When the Maryland Terrapins and Liberty Flames took the field at Bob "Turtle" Smith Stadium, sunshine still bathed the first base grandstand and it felt like a perfect spring night to take in a baseball game. When the squads left the field nearly three hours and 45 minutes later, the sun had long since set, the temperature had fallen by about eight degrees and the Terps had held on for their third straight win holding off the Flames by a final of 10-9 that evened Maryland's season record at 10-10.
No hint of things to come
Although both starting pitchers - Tayler Stiles for Maryland and Jack DeGroat for Liberty - struggled with their control, each pitched out of some minor early scrapes and the first two innings breezed by fairly quickly. But, perhaps because it's March, the madness began.
The Flames took advantage of Stiles' struggles to jump on top sandwiching two singles around a hit batter and a strikeout to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the third. Kevin Smith, leading off the bottom half of the inning, quickly erased the deficit by smashing DeGroat's second pitch for a home run just to the left field side of the high center field fence.
No middling around in the middle innings
Liberty displayed some power of their own in the top of the fourth. Flames' second baseman Andrew Kowalo led off the inning and became the third player hit by a Stiles pitch. After a sacrifice bunt and a single put runners on the corners, Liberty's Jack Morris smashed a mammoth shot over the scoreboard in left field. The three run blast put the Flames back in front 4-1. Stiles pitched out of another jam in the inning after two more batters reached on an error and a single.
The Terps got back in the game when Marty Costes reached on a Liberty throwing error. Kevin Biondic bounced a come backer to Thomas Simpson, who had come on in relief of DeGroat to start the inning, that forced Costes at second but Biondic beat the relay to avoid the double play. Andrew Bechtold walked after Anthony Papio struck out. Dan Maynard, starting at catcher, lifted a fly ball that landed just fair inside the left field line for a double picking up a pair of RBI in the process and pulling the Terps within one at the end of four.
Maryland's fun continued in the fifth when the Terps picked up two runs to edge ahead for the first time. Madison Nickens opened the inning with a double off the right field fence. After Nick Dunn grounded out to third, Simpson lost the plate issuing walks to Nick Cieri and Costes that loaded the bases. Caleb Evans relieved Simpson but fared no better as he walked Biondic to force home the tying run. He gave up another run when Anthon Papio lofted a pop fly to left that splashed down in the Bermuda Triangle between the third baseman, shortstop and left fielder.
But Maryland's fun had just begun. The Terps added five runs in the bottom of the sixth with Nickens, Cieri and Costes each banging out RBI singles before Biondic ended the Terrapins' scoring with a two run home run that cleared the fence close to the spot where Smith's had several innings earlier. The outburst put the Terps up by a seemingly comfortable 10-4 with just three innings to play.
No dousing the Flames - Always check for burning embers
After Andrew Miller, who had come on in relief of winning pitcher Andrew Green, issued a one out walk in the top of the seventh, Ryan Selmer became the Terrapins' fifth pitcher of the night. Selmer gave up a single to the first batter he faced and the runners advanced to second and third on a passed ball. The lanky righthander then struck out Payton Scarbrough and Josh Barrick to end the inning. The situation still seemed well in hand.
Hunter Parsons started the eighth for Maryland and issued a one out walk to D.J. Artis - the fourth of seven free passes handed out by Terrapin pitchers on the night. One out later, Andrew Yacyk smacked an RBI double off the fence in left but the game still felt well in hand. Liberty trailed 10-5 with only one at bat left.
Mike Rescigno came on to start the ninth for Maryland and quickly issued a walk, a single and a three run homer to left. The Flames had pulled within two but no one's nerves were too much on edge because the bases were empty and Rescigno could treat the inning as if he had come on in a save situation. After inducing a pair of ground outs to second baseman Nick Dunn, He seemed to have done just that. Rescigno then walked Will Shepherd who moved up to second on a passed ball and came around to score on Yacyk's single to center.
The tying run was now on base and a potential go ahead run stepped to the plate in the form of Liberty shortstop Dalton Britt. Pitcher and hitter faced one another neither asking nor giving any quarter. The count was full at 3-2 when Rescigno found just enough to get Britt swinging for the final out - much to the relief of the few fans still in attendance.
Three things to know
1. Tayler Stiles is not back to his sophomore form. The junior is giving a game effort as he tries to return from the terrifying injury he suffered late last season but has not yet worked back into the form he showed in the latter part of his sophomore year.
2. A bullpen. A bullpen. My kingdom for a bullpen. Baseball beat writer Andrew Kramer who was unable to cover Tuesday's game texted me this paraphasing of the Bard of Avon after the game. In five and two-thirds innings, Maryland bullpen surrendered five runs with four of them earned and walked six batters turning a comfortable 10-4 lead into a 10-9 nail biter.
3. The Terps look primed for B1G play. After dropping the first two games of their west coast road trip, Maryland has now won three straight for the first time this season with each of those coming over a team in the top 100 in RPI. Maryland opens B1G play when they travel to Iowa for a three game series beginning Friday. If the previous three games are any indication, the Terps look to be rounding into shape at just the right time.