Newcomer Maryland the preseason favorite
The Associated Press
John Szefc has heard all the talk about how his Maryland baseball team is going to walk into the Big Ten and dominate. He hopes his players block out the noise.
“If we go in there and say we’re going to run through this thing like everybody thinks we’re going to, that is a monstrous mistake to make because you’ll get it handed to you on a regular basis,” Szefc said.
Szefc, however, said he understands why the Terrapins are pegged as the team to beat in their first season in the conference. They’re coming off a 40-win season and their first NCAA super-regional appearance in their final year in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
They’ve left a conference that trails only the Pac-12 and SEC in College World Series appearances and moved into one that has had only one team (2013 Indiana) reach the CWS since 1984.
Szefc’s knowledge about the Big Ten is based mostly on his experience as an assistant at Kansas and Kansas State before he was hired at Maryland in 2013. He faced Nebraska in Big 12 games or in midweek games after the Cornhuskers moved to the Big Ten in 2010.
“Regardless of conference, it’s hard to win on the road,” Szefc said. “Going to these places in the Big Ten, it will be very difficult to have consistent success. I’ve been to Lincoln many times, and that’s a tough, tough place to win. I haven’t been to some of those other places, but I wouldn’t imagine they’re much easier.”
Maryland and Nebraska are picked 1-2 in the Big Ten coaches’ poll, followed by Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State. The Terps are ranked as high as No. 14 nationally in the major preseason polls and the Huskers are as high as No. 23.
Maryland returns all but two starting position players, and their pitching staff is led by sophomore Mike Shawaryn and junior Kevin Mooney. Shawaryn won 11 games and Mooney had 13 saves last season, both school records. Nebraska finished second to Indiana last season, won 41 games and advanced to an NCAA regional. The Cornhuskers return a nine-game winner in All-Big Ten pitcher Chance Sinclair and six position players.
A few other things to know about the upcoming Big Ten season, which starts Friday with every team in action:
HOOSIERS’ NEW LOOK: Defending regular-season and tournament champion Indiana lost big boppers Dustin DeMuth, Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis in addition to coach Tracy Smith, who moved to Arizona State. Former Louisville assistant Chris Lemonis is the only new coach in the Big Ten. Don’t write off the Hoosiers. They still have offensive punch in Scott Donley and Brad Hartong. Star pitcher Joey DeNato is gone, but they bring back Scott Effross, and career saves leader Ryan Halstead returns after going out early last season with a torn ACL.
OPENING WEEKEND: Big Ten teams make their usual treks to the West and South for their openers. The marquee matchup has Indiana at Stanford for three games. Those teams played three times in the Bloomington (Indiana) Regional last year, with Stanford eliminating the Hoosiers on a walk-off homer.
MAEZES THE MAN: Michigan shortstop Travis Maezes has been named D1Baseball.com’s Big Ten preseason player of the year. The Wolverines’ leadoff man batted .302 with 18 doubles, four triples and three homers, and he was 19 for 24 on stolen bases.
THE OTHER NEWCOMER: Rutgers joins Maryland as a conference newcomer. It’s the Scarlet Knights’ third league in three years. Last season they won 11 of their last 14 games and tied for third in the American Athletic Conference. Everybody’s back in the outfield and lefty Howie Brey heads a pitching staff that runs deep.
BACK TO MINNEAPOLIS: The Big Ten tournament will return to Target Field in Minneapolis in May after enjoying unprecedented success at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, last year. Last year’s championship game drew 19,965, the largest single-game conference tournament in NCAA history, and crowds exceeded 10,000 four of the five days. The tournament returns to Omaha in 2016. The five-day total in Minneapolis in 2013 was about 6,000.