Maryland (19-13 BIG) seeks to extend its six-game win streak against Illinois (15-16 BIG) for a three-game series in Champaign, Ill.
With a successful showing, Maryland can pull closer to the top of the Big Ten. So far this season, the Terps are below .500 on the road (8-10) and will look to improve that this weekend.
“If you want to play in the postseason, you have to win games on the road,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “You have to beat good teams on the road.”
The pitching matchups will see Nick Dean (2-0, 3.51) versus Andre Hoffman (1-0, 3.96 ERA) in Game 1. Followed by Jason Savacool (5-1, 5.33 ERA) against Nate Lavender (5-1, 4.46 ERA) in Game 2. Closing the series will be Sean Burke (2-3, 4.24 ERA) versus Riley Gowens (1-2, 5.14 ERA) in Game 3.
Maryland pitching enters the series ranked seventh in the Big Ten with a 5.12 ERA and will look to slow down an Illinois lineup that’s first in the Big Ten in batting average (.284).
“There are a few guys we talked about,” reliever David Falco said. “Their 1-3 hitters are all good hitters. We have to do what we do best and sticking with what works.”
First baseman Justin Janas and shortstop Branden Comia are two of the Illini’s most explosive bats with a .364 and .361 average respectively. Third baseman Jackson Raper is the team leader in homers (9), RBI (36), slugging (.679), and OPS (1.116).
Maryland counters with an offense that can score runs in bunches. Once on base, Maryland is second in stolen bases (44), third in home runs (44), and tied for fourth in runs (209). The Terps will look to exploit the Illini pitching staff who’ve struggled this season with a 7.27 ERA, which is last in the Big Ten.
The Maryland offense starts and stops with center fielder Chris Alleyne. Alleyne is the ignition to the lineup, getting on base at a .417 clip and leads the Big Ten in stolen bases (18). However, shortstop Ben Cowles has been putting up unworldly offensive numbers all season. Cowles leads the Big Ten in homers (13), second in RBI (39), and slugging (.718).
First baseman Maxwell Costes has served as a perfect complement to Alleyne and Cowles with a .487 on base percentage, although his power numbers have dipped slightly.
“[Costes] didn’t play last spring, he didn’t play this summer, he wasn’t with us this fall,” Vaughn said. “He has only had about 120 at-bats this spring. Over two years, that is not a lot of at-bats. I am starting to see him get more comfortable in the box.”
The key to victory for Maryland is not to give Illinois any extra outs. The Terps have improved defensively, now up to eighth in fielding percentage (.965), allowing 26 unearned runs on the season. Maryland’s lineup has come alive in the later innings this season combining for 71 runs in the sixth and seventh innings, 34 percent of the team’s runs this season. The Terps are 16-1 when leading after six innings.
Game 1 is Friday at 7 p.m., Followed by Game 2 on Saturday at 5 p.m., and Game 3 will be broadcasted nationally on the Big Ten Network on Sunday at noon.