With the game still up for grabs and UConn holding a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh, Maryland baseball head coach Rob Vaughn decided to throw redshirt freshman relief pitcher Nigel Belgrave onto the mound.
After putting the first two runners on via a hit by pitch and a walk, respectively, Belgrave struck out the next two Huskies. Belgrave had the crowd behind him with two runners on and two outs, but redshirt junior catcher Matt Donlan had other thoughts. Donlan crushed a three-run blast to deep center field, extending the Huskies’ lead to four, and ultimately propelling them to the regional championship. The Terps, on the other hand, are now on the brink of elimination after a historic season.
UConn’s offensive explosion continued all night, and the Terps could never recover in a 10-5 loss in College Park on Saturday night. Maryland will have to beat Wake Forest Sunday afternoon to stay alive and force a rematch with UConn. If the Terps can pull off a 2-0 day on Sunday, it will set up a winner-take-all matchup for the College Park Regional on Monday night.
Despite coming off a dominant 23-2 win against LIU and playing in front of another sold out crowd at “The Bob,” the Terps couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start in their second game of the NCAA Tournament. Right-handed pitcher Jason Savacool, the Terps’ ace, was shaky from the onset, starting the game by giving up back-to-back long home runs – the first coming from sophomore second baseman David Smith and the second off the bat of senior outfielder Erik Stock just three pitches later.
Following a dominant start by UConn’s starting pitcher Pat Gallagher, the Huskies came close to extending their early lead in the bottom of the second with two runners on and one out, but Savacool was able to compose himself and force sophomore Zach Bushling into a massive double play.
Following the scoreless second inning, the Terps finally broke through with the power hitting they have demonstrated all year in the top of the third. Kevin Keister sent a ball to deep center field for his 10th home run of the season, cutting the deficit to 2-1. With two outs, sophomore catcher Luke Shliger barely slid in safely for a two-out double to get the sold-out crowd rocking, but UConn starter Pat Gallagher struck fifth-year center fielder Chris Alleyne out on three pitches to end the inning.
The next dangerous spot of the game came in the bottom of the fourth, with UConn recording two straight two-out base hits to get runners on the corner. Luckily for the Terps, Savacool got out of the jam after a bullet by Bushling went straight to Alleyne to end the inning and keep the score at 2-1.
Down 2-1 in the top of the fifth, the Terps needed to get the bats rolling. They did that, and then some. With runners on first and second, freshman designated hitter Ian Petrutz’s single drove in senior first baseman Maxwell Costes to tie the game and give Maryland momentum and raise the energy at the Bob. With two outs and two runners on, Alleyne came just feet away from sending the crowd into a frenzy. His deep drive to right field died at the warning track to end the inning, though, to keep the score knotted at two apiece.
Savacool got into his second jam in as many innings in the latter frame of the fifth, allowing baserunners on the corners with one out. Unlike the fourth inning, he wasn’t able to get out of this one. A fielder’s choice on a slow roller by graduate student Ben Huber gave the Huskies the lead back. After walking the next batter to put a runner in scoring position, Savacool was able to recover and force a groundout to end the inning.
Despite a base hit by sophomore shortstop Matt Shaw early in the sixth, Gallagher easily recorded the next two outs of the inning to keep the UConn lead in place. Savacool countered Gallagher’s effort in the bottom of the sixth, retiring the side, with the third out coming on a strikeout to ignite the crowd. After 109 pitches, though, Savacool’s night was done.
Gallagher, on the other hand, stayed on the mound for the top of the seventh frame. He stifled the Terps in just 12 pitches to keep the Huskies’ lead intact heading into the bottom of the seventh.
Belgrave came in relief for Savacool, and the postseason inexperience of the youngster showed early as he hit the first batter he faced. After surrendering a walk right after, Belgrave was able to strike out right fielder Casey Dana for the massively important first out of the inning. The freshman followed that up with another strikeout. But with two outs, Donlan’s three-run home run put this game out of reach.
Sophomore southpaw Brendan O’Donnell came out to start the eighth for the Huskies, but he was immediately replaced by freshman right-hander Jack Sullivan following a four-pitch walk. Sullivan retired Alleyne, the first batter he faced, but head coach Jim Penders decided to take out Sullivan for senior closer Justin Willis. Sullivan forced junior third baseman Nick Lorusso into a seemingly routine flyout, but right fielder Dana was unable to haul it in. Fortunately for Dana, Justin Willis retired two straight batters to end the inning and just about wrap the game up.
UConn kept pouring it on in the eight, with Zach Bushling taking Gavin Stellpflug yard for a two-run shot and sending a lot of the faithful Maryland fans home. Casey Dana and Ben Huber followed that up with a single and a double off Will Glock to drive in two more runs making the score 10-2.
The Terps put forth a valiant comeback effort in the top of the ninth, but the eight-run deficit was insurmountable. Petrutz was able to crack a three-run dinger over the centerfield wall, but Alleyne and Lorusso grounded out and struckout to end the game and cap off what was a disappointing effort by Maryland’s offensive stars.
Three things to know
1. Maryland now has a tough path ahead. With today’s defeat, the Terps will have to win three games in two days to advance to the Super Regionals. They will need to beat Wake Forest tomorrow afternoon and then notch back-to-back victories against the Huskies. A tough, but doable path for the regular season Big Ten champions.
2. Jason Savacool wasn’t at his best. Maryland’s ace throughout this season, Jason Savacool, looked a bit off from the first pitch. Even though he only allowed one run following a disastrous first inning, he was constantly slipping off the mound and got into dangerous situations in half of the innings that he pitched. It was an uncharacteristic outing for the guy who’s been the Terps most reliable man in the rotation. If Maryland is fortunate enough to advance to the Super Regionals, “Savy” needs to be back to his best.
3. The Terps had their chances. On Friday night, against Long Island, Maryland capitalized on every opportunity that came its way. Today, they were a completely different team. They went 2-for-8 from the plate with runners in scoring position and 3-for-16 with runners on. The bats were cold at the worst times for a team that’s crippled opponents with their prolific offensive attack all season. Chris Alleyne and Nick Lorusso, who are first and second on the team in RBIs this season, went a combined 1-for-10 from the plate.