Sunday was a perfect night for baseball in Columbia, South Carolina. The temperature was in the high seventies, a few high clouds dotted the sky, and the breeze, which had blown from left to right Saturday night, was blowing straight in from centerfield at between six and eight miles per hour. It was also a perfect night for the Terps who took the field as the nominal visiting team for the first time and only in the weekend as they wrapped up the series with a 10-1 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks to advance to the NCAA Super Regional for the first time in school history.
First inning controversy
Playing once again in front of a large highly partisan crowd that erupted as the Gamecocks when through their pregame ritual, the Terps looked to quiet the throng by getting off to a fast start against South Carolina's surprise stater, their regular closer, Joel Seddon who came into the game with a 0.83 ERA. Unfortunately for Maryland fans, the inning didn't play out that way.
Though Charlie White again got the Terps off to a good start pulling a one hopper into right for a single, Seddon got LaMonte Wade on a soft fly to left center then struck out Brandon Lowe. White, who had drawn a number of throws from Seddon, broke for second on the first pitch to Jose Cuas and the throw from Gamecocks' catcher Grayson Greiner had him dead to rights bringing another outburst from the Carolina crowd.
Carolina also got a lead off single from shortstop Marcus Mooney and while Terrapins' starter Jake Drossner struggled with his control, he appeared to be on the verge of getting out of the inning getting two fly ball outs. First baseman Kyle Martin worked the count full and with Mooney off with the pitch, lined a ball into the gap in left center.
Controversy struck in the play at the plate. Terps' left fielder Tim Lewis cut the ball off and hit Schmit with the throw. Schmit's relay appeared to beat Mooney and Martir looked to have the plate blocked. The players knees collided and Martir appeared to get the tag on Mooney's ankle before the runner got his hand to the plate. Home plate umpire Kelly Gonzales didn't see it that way and the Gamecocks had a 1-0 lead. (Note: ESPN's cameraman in the booth adjacent to me signaled that Mooney was indeed out.)
A quiet stretch and an opportunity seized
After striking out four times Saturday night, Jose Cuas led off the second with a single but was caught stealing in another questionable call. The Gamecocks put two on in their half of the second but a diving catch by Cuas of Mooney's line drive bailed Drossner out of the inning. Maryland went three up and three down in the top of the third while Drossner continued to struggle a bit with his control going to full counts on all three batters after giving up a lead off single designated hitter Max Schrock.
The Terps grabbed the lead in the top of the fourth beginning with White continuing his hot hitting dropping a soft line drive in front of right fielder Connor Bright. Wade drew a walk and the runners advanced on a wild pitch. Brandon Lowe drove a sharp line drive second baseman DC Arendas was well positioned and made the play. When Cuas stuck out and Blake Schmit fell into an 0-2 hole it looked as though Maryland would waste a golden opportunity. But as they have done all weekend, the Terps got a key hit on a no balls two strikes count as the shortstop bounced a single between Pankake and Mooney and the Terps grabbed a 2-1 lead.
Drossner's night ends in peril
The bottom of the fourth started innocently as Drossner recorded his third consecutive full count strikeout to open the frame. After Arendas skied to center, Gamecocks' center fielder Tanner English ripped a line drive past the head of Jose Cuas. He moved to second on a wild pitch. With Cuas well of the base and Drossner looking toward right field, Tanner took off and stole tthird on the mental lapse. Left fielder Gen Cone drew a walk that ended Drossner's night but Taylor Stiles came in to retire Mooney on a routine fly to center.
Terps pad the lead
WIth Seddon's pitch count headed toward seventy, the Terps added a run in the fifth. Nick Ciere led off with a strong at bat hitting three line drives that resulted in an out. But three straight Maryland singles loaded the bases. Lamont Wade pulled a grounder to second forcing Charlie White but driving in Papio. Lowe ended the inning with another ground out.
Surprisingly, South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook sent Seddon out to start the sixth. Seddon had matched his high in innings pitched and surpassed his high pitch count for the season. Even most of Maryland's outs had been good at bats just as was the hard grounder to short by Cuas to start the inning. Things unraveled for South Carolina when Schmit drew a walk and Tim Lewis singled to left finally ending Seddon's night. Josh Reagan came in and Nick Cieri to pop to short. However, Papio pulled a grounder through the right side scoring Schmit and moving Lewis to third. Martir drew a four pitch walk to load the bases and White was hit by a pitch to up Maryland's lead to 5-1.
The Terps added another run in in the seventh in typical Maryland style - two hit batters (Lowe & Schmit) sandwiching a sacrifice bunt by Cuas. The runners moved up on Lewis' ground out to second and Lowe scored on a wild pitch.
Stiles' Turn but Szefc cooks up a Ruse
Stiles gave the Terps two strong innings but after retiring the first two batters in the bottom of the sixth gave up back to back singles to English and Cone. The second came with a three two count allowing English, who was running on the pitch to advance to third. Maryland coach John Szefc then brought Bobby Ruse on in relief of Stiles and the junior needed only two pitches to retire Mooney on a routine fly to right.
Perhaps the biggest ruse of the night was the gradual disappearing act Maryland's Ruse put on the South Carolina fans. As the Gamecocks went quietly in the seventh getting only a two out single and even more quietly in the eighth going down in order, the crowd of 6,340 dwindled with each successive out. And when they continued to pour it on in the top of the ninth even getting a break from the first base umpire on a blown call on Tim Lewis' chopper eventually adding four more to make the score 10-1, even more Gamecocks' fans morphed into empty seats.
Ruse put the Gamecocks down in order in the bottom of the ninth. The small contingent of Maryland fans erupted, the Terps celebrated, and the Gamecocks pecked at the dirt of their beautiful stadium as Maryland prepared to move on to face Virginia or Arkansas in the Super Regional.
ADDED: Kevin Martir, LaMonte Wade, Jose Cuas, & Mike Shawaryn on the All-Regional Team. Charlie White in also on the team and is the Most Outstanding Player.