Maryland baseball entered conference play 10 games over .500 following a strong start to the season. Illinois, the Terps’ weekend opponent, was four games under that mark to start the conference slate.

The Illini came to College Park Friday at the top of the conference after six weekends of Big Ten play. Meanwhile, the Terps sat outside the eight-team playoff picture.

While tough, Illinois’ nonconference slate prepared it for Big Ten competition. Maryland’s didn’t.

The Illini’s strong conference run continued Friday night with a 7-4 win over the Terps, who continued their skid. Maryland is one loss shy from losing its fifth straight conference series after winning 23 straight, a streak started in 2021. It was Maryland’s (26-17, 6-10 Big Ten) fourth straight Friday night loss.

“I don’t really think it’s a scheduling thing,” head coach Matt Swope said. “They probably got on a roll and feel confident in Big Ten play and they’re just playing well.”

The Big Ten is the fourth-best conference according to RPI. Only four teams placed within the top-64 as of Friday. The Terps ranked second in the Big Ten despite the recent struggles, slotting at No. 43, only behind Nebraska.

[Omar Melendez has given Maryland baseball a much-needed starting pitching option]

Maryland claimed all five weekend sets to begin the season, but the schedule consisted of no Quad 1 opponents. Illinois (25-13, 11-2 Big Ten) played seven games against Quad 1 competition, dropping all seven, but gaining a look at college baseball’s best. The early tribulations have culminated in an 11-2 conference record.

The Illini showcased the early-season experience and tallied the first score in the opening inning. Camden Janik singled into center field, one of three first inning hits, allowing Cal Hejza to trot home from third. Coltin Quagliano added another RBI single for Illinois in the second inning.

Illinois then poured in a three-run fourth inning to end Logan Koester’s start. The Illini recorded just one hit in the frame but scored following a fielding error, a pair of stolen bases and a passed ball. Only one of three scores were earned.

Koester hasn’t tossed five innings in an outing since March 23 — a feat he accomplished in five of six of his first starts. The right-hander sports a 14 ERA in that span after holding a 2.72 average in his first six starts.

“We’re just looking for some consistency,” Swope said. “We didn’t do a great job defensively.”

[4-run fifth inning pushes Maryland baseball past James Madison, 6-4]

The redshirt senior was the coaching staff’s replacement on Friday nights after Kenny Lippman moved to the bullpen. The Terps have lost all six of Koester’s starts in conference play.

Maryland’s bats offered little support. Eddie Hacopian sent Alex Calarco home with an RBI groundout in the third inning. Maryland was scoreless in the next two frames.

Sam Hojnar knocked his 10th home run in the sixth, a solo shot into left field.

The Terps staged two runs in the ninth inning off hits from Elijah Lambros and Hacopian — too late to make a difference after the lackadaisical early effort.

“As a group collectively, we just need to play better baseball,” Swope said.

Maryland averaged just 3.8 runs per game across its losses in the prior four weekends.
Two of the Terps’ three Quad 1 victories came against James Madison. The other was against Nebraska a weekend ago. Just three weekend series remain following Illinois, including one nonconference set against Boston College.

“We’re just trying to find that spark again to play better down the stretch,” Swope said.