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A look into USF’s opening weekend matchup against Maryland

USF baseball enters its 2023 campaign placed at No. 63 in DI Baseball’s top 100 program rankings. ORACLE PHOTO/ LANIE DE LA MILERA

First on South Florida baseball’s list for the 2023 season is a three-game series against No. 13 Maryland beginning Friday. 

The Terrapins (48-14, Big Ten 18-5) finished their 2022 campaign strong, hosting the NCAA College Park Regional where they fell to UConn in the final game 11-8. They now seek redemption in hopes of furthering their postseason run. 

South Florida baseball has opened to a difficult slate of teams before, hosting UConn, Louisville and Charlotte last season on opening weekend. 

Coach Billy Mohl said he knows the position that he set his team in, taking into account USF’s opening series and its campaign too. 

“I mean, that’s what it is [NCAA Regional matchup]. We set the schedule. This is probably the toughest schedule we put together since I’ve been here. The goal is to host a regional and host a super regional in our own ballpark because we know what the numbers say. When you have a chance to host, you have a better chance to get to Omaha,” Mohl said. 

“It’s a good test going into one of the best league plays in the country. The American [AAC], as tough of a schedule that is, I thought it was the right time for our older group of position players to be challenged earlier than they were last year.”

Maryland is no exception to the challenge South Florida baseball must face. The Terrapins have presented a consistently victorious team, also having competed in the NCAA tournament in 2017 and 2021 and Regional championships in 2014 and 2015. 

For Mohl, this matchup gives the Bulls the opportunity to find out where the squad’s skill level is after contesting a high-level baseball program.

“They won 48 games last year. They lost just a few guys off that team. They’re very offensive. They got two all-Americans on the mound for them, so they’re going to be ready to play,” Mohl said.

“They hosted a regional and a super regional for the first time in their program history and they’re a very well-coached ballclub. It’s going to be right out of the gates to see what we’re made of.”

Three returners that have already made their names known well before the season has begun are junior catcher Luke Shliger, infielder Matt Shaw and pitcher Jason Savacool.

All three were named to the 2023 Collegiate Baseball Pre-Season All-Americans second team by the NCAA and have put up impressive numbers while playing college baseball. 

Shliger serves the starting catcher role for the Terrapins after posting a .353 average last season paired with 88 hits, 58 RBI and 54 walks. Completing the battery is righty Savacool who drastically improved his presence on the mound producing a 2.93 ERA in 2022 in comparison to his 5.97 ERA in 2021. 

Typically fielding at short is Shaw. He serves as a consistent piece in the Maryland batting order, hitting .290 while contributing 67 RBI. 

This trio isn’t the Bulls’ only threat either, with the Terrapins recording a collective .308 batting average and 5.03 ERA while its opponents drastically underperform with a .245 average and 8.53 ERA. 

With an aggressive team taking the trip south to take on USF, there is one strategy that the Bulls will need to be mindful of, according to redshirt junior Tanner Mink.

“We just gotta attack early, pitchers gotta get the ball in the zone, limit mistakes and I think we’ll have success,” Mink said.

USF will need to find a way to dismantle Maryland’s explosive batting order all while being able to produce on its own offensive end to remain competitive over the next three games. 

DI college baseball opening day begins Friday, with USF hosting its home opening series against No. 13 Maryland from Feb. 17-19. The game will broadcast on ESPN+ and Bulls Unlimited.