NCAA Preview: West Virginia – Maryland
By Kevin Kinder
West Virginia and Maryland are expected to throw their lead starters at each other when the Mountaineers and Terrapins square off in their NCAA Baseball tournament opener on Friday afternoon.
That’s a departure from their midweek match-up back in April, when WVU put Alek Manoah, fresh out of the bullpen, on the hill against Maryland’s Taylor Bloom. The two teams combined to send eight pitchers to the mound in that contest, which isn’t out of the norm for a mid-week game. This time around, it’s likely to be BJ Myers for the Mountaineers and Brian Shaffer for the Terrapins, but even if things get shuffled a bit, it’s going to be front line starters for both squads.
Shaffer, a big righthander, is 7-3 on the season with a 2.18 ERA and an excellent 0.96 WHIP. He has struck out 102 while walking just 18, and avoids giving away free bases at all costs. Teams are hitting just .218 against him over 15 starts.
Myers hasn’t been quite as dominating, but when he is on he can pitch at the same level as Shaffer. He’s 4-4 with a 4.15 ERA, but has had a handful of no-decisions where he pitched more than well enough to win. He has 71 strikeouts against 17 walks in an identical 15 starting assignments.
Both will be coming off very substandard outings in their most recent starts. Shaffer yielded eight runs and ten hits in 6.1 innings against Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament, while Myers lasted just two innings while giving up two runs, four hits and a walk to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship.
Of course, in postseason play every game is important, even with the cushion of double-elimination providing a pad against one loss. In a way, though, that makes this first game all the more important. Lose, and the pressure is really on for the rest of the weekend. To escape to the super regionals, four consecutive wins would then be required, with two having to come against a team that won its first two games.
With that background, expect an all-out battle on Friday afternoon between the border rivals. Neither squad is overly-experienced in NCAA play, as WVU has been 11 times in its history, with this being the first in the past 21 years. The Terps have participated just five times in their 120 years of baseball, but have now made it three times in the past four seasons, so there is more recent experience on their roster.
The four team bracket features WVU and Maryland at 2:00 p.m., followed by Wake Forest and UMBC at 7:00 p.m. The losers of those two games will play at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, while the winners square off at 7:00 p.m.
The loser of the 2:00 p.m Saturday game is eliminated, while the winner plays the loser of the 7:00 p.m. Saturday contest in another elimination game on Sunday at noon. The survivor there plays the team that won its first two games on Sunday at 5:00 p.m. If the survivor wins, there’s one more contest at 7:00 p.m. on Monday for the right to advance to the super regional.