Three months and a school-record 40 losses later, the Maryland softball season is over. It was a year devoid of timely hitting, timely pitching or timely fielding, and the team limped to the finish with a 13-game losing streak.
But in the final game of 2016, the Terps (12-40, 4-19 B1G) picked up a Senior Day win against Indiana. Brenna Nation threw a complete game and Skylynne Ellazar drilled a go-ahead grand slam in the fifth inning. After Julie Wright’s group dropped the first two games of the series, the Sunday victory gave senior shortstop Lindsey Schmeiser and second baseman Corey Schwartz a positive sendoff.
The first game of the series, originally scheduled for Friday evening, was postponed due to rain. However, the Terps were still eliminated from Big Ten Tournament contention Friday when Michigan State took down Ohio State. Maryland needed a series sweep and a Buckeye sweep to nab the 12th and final spot in the conference tournament. Those hopes were quickly dashed.
When the teams finally took the field, the Hoosiers opened up with three two-out runs against Brenna Nation in the top of the first, and the Terps were quickly in a hole. No more runs were scored until the top of the fifth, when Erin Lehman’s two-run double (she was pegged out at third by a brilliant Destiney Henderson throw) made it 5-0. Maryland loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the fourth, but managed only a single run via a Jordan Aughinbaugh walk. Hoosier pitcher Josie Wood subsequently retired Corey Schwartz and Hannah Dewey to end the threat. Aughinbaugh’s RBI single in the sixth cut the deficit to 5-2 entering the last.
Nation was pulled after walking the first two hitters in the top of the seventh. But Madison Martin faced only one hitter (who reached on a Martin throwing error) before leaving the game with a foot injury. Nation came right back in, but Indiana finished the inning with three runs and an 8-2 lead. A Skylynne Ellazar double in the bottom of the frame plated another Maryland run, but it was far too little, far too late.
With Martin out, Hannah Dewey started the second game of the doubleheader in the circle, and struggled from the onset. With the bases empty and two out in the first inning, five straight Hoosiers reached base, and a Taylor Uden double cleared the bases and opened up a 4-0 Indiana lead (all first-inning runs were unearned). Maryland left two runners on base in the bottom of the first and three in the second, and Michelle Huber’s three-run homer in the third stretched it to 7-0.
A Skylynne Ellazar double and Kristina Dillard single put the Terps on the board in the bottom of the third, but Indiana scored four more runs in the fourth, bringing the score to 11-1. After Dewey was pulled, Ari Jarvis surrendered another three-run shot to Huber, then proceeded to throw eight straight balls to the next two hitters. Brenna Nation pitched the final 1.2 innings, surrendering another run in the top of the seventh. The run rule was invoked for the fifth time in eight Maryland games, and the losing streak reached 13 games.
Maryland started well on Senior Day, tallying six runs in the bottom of the second. Kylie Datil started the onslaught with a two-run double, and Schmeiser, Ellazar and Dillard knocked back-to-back-to-back RBI doubles with two outs. Sarah Lang’s dribbler up the middle plated Dillard and made it 6-0.
But any thoughts that the Terps would cruise to victory were quickly proven naïve in the very next half-inning. Indiana got on the board with a two-out RBI single by Shannon Cawley. Later, with the bases loaded, Kelsey Dotson grounded one to third base, but Ellazar couldn’t corral it. Taylor Uden followed with a two-run single, and Rachel O’Malley’s single to left brought another run in. However, Uden was tagged out in a rundown between second and third base to end the threat. The Hoosiers tied the game at 6-6 in the fourth on an infield single by Shannon Cawley and a throwing error by Schmeiser. CaraMia Tsirigos followed with a hard liner right off Nation, but the ball bounced over to Ellazar, who scooped it up and fired to first to end the frame.
Maryland loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth, but popouts by Dewey and Schmeiser failed to plate the go-ahead run. Then Skylynne Ellazar mashed perhaps the biggest hit of Maryland’s season, a grand slam off the scoreboard in right center field. Her fourth homer of the spring put the Terps up 10-6.
Huber drilled her third homer in two games in the top of the seventh, a solo shot to left field against Nation. The Hoosiers scored another run and brought the tying run to the plate, but Sarah Galovich grounded out to Schwartz at second to end it.
"It definitely means a lot [to win on Senior Day], especially since we’ve struggled this season," Schmeiser said.
A strong whiff of positivity
Maryland’s 10-run output on Sunday was its second-highest of the year (13 against San Diego on Feb. 13, in the fourth game of the season).
That run support allowed Brenna Nation to end the year with a win. She tossed all 7 innings Sunday and was in the circle for 15.2 of 19 innings in the series. The redshirt junior had an absolute roller coaster of a season after her father died in October, and the stats (6-21, 7.05 ERA) indicate that the majority of it was negative. But it all ended on a high note.
"Our season has been inconsistent, just like her life right now," Wright said. "But she has shown that she’s a warrior. When I handed her the ball today, I told her ‘it’s your game. Go do it for yourself, do it for your dad, do it for Corey, do it for Lindsey, do it for us.’ And she certainly did that."
Skylynne Ellazar’s 2016 season ended with a grand slam, the first she’s ever hit at any level of softball. It was the exclamation point on a brilliant sophomore year. She may have been merely an injury replacement for Juli Strange at the beginning, but quickly established herself and was the team’s best and most consistent hitter all year long. She led the Terps in batting average (.399), on-base percentage (.458), slugging percentage (.574), hits (59), doubles (12) and total bases (85). She missed the Minnesota series with a concussion, but returned for the final weekend and went 3-for-3 with a single, double and (massive) home run in the last game.
Kristina Dillard also threw out two more runners from behind the plate this weekend. She finishes the season with a conference-high 16 runners caught stealing. The junior transfer caught every inning of every game this year, and was rock-solid throughout. As a bonus, she was second on the squad with a .342 average and .443 slugging percentage.
"KD is a natural leader: she gets people pumped up, and she tries to start rallies," Schmeiser said.
The Terps will be one of the few teams in the country to ride a winning streak into the offseason. This is an indisputable fact. Here are the final stats from 2016.
End of an era
There were only two seniors on a 20-player roster, but Lindsey Schmeiser and Corey Schwartz made their mark over the course of their Maryland careers. The two have comprised the Terps’ starting middle infield since 2013. On Sunday, Schmeiser’s number 88 and Schwartz’s 10 were painted in the grass behind their positions at shortstop and second base.
Schwartz’s career ends with three subpar offensive seasons sandwiching the explosion of 2015. 15 of her 17 career homers came in her junior year, as did 45 of her 78 RBIs. She was far from an offensive force this season, but also brought steady leadership and energy, neither of which are reflected in box scores.
Schmeiser leaves as the program’s all-time leader in home runs and runs scored. She was the ACC Freshman of the Year and a selection to the all-conference team in 2013, and was also First Team All-Big Ten in 2015. Her final season was plagued by a back injury that kept her out for most of the first half and left her at less than her best afterwards, which explains the drop in production.
"She’s old, honestly. That body is old," Wright said. "And I think that’s what you’re seeing in the declining power numbers…but Lindsey’s Lindsey. She’s going to perform."
The five-year run of Schmeisers is over, with Kaitlyn graduating last year and Lindsey this year. There’s reason to expect both will maintain a presence of sorts (Kaitlyn was at every home game and Lindsey will start graduate school in the fall), but it will feel strange seeing neither of them on the field.
Skylynne Ellazar, on her relationship with Schmeiser: "She was my throwing partner last year and this year. Personally, she’s someone that I can go to. She just keeps it 100 with me all the time and with everyone else. She was a big part in letting me know that I could do it, because she saw it in me."