When I interviewed first year head coach Courtney Deifel to preview Maryland's 2015 softball season, I had known her as Courtney Scott from her previous stint as an assistant with the Terps, so I asked her to clarify the pronunciation of her new surname. She responded, "Die-fel. It rhymes with rifle."
Well, after only 16 games, it has become clear that the new coach has taken dead aim at changing the culture, attitude, and performance of a team that is largely unchanged from last season's program worst 11-35 win loss record. Friday morning in Florida the Terps faced the Fordham Rams and, in dramatic fashion, topped the Rams 4-3 in nine innings, equaling their 2014 win total after just 16 games.
Lest you think, , "Oh, it's just Fordham," I will point out that the Rams have won the Atlantic-10 championship in three of the last four years. They entered the game having won five of their last six games and their starting pitcher, Rachel Gillen, had been named the A-10 Pitcher of the Week three times this season in three weeks of play.
A lost opportunity and falling behind early
Maryland was the nominal home team and starting pitcher Kaitlyn Schmeiser (KK) got through an uneventful first inning giving up just a one out single. In the bottom half of the inning, Lindsey (Lu) Schmeiser starting in right field, opened the inning for the Terps with a leadoff infield single. Hannah Dewey followed with a walk. Corey Schwartz smoked a hard grounder to third that tuned into a third to first double play and the inning ended with no damage.
The Rams immediately took advantage scoring an unearned run in the top of the second. They opened the inning with a leadoff double off the fence in left and an error by Schwartz on the next hitter allowed the run to score.
The first comeback
The Terps put runners on base with one out in both the second and third innings that included Lu's bloop to left that she hustled into a double before being stranded at second. Meanwhile, sister KK was taking care of business in the circle holding the Rams in check through four.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Terps needed just one batter to tie the score for the first of three times in the game. That batter would be Erin Pronobis. The senior left fielder turned on a 1-1 pitch and ripped a line drive that rocketed over the fence in right for her third homer of the season. Terps one. Rams one.
The narrow escape and comeback number two
The top of the fifth for Fordham started with three straight singles. On the last of those, Lu Schmeiser, starting in right rather than her usual spot at shortstop, charged the ball and unleashed a perfect throw to home that prevented a run from scoring. Still, the Rams had the bases loaded with none out.
The next Rams hitter, Michele Daubman, popped a soft fly to right and again Fordham wisely decided not to challenge Lu's arm. One down. Kayla Lombardo popped to short. Two down. With the count at 2-0, Lindsay Mayer drove a ball to left that Pronobis hauled in one step in front of the fence and KK had Houdinied her way out of the inning.
With Hannah Dewey now in the circle for the Terrapins, the game went to the top of the seventh still tied at one after Maryland left two runners on in the bottom of the sixth. With one out in the top of the seventh, Sydney Canessa blasted a double to the fence in left center. The Terps appeared to get a break when Amy Van Hoven was called for being out of the batter's box on a soft topper that appeared to put runners on the corners with one out. Instaed, Canessa had to return to second with two out. However, Daubman drove a grounder underneath the glove of a diving Schwartz. Fordham had a 2-1 lead and the Terps had only one chance to score the tying or winning run.
Bridget Hawvermale led off Maryland's seventh with a pinch hit single to short right. After Shannon Bustillos lined to right, Kylie Datil smacked a single to right center that sent Hawvermale to third. Datil took second on the throw. With second and third and one out, Lu smashed a grounder to second that caromed off the second baseman's leg. Hawvermale scored and Datil moved to third. Lu stole second without drawing a throw but Gillen retired Dewey and Schwartz and the Terps would go to extra innings for the fourth time in young season with the score tied at two.
The comeback trilogy
Under the International Tiebreaker (ITB) rules, Fordham started the eighth with a runner on second. A wild pitch by Dewey advanced her to third and eliminated the possibility of a sacrifice bunt. A throwing error by Datil on a routine grounder to short by Mayer allowed the Rams to take the lead for the third time in the game. In a key moment, Mayer was thrown out trying to take second on the play. The play was key because the next batter, Cora Ianiro lofted a windblown double to right and the pitcher Gillen then popped a single to short left that put runners on the corners with still only one out.
Deifel brought KK back into the circle for Dewey and Schmeiser threw one pitch to Paige Ortiz who popped out to Dewey who had moved into center field. She retired Brianna Turgeon on another short pop into left center and, because of the base running miscue, the Terps escaped trailing by just one.
Maryland tied the score for the third time in their half of the eighth. Schwartz started on second and Pronobis walked. With one out, Juli Strange was hit by a pitch to load the bases but Hawvermale, who had remained in the game to play right field, popped out. The Terrapins were down to their last out but Bustillos drew a four pitch walk. The game was tied at three and would move to the ninth when Datil popped out to short to end the inning.
How the Terps won the game
The Terps path to the win started with another Rams base running mistake. Turgeon, who made the final out in the eighth, opened on second for Fordham. She broke for third on Canessa's soft liner to center but Dewey raced in to make a thigh high catch and then made the easy toss for second to complete the double play. KK gave up a two out walk but that was Fordham's last hurrah as Schmeiser got a routine ground out to end the inning.
Datil took second to start the bottom of the ninth for Maryland and advanced to third on a wild pitch. That would be all Lu Schmeiser needed. The junior pulled the next pitch to deep left. Datil tagged and scored standing up and the comeback kids pulled out the 4-3 win and improved to 11-5 on the season.