The Maryland Terrapins softball team made the first of their two scheduled trips to Florida this weekend to play in Florida Atlantic University's Strikeout Cancer Tournament. The Terps opened the weekend on Friday with games against Providence and Drexel. Saturday's doubleheader featured games against number 22/24 Tulsa and a rematch with Drexel and then they closed out the weekend with a Sunday contest against the host school. The Terrapins did not play the sixth team participating in the Tournament - Big Ten foe Michigan State. Maryland won 3 of 5 and now sports a 6-4 record 10 games into the season.
Bats in the Monastery - A not so good Friday for the Friars
It's not as though the Terps didn't show any Christian kindness in their 4-0 shutout of the Providence Friars in the first of their five games. Sure, they pounded out a dozen hits but that's about equal to the number of runners they left on base including twice leaving the bases loaded. Still, they managed enough key hits and picked up the win behind five and a third strong innings from Hannah Dewey to improve their record to 4-2 on the season.
After each team stranded a runner in first, it looked as if the Terrapins would crack the scoreboard early. Corey Schwartz led off the bottom of the second for Maryland with a double to left. After Shannon Bustillos lined out, Erin Pronobis singled and Kylie Datil drew a walk to load the bases with one out. That was all the offense Maryland could muster as two ground outs later the Terps had the first of those three stranded situations.
Maryland threatened again in the bottom of the third putting runners on the corners with one out but for the second consecutive inning Friars hurler Christina Ramirez got out of the jam unscathed.
The Terps finally broke through in the fourth. Datil got the rally started with a one out double. Sarah Calter popped a bunt to Ramirez but Juli Strange finally came through with a clutch hit. The Terps' third baseman smacked a single to left driving in Datil and taking second on the throw to the plate. Strange came around to score on Lindsey Schmeiser's single to right giving Maryland a 2-0 lead.
Although they would again leave the bases loaded after some uncharacteristically conservative base running in the fifth, the Terrapins added a single run on an RBI single by Pronobis. Meanwhile, Dewey cruised into the top of the sixth having allowed just the one base runner on a walk in the top of the first. Her no-hitter ended on a swinging bunt that landed between the pitching circle, first and second base. She walked the next two batters and with the bases loaded and one out for Providence, head coach Courtney Deifel brought Kaitlyn Schmeiser in to relieve Dewey. The senior got out of the inning with a strikeout and a lazy pop foul to first.
To thank her teammate, Dewey provided an insurance run when she smashed a one out home run to center in the bottom of the sixth for Maryland's fourth and final run. Schmeiser retired the side in order in the top of the seventh to wrap up the victory.
No Fire in the Desolate Dragons
Maryland's second game of the day against the Drexel Dragons started off looking like it might be more of the shame...er same. In Maryland's first at bat, Lindsey ‘Lu' Schmeiser laced a one out double to left. After Dewey struck out, Mandy Gardner drew a walk and Corey Schwartz loaded the bases with two out on a fielder's choice. Bustillos flied out to center and, for the third time on the day, the Terps left the bases jammed without scoring.
Fortunately, for the Terrapins, senior ace Kaitlyn ‘KK' Schmeiser was in the circle. The senior had retired five Friars in a row to save the first game and opened the second by getting the Dragons in order in the first two innings. Her string of 11 straight ended when former Terrapin Liana Newton reached on an error leading off the third. A two out single put runners at the corners. The Dragons attempted a delayed double steal but the Terps caught pinch runner Grace Pope at the plate for the final out of the inning.
Maryland finally broke through in the top of the fourth. The inning opened with back to back singles to left by Schwartz and Bustillos. Pronobis walked to load the bases. When Datil popped out to second for the first out, a figure that resembled repetitious history looked to be circling the FAU field. It turned out that the shadow was cast by one of the many planes taking off at Boca Raton Airport whose runway is adjacent to the softball stadium. Senior Bridget Hawvermale joined KK as a Dragons slayer pulling a single through the hole between third and short that brought Schwartz home from third. Strange followed with a grounder to short that forced Pronobis at second but Drexel couldn't turn the double play and Bustillos scored the second run.
