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Maryland softball starts strong then stumbles in first home series

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After more than a month of road games, Maryland's softball team made its first appearance in College Park by winning three of five games in three days, improving to 17-11 for the season.

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Maryland softball fans who failed to travel to South Carolina, Florida, California or Virginia got their first look at the 2015 team beginning with Sunday's doubleheader against the Lafayette Leopards followed in short order by a game against Princeton Monday morning and another doubleheader Tuesday when the Terrapins hosted St. Francis (Pa.). The Terps swept the first three games in their initial home stand by registering a pair of run-rule wins against the over-matched Leopards, winning their lone game over the Tigers before being swept by the Red Flash, upping their record under first year coach Courtney Deifel to 17-11.

Sunday game one - A walk off win

Under a clear sky on a relatively mild, but very windy March Sunday, the Terps got off to a quick start against the Lafayette Leopards. Lindsey "Lu" Schmeiser, starting in right field, led off the Maryland first. Lu crushed a shot that would have been a home run on any day but, perhaps aided by the stiff breeze blowing across the field from left to right, sailed high over the scoreboard in right center.

The Terps loaded the bases as Leopards starter Kristyn Marinelli alternated three walks around a sacrifice bunt and a strikeout. However, Maryland failed to push another run across and left the bases loaded to end the first.

Maryland added a pair of runs in the second when Hannah Dewey walked with the bases loaded after Juli Strange had walked and Kylie Datil and Lu had back-to-back singles to open the inning. Datil came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Erin Pronobis using a great slide to just beat  a strong throw by Lafayette center fielder Morgan Biddle.

As Kaitlyn "KK" Schmeiser sailed through the first three innings, ringing up four strikeouts and allowing only one batter to reach base, the Terps padded their lead by putting four more runs on the board in the bottom half of the third. Maryland loaded the bases with no outs before Lu launched another rocket to left. This time the wind kept the ball in the park, but buffeted the ball enough that left fielder Kelly Lallis misplayed it for a two-base error that allowed two runs to score. Pronobis lashed a line-drive single to center driving in two more and expanding the Terrapins' lead to 7-0.

Lafayette put up an unearned run in the top of the fourth, courtesy of a pair of Maryland errors. Lu picked up her second RBI of the game on a line drive single to left after a pair of two-out walks. The Terps got a walk-off run in  the bottom of the fifth. Strange led off with a double just over third base and advanced to third on a soft liner to left by Pronobis. She scored on a sacrifice fly by Mandy Gardner and the Terps walked off the field with a 9-1 run-rule win.

Sunday game two - Setting off fireworks

Redshirt sophomore Brenna Nation got her first start of the season in the nightcap and, after she gave up a harmless one-out single in the top of the first was staked to a 1-0 lead when Lindsey "Lu" Schmeiser led off the game with her second home run of the day -- a shot over the center field fence that landed on Paint Branch Drive.

The fireworks display started after a scoreless second and the Terps came to bat in the bottom of the third holding on to a 1-0 margin. The inning started with Kylie Datil's triple to the gap in right center. She came around to score on Lu's double to right. Schmeiser scored on Corey Schwartz's double. Erin Pronobis singled and took second on the throw to third. Both Schwartz and Pronobis came around to score on Mandy Gardner's single to right and the Terps led 5-0.

After Shannon Bustillos struck out for the second out of the inning, the Terrapins strung together seven consecutive hits and by the time Sarah Lang grounded out to the pitcher, Maryland had scored seven more times for a 12-run inning and a 13-0 lead.

Maryland added one more in the bottom of the fourth on Sarah Calta's RBI single and Nation wrapped up a two hit shutout by retiring the Leopards in order in the fifth. The Terrapins improved to 16-9 with a second consecutive walk-off win in a 14-0 thrashing of Lafayette.

Monday - Transplanted Gardner seeds Terps comeback

Monday morning's game against the Princeton Tigers started inauspiciously for the Terps. Kaitlyn "KK" Schmeiser, who had been so effective in the circle in her five innings against Lafayette on Sunday, struggled with her control from the outset of her second start in as many days.

After retiring the lead-off hitter on a come backer, KK waled two around a single that loaded the bases. Princeton's Haley Hineman then laced a bases-clearing double to the fence in left center that put the Terps in an early 3-0 hole. In the bottom half of the inning, KK's younger sister Lindsey continued her torrid hitting, blasting a no-doubt-about-it home run over the center field fence that landed on Paint Branch Drive. "I felt pretty confident at the plate yesterday and today," said Schmeiser. "It's one of those weekends where the ball kind of looks like a beach ball." That was all the scoring Maryland could muster and they trailed 3-1 at the end of one.

