A calendar year measures time. A light-year measures distance. Though the roster is barely changed, by any measure, the 2015 Maryland Terrapins softball team is a vastly different squad than the team Terps fans watched in 2014.
On trips to California in 2013 and 2014, the Maryland softball team played a total of 10 games and lost all ten. This was not the case in 2015. The Terps lost their first game stretching their west coast losing streak to 11. But that would be their only loss of the weekend. The flight home was probably a happy one for the now 10-5 Terrapins.
No luck with the Irish
In the top of the first inning against 23rd ranked Notre Dame it looked like Maryland's west coast softball swing was going to get off to a great start as the Terps jumped on the Irish for two quick runs. The scoring came courtesy of Mandy Gardner who singled to left with two outs after Erin Pronobis and Hannah Dewey had reached on a hit by pitch and a walk earlier in the inning.
However, Maryland starter Kaitlyn ‘KK' Schmeiser and Maryland's defense weren't prepared for the way Notre Dame attacked the Terps early. Employing an arsenal of slaps and bunts, the Irish struck for five runs on seven hits - four of which never left the infield. Add in a throwing error and the Terrapins trailed 5-2 at the end of the first inning.
Notre Dame added a sixth run in the second courtesy of two more Maryland errors. Schmeiser settled down through the middle innings and kept the Terps within striking distance and strike they did.
Pronobis reached with one out after Notre Dame's first error of the afternoon. Corey Schwartz drew a walk and Gardner delivered yet another key two out hit. This time she powered a home run to right and suddenly, the Terps were within one trailing only 6-5.
KK held the Irish scoreless in the bottom half of the inning but struggled to start the sixth giving up leadoff walk and a single. Maryland head coach Courtney Deifel brought Dewey in to relieve Schmeiser. After giving up a single to load the bases, Dewey was on the verge of escaping getting two outs on a strikeout and a pop to short. However, the Irish's Katey Haus singled to right driving in two to give Notre Dame an 8-5 lead with only one at bat left for Maryland.
The no quit Terps got a one out infield single by Kylie Datil and an RBI triple off the bat of Corey Schwartz. Julie Strange drew a two out walk to put the tying run on base and bring the potential go ahead run to the plate in the form of Schmeiser. However, after fouling off three pitches and working the count back to 2-2, KK popped out to third to end the game.
How long to tame a Cougar? Nine innings
The Terps faced the 7-4 Brigham Young Cougars in the second game of the weekend for both teams. For both squads, their opener had been all about the offense. The Cougars were coming off a 16-4 win over UC Santa Barbara and the Terps off the tough 8-6 loss to Notre Dame.
The Cougars were the nominal visiting team and got on the board in the top of the first scoring once after getting the first two runners on base. Maryland answered with a run of their own in the bottom half of the inning with Erin Pronobis again getting things started by being hit by a pitch. Hannah Dewey walked and a Cougars' error loaded the bases for Mandy Gardner. The senior first baseman brought one run home with a ground out but that was all the Terps could muster from the threat and the score was tied at one after one.
Over the next several innings, BYU generated several opportunities. After putting their leadoff hitter on in every inning, the threat reached its greatest intensity in the bottom of the fourth when they loaded the bases on two singles and a Terrapins error with one out. This time, Kaitlyn Schmeiser came in to try to get Dewey out of the jam and she succeeded getting a pitcher to catcher force at home and a strikeout to end the inning.
Meanwhile, the Terps struggled to muster any offense scratching out just three hits through their first five at bats. Maryland did get two runners on in the bottom of the fifth but couldn't push a run across. At the end of seven the score remained tied at one all and the teams went to the International Tie Breaker (ITB) to start the eighth.
For those who don't recall (or didn't read) the recap of the opening weekend, under the ITB, each team opens the extra inning with a runner on second. That runner is usually the player scheduled to bat ninth in the inning but can be a pinch runner as well.
In the eighth, Maryland had the better chance to score. Pronobis was the designated runner and moved to third on a passed ball with none out. The Cougars then walked Dewey intentionally but again the Terrapins failed to manage a clutch hit and the game moved to the ninth.
The top of the ninth was BYU's missed opportunity. The Cougars loaded the bases with none out but then it was KK who turned up the pitching heat. The senior induced a pop out and back to back strikeouts as BYU left the bases jammed.