Though the two runs would be more than enough for KK, who finished the game giving up only 2 hits while striking out 10, the Terps would add four more runs in the top of the seventh when Drexel's fielding betrayed them.
Hawvermale started the inning with a bunt single and stole second. She scored on a three base error by the Dragons' right fielder on Strange's fly to right. Strange scored on Lu Schmeiser's sacrifice fly. Before the inning ended, the Terps added two more runs without getting the ball out of the infield.
Drexel put the first two runners on base in the bottom of the seventh but Lu plucked a line drive out of the air and turned it into a double play and KK shut the door with her tenth strikeout of the game. The 6-0 win gave the Terps back to back shutouts and a 5-2 record.
Hurricanes find just enough gold under the Terps' shell
Of the six teams playing in the Strikeout Cancer Tournament, only the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes were ranked at the start of the weekend. The Golden Hurricanes may have entered the tournament confident they could blow through it but Friday Tulsa dropped a pair of one run games. First came a 4-3 loss to Michigan State and they followed that by losing 1-0 to the host school. Good teams don't often drop three straight.
Maryland and Tulsa met in Saturday's first game which had an odd 9 a.m. start and, while the players were ostensibly awake, both team's bats apparently decided to sleep in. Here's the final line for the two squads:
Maryland: 0 Runs 2 Hits 0 Errors
Tulsa: 1 Run 2 Hits 1 Error
Unfortunately for Terrapins fans, Maryland scratched out two infield singles that came in the third and sixth innings. Tulsa managed to put their two hits together back to back in the only inning in which Kaitlyn Schmeiser failed to retire the Hurricanes in order.
That tiny gust, that proved sufficient to win the game, came with one out in the bottom of the fourth inning. Schmeiser had retired 10 straight hitters before giving up a one out single to right. Hurricanes first baseman Julie Kernen followed with an RBI double to the fence in right center. She would be the last Tulsa player to reach base as Schmeiser retired the last eight batters she faced. KK finished the day with eight strikeouts and no walks.
Offensively, the Terrapins got a runner as far as second base in the third, sixth and seventh innings but never really threatened Hurricanes pitcher Bailey Erwin. Though she walked one and hit a batter, the lone run was all Erwin needed as the 1-0 loss dropped the Terps' record to 5-3 on the season.
The Battle of Two Armies
In their second game of the weekend against the Drexel Dragons, Hannah Dewey got the start for Maryland and after two strong innings to open the game, Dewey lost any semblance of control walking three batters in the top of the third. With one out and two on, Deifel made the decision to lift Dewey for Kaitlyn Schmeiser. The senior ace struck out the first two batters she faced and the Terps got out of the inning unscathed.
When the Dragons failed to capitalize on their chance in the top of the third, the dormant Terrapins' bats stirred to life in the bottom half of the inning. Kylie Datil got Maryland started with a double and moved to third on a wild pitch. Lu Schmeiser walked and stole second. Juli Strange laid down a bunt that scored Datil and moved Schmeiser to third. Dewey again showed her gratitude to the elder Schmeiser by driving a single to center that scored Lu and gave the Terps a 2-0 lead at the end of three.
Just as she had in the morning game, KK became a bit unsettled in the fourth giving up a home run, a double and hitting a batter to open the inning. She followed that by retiring three straight on a pop out to third and two more strikeouts that preserved the Terps' lead though it was now only a narrow one run lead.
Following her rocky fourth, KK settled in and, as she had on Friday, attacked the soft underbelly of the Drexel offense and dominated the Dragons eventually striking out seven and holding them to just the one run over four and two thirds innings.
