When you are a fan of the Maryland Terrapins, it's probably safe to describe a loss to Penn State that ends your season in any sport as ignominious. Such was the fate of the Terps softball team when they dropped a 10-6 decision to the Nittany Lions in their first ever Big Ten Tournament game. The Terps fell short as a result of some problems that dogged them through the season and that were particularly evident over their season ending string that saw them drop seven of the eight games leading into the conference tournament.
Terps up early but...
Kaitlyn Schmeiser, making what would prove to be her final start in the circle as a Terp had a relatively routine top of the first though she was aided, in part, by a great diving play by sister Lindsey at short for the final out of the inning. Lindsey then led off the bottom of the first with a single to center.
Erin Pronobis followed with a single to right sending Schmeiser to third. The younger Schmeiser came across the plate on a throwing error by Penn State's catcher on Pronobis' steal of second. Corey Schwartz drew a walk and Shannon Bustillos ripped a grounder at third baseman Shelby Miller that she turned into a third to firs double play. Schwartz advance to second on the play.
There's an old adage in the bat and ball sports that you should never make the final out of an inning at third or home. Schwartz did just that. Hanna Dewey chopped a ball up the middle that looked to be headed to center but Nittany Lions shortstop Reina Furuya prevented it from going through. Schwartz, however, continued chugging around third and was thrown out at the plate. Inning and threat over.
Maryland extended their lead to 2-0 in the bottom of the second on a one out solo home run to left by Mandy Gardner. The Nittany Lions then evened the score in the top of the third getting a crucial two out two RBI double by Macy Jones.
Over the last stretch of games, Maryland has struggled to get hits in key moments. That problem surfaced in what may have been the crucial sequence of the game in the Terrapins' fourth. Maryland loaded the bases with none out on a lead off single by Bustillos and back to back walks to Dewey and Kaitlyn Schmeiser. After a Penn State pitching change, the Terps followed with a strikeout, a foul pop out to short and another strikeout. Inning and threat over. No runs, one hit and three left on base.
Taking advantage of the momentum
Getting out of that jam seemed to energize the Nittany Lions. After the lead off batter stuck out starting the fifth, Penn State strung together three hits, a walk and three more hits to jump out to a 6-2 lead.
The Terps got two back in the bottom of the inning when Pronobis, who had doubled to the opposite field, came around to score on the 30th career home run by Bustillos. But Penn State ended any realistic hopes of a Terrapins comeback when they put up three more runs in the sixth and added a tenth run in the seventh.
Maryland put up solo runs in their last two at bats. Kylie Dati scored on a two out double to right by Lindsey Schmeiser and Schwartz led off the seventh with a home run to left center. The Terps put two more runners on in their last at bat but Penn State wrapped up the 10-6 win when Gardner hit into a pitcher to third to first double play.
The Terps finish the season 27-27 and won 16 more games in 2015 than they won in 2014. One would be hard pressed to deny, in the big picture, the noticeable success head coach Courtney Scott-Deifel and her staff had in their first year and we should congratulate the staff and players for that improvement.
However, 10 games ago Maryland's record sat at 26-18 and a 30 win season didn't appear to be unreasonable - let alone impossible. In her remarks before the game, Scott-Deifel said that she felt the team had yet to internalize the idea that they could be "great." That thought and that process now have nine months to gestate. As fans, we certainly hope it will come to term and that we will see even more improvement from the team that takes the field in February 2016.