The game settled into a bit of a pitcher's duel as the Tigers' Shanna Christian held the Terps at Bay while Hannah Dewey, who entered the game in the third in relief of KK Schmeiser, caged the Tigers bats. Maryland scratched out a run in the bottom of the fourth when Erin Pronobis led off the inning with a double to left center. She moved up a base on Shannon Bustillos' fly to deep left field and came around to score on Mandy Gardner's ground ball single up the middle.

After closing to within one, the Terrapins immediately gave two runs back to Princeton in the top of the fifth. Two Maryland errors allowed the Tigers to push across two unearned runs to take a 5-2 lead -- their largest of the game.

Such miscues rarely phase this group of resilient Terps and they showed that mettle by getting both runs back in the bottom of the inning after two were out. The rally started innocently and ended just short of Maryland capturing its first lead. The innocent start came when Hannah Dewey drew a two-out walk. Corey Schwartz followed with a drive over the left field fence that pulled the Terps back within one at 5-4.

Princeton flew Ashley LaGuardia in from the bullpen and the freshman promptly walked Pronobis who then went to third on Bustillos' single to right. However, the freshman recovered to get Gardner on a swinging third strike to end the threat.

The Terps entered the bottom of the seventh still trailing 5-4 when with one out, Dewey lined a double to left center. The force was with Schwartz whose swinging bunt landed in a bit of a black hole between the pitcher and catcher. Dewey, who smartly didn't try to advance on the play, did reach third when Pronobis walked to load the bases.

Bustillos lashed a hard grounder to short that Alyssa Schmidt fielded cleanly and was able to force Dewey at the plate. The Terrapins were down to their last out as the Michigan transfer Gardner stepped to the plate. Maryland's RBI leader lifted a soft liner to center that easily scored Schwartz. Pronobis, who had gotten a terrific jump on the ball never slowed as she rounded third and, in a bang bang play at the plate barely managed to avoid the tag of catcher Skye Jerpback and graze home with her hand to ring up the winning run in the 6-5 come from behind thriller.

One of head coach Courtney Deifel's challenges coming into the season was re-energizing a group that was coming off an 11-win  season. Mandy Gardner described the team's attitude, "We're having so much fun. We hope that people on the outside can see it but we have so much fun in the dugout and on the field. Even our bus rides are fun."

Added Schmeiser, "It's just a whole different energy that's put out by the players and the coaches. It's a completely different environment and it's great to love the game again."

Tuesday - The less said the better

The Terps closed out their first home stand of the season hosting the St. Francis (Pa.) Red Flash. Though they hadn't faced the most challenging schedule, St. Francis sported an 11-4 record when they arrived in College Park and left Maryland with two more wins, 3-2 and 5-2, over a largely lethargic Maryland squad.

Tuesday's doubleheader presented three main challenges to the Terps:

  1. They were playing their fourth and fifth games in three days
  2. They were playing without the Big Ten and ECAC South Region Player of the Week - Lindsey Schmeiser who was on the bench nursing an injury.
  3. An extremely windy day that turned any ball in the air into a bit of an adventure.

They failed to overcome any of them.

In the two games, St. Francis played fundamentally sound softball in every aspect of the game - including coping with the wind. The Terps, did not. The official scorer generously charged Maryland with only five fielding errors in the twin bill but couldn't have been chastised had he elected to score some plays differently. As a sound team will, the Red Flash capitalized on Maryland's miscues scoring two unearned runs in each game.

On a day where runs were at a premium, the Terps also stymied themselves with an inability to execute sacrifice bunts and by committing several base running errors that cut short potential rallies. Maryland also appeared anxious at the plate against a stream of Red Flash pitchers none of whom pitched more than three innings in either game.

Said Deifel after the game, "I'm just really disappointed with how our team showed up today. Credit to St. Francis. They did all the little things right and they fought harder than we did today."

Here are the all to brief Maryland highlights:

Erin Pronobis reached base six times in seven at bats on five hits and a base on balls while scoring once and driving in a run. Pronobis added a spectacular running catch in the gap in left center that saved a potential extra base hit and possibly stemmed a big inning.

Corey Schwartz continued her hot hitting and powered her team leading eighth home run of the season in the first game.

Bridget Hawvermale reached base on all three of her at bats in the second game going 2-2 with a walk and scoring one of the Terrapins' two runs.

Kairlyn Schmeiser pitched six innings of shutout ball in relief over the two games to keep the Terps in both contests.

Let's get it started out there

The Terps are back on the road this weekend. They travel to Iowa City to open Big Ten play with a three-game series against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

"We're really excited to get started in Big Ten play," Dieifel said. "This is phase two of your season and we're looking to get into that fresh. Hopefully today is a little gut check to get us going a little stronger in the Big Ten."