The Terps offense wasn't faring much better but they did manage to scratch out an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. Corey Schwartz led off the inning with a single and Sarah Calta, pinch running for Maryland's second baseman, stole second. Calta came around to score on an RBI single by Mandy Gardner. That would end the scoring and the Terps came away with a 3-1 win that assured them of no worse than a duplication of their 3-2 record from the season's opening weekend.
Hootin' and Hollerin'
In Maryland's final game of the Strikeout Cancer Tournament the Terps faced the host Florida Atlantic Owls. The Owls may have been the surprise team of the weekend. They entered the contest with Maryland with an 8-1 record. In their first weekend, they won four of five beating Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Penn State and LIU Brooklyn. Their only loss was by one run to Kansas. On this weekend they were 4-0 having edged Tulsa, demolished Providence 10-2 and twice routed Michigan State. Having also beaten Penn State on the opening weekend, FAU brought a record of 3-0 versus Big Ten Teams into their game with the Terrapins.
The Terps jumped on FAU starter Kylee Hanson early scoring twice in the top of the first. Lu Schmeiser opened the game with a leadoff single and Juli Strange worked the count full before drawing a walk. After starting pitcher Hannah Dewey popped to third, both runners advanced on a passed ball. Schmeiser scored on a single to left by Corey Schwartz and Strange came in on Mandy Gardner's sacrifice fly. The Terps led 2-0 after half an inning and Dewey managed to hold the lead despite some breakdowns by her defense.
Dewey got through the second before being struck by the inconsistent control that plagued her throughout her freshman season. She issued back to back one out walks and both runners advanced on a grounder to the right side. Owls third baseman Carnesha Thompson worked the count full before singling up the middle to drive in both runners and even the score. FAU wasn't quite done as a pair of Terrapins errors allowed them to push the go ahead run across and take a 3-2 lead at the end of three.
It took the Terps exactly one batter to even things up. Erin Pronobis led off Maryland's fourth with a solo home run to right center. Bustillos followed with a single and a steal of second but got no further.
Deifel opted to make a pitching change to start the fourth bringing KK Schmeiser for her fifth appearance in the circle in the weekend's five games. Schmeiser continued her strong showing retiring the Owls in order in the fourth and fifth and picking up three strikeouts along the way. The Terps rewarded that effort by recapturing the lead in the top of the sixth and KK was in the middle of the rally.
With two outs, she reached base on an error by FAU's shortstop. Bridget Hawvermale lashed a single to right that was misplayed by Owls' right fielder Delaney Rickey. Schmeiser came all the way around to score and Hawvermale ended up on third where she later scored on a passed ball.
However, the Terps couldn't hold the lead. After KK retired her seventh consecutive hitter, she gave up a double down the left field line. Hawvermale misplayed a routine fly ball to right that allowed a run to score and the batter, Laura Mann to reach second. Mann scored on a single to left and the teams went to the seventh tied at five.
Maryland got a one out double by Dewey in the seventh but neither Schwartz nor Gardner could bring her home and that would cost the Terps in the home half of the seventh. Lindsey Shell opened the Owls' half of the inning with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Christina Martinez. Thompson put down another bunt that KK fielded. She turned and fired to first but no one was covering the base. Shell came around to score on the Terrapins' fifth error of the game as the Terps dropped the 6-5 heart breaker.
With slightly better execution and clutch hitting, Maryland could have come out of the first weekend 5-0 and the same is true for the Terps second weekend. Maryland has four losses and all have come by one run to quality opponents. However, softball fans need to keep in mind that this is essentially the same team that lost 23 of their first 24 games last season.
Though their talent was better than their record, Deifel and her staff need to erase the effects of last year's 11-35 record and teach them how to win these close games. This sort of turnaround doesn't happen instantly but signs of progress - such as winning six of the first ten and rallying from behind to put themselves in a position to win games - are evident.
The Terps will make the long trip to Palm Springs for their next set of five games where they will face five quality opponents including number 19/20 Notre Dame in the Mary Nutter Classic. Be patient softball fans. Better times are coming.