HIGH POINT, N.C.—With conference tournaments starting around the country next week, nearly every team in the country is in a final push to the finish of conference play. For Maryland and High Point, and a handful of other teams, this is one more nonconference weekend.
Because several conferences have an uneven number of members, this weekend includes eight nonconference series. Some include high-profile teams, such as No. 6 Texas Christian visiting California, while others, such as Rider at Youngstown State, are more off the radar.
At High Point on Thursday, the Panthers opened their series against the Terrapins with a 2-1 victory. Six pitchers combined to hold Maryland to one run on four hits and two walks, while High Point scratched out two runs (one earned) in eight innings against righthander Brian Shaffer.
Coach Craig Cozart said the Panthers (28-20) understand their only hope of advancing to regionals is to win next week's Big South Conference Tournament.
"Basically tonight was about getting us prepared for next week," he said. "Because we've got to make a run and win the tournament if we're going to make the NCAA Tournament."
Cozart had higher hopes when he and Maryland coach John Szefc first arranged the series. Cozart said Szefc noticed three years ago that their conference bye weekends would lineup last year and reached out to schedule a series. Cozart was then able to ask the Big South office to arrange this year's schedule to give the Panthers this weekend off from conference play so the Terrapins could return the trip.
Cozart's hope was that High Point would have positioned itself to take advantage of the series against Maryland to impress the selection committee.
"When I looked at it three years ago, I was like, 'If we really roll, this could be the type of game that the committee might look back on and say, 'You know what, they just beat Maryland two out of three and they went on the road and played Kennesaw (State), they went on the road and played Stetson.' But we were 133 in RPI coming into today, it just hasn't worked out.
"I challenged the guys to use this as a launching point to kind of revisit our philosophies and what we want to do and hopefully create some momentum going into next week."
Maryland (33-18) is in a better position as season reaches the stretch run. The Terrapins look to be on track for an at-large bid should they come up short at the Big Ten Conference Tournament next week. But having lost three straight series and five of their last seven games, the Terrapins are just looking to get back on track.
Szefc said he thinks it is a good series for his team at this time of year.
"This is a good team, you're playing them on the road, their RPI is in pretty good position," he said. "We don't need to play at home right now. We need to play on the road."
News and Notes
Atlantic Coast Conference: No. 15 Wake Forest (37-16) set a program record Thursday with its 18th ACC victory of the season, a 7-4 win against Pittsburgh. The Demon Deacons' previous record was 17, set in 2002. Righthander Parker Dunshee broke the program career strikeout record as he recorded his 313th career whiff to pass John Hendricks, whose record has stood since 1999. Wake Forest is also two home runs shy of breaking the program's single-season record of 90, set in 1999.
Big 12 Conference: Oklahoma's series win against Texas Christian last week was its fifth against a team ranked in the top 25 of the RPI, the most in the nation. Oklahoma has won series against Texas Tech (4), TCU (6), Baylor (10), West Virginia (20) and Long Beach State (21). Thanks to those marquee series wins, the Sooners (34-18) are in position to host an NCAA regional for the first time since 2010. Oklahoma, which ranks No. 20 in the College Top 25, finishes the regular season this weekend with the Bedlam Series against Oklahoma State.
Big Ten Conference: Righthander Brian Shaffer has developed into a true ace atop Maryland's rotation this season. Listed at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, he uses his height to create good downhill plane on his low-90s fastball and mixes in a good slider and curveball, creating plenty of groundball outs. That mix has been working well for him this season, as he is 7-3, 1.67 with 98 strikeouts and 17 walks in 97 innings. Coach John Szefc said Shaffer stacks up well with the high-level pitchers Maryland has produced in the past. "I think he's as good as some of the better guys that we've had here, the way he's pitching now," Szefc said. "He's been very consistent. He gives us good starts on the road, at home, wherever we're at. He's been as consistent as we could ask him to be. If you're going to be worth anything (as a team), you have to have that on Friday night for sure."
Pac-12 Conference: Catcher Adley Rutschman was one of the headliners of Oregon State's 20th-ranked recruiting class this fall. The freshman has impressed all season behind the plate, producing a .989 fielding percentage in 45 games. Now he is also coming into his own as a hitter for the top-ranked Beavers (42-4). In seven games in May, he is 8-for-26 (.307), up from his season line of .227/.318/.320. Coach Pat Casey said Rutschman has continued to gain confidence as a hitter all season. "It's not easy catching and then also trying to hit and getting pitches relayed in and catching every pitch and being responsible for shutting down running game," Casey said. "There's a lot on his plate. He's going to be a very good player."
Southeastern Conference: South Carolina announced this week catcher Chris Cullen will miss the rest of the season after surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee and infielder Madison Stokes will be sidelined six to eight weeks with a broken right wrist. The injuries were the latest in a cascade of bad news for the Gamecocks in the last two months. South Carolina (31-22) already lost righthander Clarke Schmidt for the season due to Tommy John surgery and has lost seven straight SEC series, dropping it onto the NCAA Tournament bubble. South Carolina lost Thursday to Georgia, 6-3, in the opener of a must-win series to conclude the regular season.
Other conferences: USA Baseball invited freshmen Braden Shewmake (Texas A&M) and Matt Wallner (Southern Mississippi) to the Collegiate National Team trials this summer. Both Shewmake and Wallner are candidates for Freshman of the Year having put together exceptional seasons. Shewmake has been No. 23 Texas A&M's regular second baseman and is hitting .348/.392/.565 with 10 home runs and 11 stolen bases. Wallner is No. 18 Southern Miss' center fielder and is hitting .339/.465/.661 with 15 home runs. He also made eight appearances on the mound, going 2-0, 1.84 with three saves.