Maryland's half of the ninth started with Julie Strange on second. Deifel sent Bridget Hawvermale in to bat for KK and the senior drew a walk. Catcher Shannon Bustillos put down a sacrifice bunt moving the runners to second and third. Deifel then switched Sarahs as Sarah Lang came in to pinch hit for Sarah Calta. Unfortunately, Lang struck out. That left it up to Lindsey Schmeiser. The Terrapins' shortstop had two strikes on her when she laced a shot into left center for the walkoff single and a 2-1 Terps win.
The comeback kids
Passionate fans with weak hearts should probably refrain from following the Maryland softball team at this point in the 2015 season. After losing 11 straight games on the west coast before their win against BYU, the Terrapins won their second consecutive game Friday night topping the Nevada Wolfpack to improve to 8-5 under first year head coach Courtney Deifel.
The Terps needed eight innings to pick up the 4-3 win making this the seventh one run game of the young season and the third that required extra innings. And the cardiac Terps made this game the most dramatic of all.
The Wolfpack entered the game just 3-8 on the season having lost earlier in the day 11-0 to Utah. After a scoreless opening inning Nevada struck first in the top of the second scratching out a run against Maryland starter Hannah Dewey. The Terps put two on with two out in the bottom of the second but couldn't break through against Wolfpack starter Megan Dortch.
Nevada added two more in the top of the third with their rally started by a Terrapins error. Hannah Dewey got Maryland's first hit in the bottom half of the inning - a two out single that advanced Lindsey ‘Lu' Schmeiser who had drawn the first of her three walks to third. However, the Terps left two runners on for the second consecutive inning when Corey Schwartz skied to right.
Kaitlyn ‘KK' Schmeiser came in to start the fourth for Maryland and retired the side in order - a feat she would repeat in each of the subsequent four innings picking up nine strikeouts along the way. At the same time, Dortch was keeping the Terrapins bats relatively silent giving up only a walk to Lu and a single by Schwartz in innings four through six.
So, Maryland trailed 3-0 as they came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh. The Terps' rally started when Dortch surrendered the pitcher's worst enemy - a leadoff walk - to Juli Strange. Strange moved up to second on Bridget Hawvermale's ground out to second and then to third on a wild pitch. When catcher Shannon Bustillos popped out to first, the Terps were down to their last out.
But there is no quit in this squad. First, the Schmeisers drew back to back walks to load the bases. Then, Erin Pronobis, who has become something of a specialist in this, was hit by a pitch driving in Strange for Maryland's first run and keeping the bases loaded for Dewey. Facing an 0-2 count, the sophomore singled up the middle scoring both Schmeisers and knotting the score at three. Schwartz was hit by a pitch again loading the bases but Mandy Gardner grounded out to second sending the Terps to extra innings for the second consecutive game.
The runner on second to start the ITB eighth didn't phase KK in the least. The Wolfpack advanced the runner to third on a sacrifice but Schmeiser rang up her eighth and ninth strikeouts to close the inning.
Maryland needed only one batter in their half of the eighth to secure the win. Freshman Skylynne Ellazar, who was the Terrapins' designated runner to start the inning on second, came around to score on a Strange single up the middle. Improving to 8-5 on the season, the Terps are also a perfect 3-0 in extra inning games.
Runnin' faster than the Rebels
There would be no extra innings in Maryland's first game Saturday afternoon against the UNLV Runnin' Rebels. The Terps scored early and often enough to pick up their third consecutive win in the Mary Nutter Classic. Given the way they won their first two games in Palm Springs, one might call their wire to wire 5-2 win a lighthearted romp.
Lindsey Schmeiser got the Terps started in the top of the first drawing her fourth walk in two games. Hannah Dewey was hit by a pitch and Lu moved to third on Corey Schwartz's fly ball to center. Mandy Gardner garnered her 17th RBI of the season on sacrifice fly and the score was 1-0 Maryland at the end of a half inning.
Kaitlyn ‘KK' Schmeiser started in the circle for the Terps and saw her sting of 16 consecutive outs over two games end on a one out bunt in the bottom of the first. But the senior held the lead and that kernel of confidence spilled over to the second as her teammates would immediately increase the lead.
Maryland's second run of the game didn't come via the same scratch out route as their first. Instead, Erin Pronobis smashed a one out solo home run to right to double the Terps' lead and prompt an early pitching change for the Rebels.
