Baseball Series Preview: Northwestern vs. Maryland

Stuck near the bottom of the Big Ten standings, a trip to the Big Ten Tournament seems out of reach for the Northwestern Wildcats. That means one final series will likely close out the season as well as head coach Paul Stevens’ storied career in Evanston.

Northwestern takes on the Maryland Terrapins in a three game series at Rocky Miller Park this weekend, with games Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoon. Stevens will retire at the end of the season after serving as the program’s head coach since 1988. In his final campaign, however, Stevens has seen the ‘Cats struggle for much of the season. Northwestern’s 6-15 conference record ranks 11th, while Maryland is tied for third in the Big Ten at 13-8.

Wildcat pitching struggled to contain Michigan’s offense in their series last weekend, allowing the Wolverines to score 39 runs in three games. The task is not much easier this weekend, as Maryland leads the conference in runs scored (359) and home runs (49). Northwestern looks to get a better effort from its pitching staff, which owns a 5.81 earned run average this season.

Look for Terrapin infielder Brandon Lowe to make an impact during the series. The sophomore currently leads the conference in on-base percentage and total bases, and is second in hits, walks, runs batted in, slugging percentage and runs scored. He also trails only Illinois’ David Kerian and teammate Jose Cuas in home runs; Lowe’s outstanding season makes him an obvious player to watch and an imposing force in Maryland’s lineup.

On the mound, sophomore right-hander Mike Shawaryn looks to continue his impressive season. Shawaryn’s more than 89 innings pitched are more than twice as many than any other pitcher on Maryland’s roster. In his 13 starts, Shawaryn is 11-1 with a sparkling 1.71 ERA.

For the Wildcats, catcher Scott Heelan and first baseman Zach Jones continue to be bright spots during an up-and-down season. Heelan hit his first homer of the season last week against Kansas and leads the team with 67 hits on the year. Jones has a team-leading 20 doubles and 31 RBI’s in 2015.

It remains unclear if star outfielder Kyle Ruchim will play for Northwestern. The redshirt senior has missed the past 11 games with an upper-body muscle strain, yet still leads the team in home runs and runs scored. Redshirt sophomore RJ Watters replaced Ruchim in the outfield for many of those games, and has looked impressive; in 25 games and nine starts this season, Watters is hitting .381.

With or without Ruchim, the Wildcats look to end a disappointing campaign and Stevens’ tenure on a high note this weekend at home. The instillation of Rocky Miller Park’s new artificial turf this spring prevented the Wildcats from playing a true “home” game until April 21. Extensive renovations to other areas of the ballpark will continue after the season concludes.

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