded to the best amateur baseball player in the United States.

“Max stepped in from day one, and the guy can just hit,” Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn said. “He’s just a presence in the lineup. He’s an intimidating dude.”

Junior outfielder Randy Bednar also impressed. He finished with 1.040 OPS last season, leading the team in doubles (9), RBI (16) and total bases (36). Fellow junior outfielder Chris Alleyne is another talented bat in Maryland’s lineup. Last season, his OBP was .410 and he led the team with 18 runs.

However, the Terps will look for more production from the rest of the lineup as only four players hit over .250 last season.

While the Maryland pitching staff struggled in 2020, redshirt sophomore Sean Burke was a breakout star.

The 6-foot-6 from Sutton, Mass, stuck out 35 batters in 22 2/3 innings. Burke led starting pitchers with a 1.99 ERA and teams only hit 0.183 against him.

“[Burke] is an imposing physical kid,” Vaughn said. “He has the fastball that plays. He was phenomenal in his four starts. It was as electric as it gets.”

Burke struggled in the pre-season after recovering from Tommy John surgery, which led to him missing his freshman season.

“Probably the worst I’ve pitched in my life,” Burke said. “It was something that was necessary and allowed me to grow up. It allowed me to have a mindset shift and take a more simple approach to the game.”

It’s expected that Burke is the ace of Maryland’s rotation moving forward.

Against Michigan State, the Terps will have a tough challenge with the talented Spartans rotation highlighted by Mason Erla and Jarrett Olson.

“I am not thrilled to see Mason Erla right out of the gate,” Vaughn said. “That guy has had quite a career at Michigan State.”

Erla was nearly unhittable in 2020. The redshirt junior struck out 42 batters in 26 innings with a 1.04 ERA in four starts. Olson was also strong for the Spartans has he struck out 28 in 26.2 innings, while batters only hit .149 against him.

Michigan State’s lineup also presents some problems, as the Spartans hit .293 in 15 games last season. Senior outfielders Bailey Peterson and Bryce Kelley along with redshirt sophomore infielder Peter Ahn lead the way offensively.

Last season, Peterson had an OPS of 1.070 and tied Kelley to lead the team in steals with eight. Kelley led Kelley led the Spartan with 17 runs scored, while Ahn led the team in slugging and tied the team lead in RBI’s with 15.

If Maryland is to win this series, the pitching must improve from 2020. The Terps will rely on Burke to lead a staff that had a 4.20 ERA. Senior pitcher Sean Fisher is looking to improve after a 5.66 ERA in 2020.

Sophomore Nick Dean is expected to continue progressing this year after posting a 3.98 ERA in 2020 striking out 23 in 20. 1 innings.

And at the plate, Maryland needs more than its “Big Three” to produce against a staff that had a 3.35 ERA. The infield tandem of senior Austin Chavis and junior Benjamin Cowles alongside sophomore outfielder Tucker Flint are expected to step up as well.

First pitch is Friday at 6:30 p.m. on the game will air on BTN Plus.