After a scoreless third, Maryland again doubled their lead in the top of the fourth. With one out, Juli Strange was hit by a pitch and Pronobis followed with a single. Sarah Lang, getting her first start and celebrating her ‘birthaversary', picked up her second hit of the day - a single to right that drove in Strange and allowed Pronobis to motor around to third. She completed the trip around the bases on KK's sacrifice fly to left. Maryland led 4-0.
Meanwhile, though she wasn't mowing down hitters as efficiently as she had against Nevada on Friday, Schmeiser was still effective holding UNLV scoreless through five. The Terps scratched out a fifth run in the top of the fifth on an RBI single by Dewey. With two outs in the inning, Pronobis was hit by a pitch (because how could the Terps play a game when the senior isn't hit by a pitch) that loaded the bases but the three runners were stranded when Lang's bid for a grand slam to center came up a few feet short.
Schmeiser seemed to run out of gas a bit in the bottom of the sixth giving up a walk, a home run and back to back singles to start the inning. But KK was able to bear down and get an inning ending double play. Dewey closed out the game in relief picking up the save as the Terps assured themselves of another winning weekend and improved to 9-5 on the season.
Long Beach comes up short
For the final game in their west coast journey, the Terps would face the Long Beach State 49ers and just as they had in their first game Saturday, Maryland jumped on top early. Lindsey, ‘Lu' Schmeiser led off the game with an infield single. After Hannah Dewey popped out, Corey Schwartz was hit by a pitch and Erin Pronobis singled to load the bases. Juli Strange picked up an RBI on a walk and Mandy Gardner knocked a double to right that pushed the Terrapins to an early 3-0 lead. Sarah Lang drew a walk but the 49ers escaped as the Terps left the bases jammed.
It's always important in softball or baseball to hold the opposition scoreless in their first at bat after putting up a crooked number. Starter Hannah Dewey failed in that task allowing the 49ers to score a run on a pair of walks and a pair of singles. But a pitcher to catcher to first double play averted further damage and maintained Maryland's lead at two.
The Terps threatened again in the top of the second getting runners to second and third with one out but again failed to push a run across and had now left five on base in two at bats. Once again, this left the door ajar for LBSU and a solo home run by Leilani Tupua-Tautalatasi in the bottom of the second made the score 3-2.
Maryland got one of those runs back in the third on a sacrifice fly by Schmeiser in another bases loaded situation. While the opportunity wasn't fully squandered, the Terps left their sixth and seventh runners on base with five having been in scoring position.
After Dewey retired the 49ers in order in the third, Schwartz led off the Terrapins fourth with a solo home run to left. Not to be outdone, Gardner followed a Strange single with an even bigger blast over the fence in center. Though the Terps would leave one more runner on, the lead had grown to 7-2 after four and a half innings.
Dewey did her job in the bottom of the fourth holding the 49ers scoreless with an assist from the Terps second double play of the night. The Terps added their eighth run of the night in the fifth when Schmeiser scored on a Strange ground out.
After a line drive single started the Long Beach fifth, Deifel brought Kaitlyn Schmeiser in to relieve Dewey. The 49ers scrtached out a single run to make the score 8-3 but KK held them in check after that.
The Terps got that run back and more in the top of the sixth. The first run came on a single by Shannon Bustillos that followed back to back walks to open the inning. Lu reached on an error and Dewey picked up an RBI on a bases loaded walk. However, the Terps couldn't push across the run that would have given them an eight run lead and potentially shortened the contest when they again left the bases full.
LBSU again closed the gap in the bottom of the inning. After giving up a double and a walk to start the inning, KK struck out the next two batters but two singles and an error put three 49ers runs on the board after two were out. The game went to the seventh with Maryland up 10-6.
After the Terps went three up and three down in the top of the seventh, things got a bit dicey in bottom half of the inning. Three straight 49ers singles brought Long Beach within three and with two runners on and none out, they three times brought the potential tying run to the plate. But a clearly tiring Schmeiser drew on whatever reserves remained and the senior induced a pop out and two strikeouts to seal the 10-7 for Maryland.
The competition picks up a level as the Terps have one more long trip - a return to Florida where they will again play five games in three days beginning February 27. Maryland needs just one win to equal and two wins to surpass their 2014 season total.