No. 1-seed Maryland’s historic 48-win season came to a devastating close Monday night, following an 11-8 defeat at the hands of No. 3-seed UConn in a do-or-die game in College Park. The Terps, who hosted a regional for the first time in program history, were one win away from advancing to their first super regional in seven years.
Despite a late rally that saw the Terps cut UConn’s lead to two after trailing by as many as eight runs, Maryland couldn’t finish the job in the latter innings, ending its 2022 campaign in front of its home fans in disappointing fashion.
Twenty-nine minutes. Seven runs. Two hits. One inning. That was how Monday night’s winner-take-all regional final began.
With Maryland as the away team, catcher Luke Shliger stepped up against UConn freshman right-handed pitcher Ian Cooke and started the evening with a lead off bomb over the center-field wall, sending “The Bob” into a frenzy. Unfortunately for the Terps, that frenzy would shortly turn into shocked silence. Cooke quickly composed himself and easily recorded three consecutive outs.
“We had great fans out here this whole weekend and they supported us and had our backs through it all,” sophomore second baseman Kevin Keister said.
On the other end of the frame, Maryland coach Rob Vaughn decided to open with a freshman of his own – southpaw Andrew Johnson. Johnson notched two quick early outs and had right fielder Casey Dana on the ropes with a full count. Despite that and a rocking crowd, he walked Dana, then three more hitters. The latter sent a runner home and tied the game at one.
In a matter of moments, what looked like a quick inning had a nervous-looking pitcher in an incredibly nerve-racking start.
“You learn from struggle, you learn from failures,” Vaughn said of Johnson. “AJ is going to pitch massive games here for us and he’ll be able to look back at tonight, even though it didn’t go his way, and take a ton away from it.”
Vaughn had seen enough and brought in senior relief pitcher Sean Heine. His first pitch hit junior centerfielder T.C Simmons to bring in another run. Then, junior catcher Matt Donlan hit a grand slam three pitches later. Just like that, after Maryland was one pitch away from ending the inning, it was 6-1 Huskies – with just one one hit of the baseball.
Cooke continued where he left off by retiring the side in the second on just seven pitches. After surrendering a walk to start the bottom of the frame, Heine was replaced by sophomore right-hander David Falco, who countered Cooke’s quick inning with three straight outs of his own.
The Terps’ bats had a bit of life to start the third, but junior third baseman Nick Lorusso’s long fly ball died at the warning track to leave two base runners stranded. The Huskies on the other hand were able to take advantage with a runner in scoring position as they would tack on another run via a sacrifice fly out from Donlan, his fifth RBI of the night.
With the score at 7-1, sophomore Gavin Stellpflug took the mound to start the bottom of the fourth. Just like many of his fellow pitchers this weekend, he looked uncomfortable from the first pitch. UConn’s most powerful hitter, David Smith, torched the Terps yet again with another home run. That was followed by a Bryan Padilla RBI double a few batters later, giving the Huskies a 9-1 lead heading into the top of the fifth.
While most of the fans on camera had their head in their hands, a few rally caps were visible right behind home plate, and the Terps started to make that a close reality halfway through the contest.
With Cooke still on the mound, Maryland finally started to rattle the freshman. Junior left fielder Bobby Zmarzlak smacked a double that was followed up by an RBI single that hopped over the second base bag by Keister. A single by Shliger followed, and then a passed ball allowed both runners to get into scoring position. With one out after a flyout by center fielder Chris Alleyne, the Huskies made their first of two costly errors in the inning.
A routine flyball hit by Lorusso was bobbled by the right fielder Dana which scored Keister. The next pitch sailed to the backstop, which sent Shliger home to cut the lead to 9-4. Junior right fielder Troy Schreffler tacked on an RBI single, prompting head coach Jim Penders to turn to his ace Austin Peterson. Peterson quickly ended the inning to prevent any further damage.
Freshman left hander Mike Walsh started the bottom of the fifth but after a lead-off walk, he was taken out in favor of a very short-rested Jason Savacool. The sophomore, usually a starter, would allow just one hit in the inning, but it was a costly one as the line drive by senior third baseman Zach Bushling drove in another run, extending the lead back to five.
Both Peterson and Savacool delivered near-perfect sixth innings, keeping the score at 10-5.
Shliger started off the seventh with a double to get him 75% of the way to a cycle. With a 1-0 count, Alleyne lit up the crowd with a bullet of a two-run home run to right field, cutting the deficit to three. The home run was the All-American’s team-high 24th of the season. In spite of the blast, Peterson did not seem phased, and he collected a couple of strikeouts to end the frame.
Redshirt junior Will Glock stepped in for Savacool in the seventh, and although he allowed two consecutive base runners, he recorded three straight outs to keep the game within reach headed into the eighth.
A game that was 9-1 was suddenly 10-7, and the Terps had six outs to keep their season alive.
“The one thing you can’t ever question about this group and this team is how tough they are, how hard they play,” Vaughn said.
Peterson was replaced by Brady Afthim, who now had to step into the biggest spot of the Huskies season.
Zmarzlak started the inning with a grounder to third but the throw was airmailled by Zach Bushling, allowing Zmarzlak to advance to second. The error was again costly by the Huskies as Kevin Keister drove the run in with a line drive double.
A fly ball by Shliger allowed Keister to get to third base in a prime position to score. What came next was a controversial call that fired up the Maryland faithful. Alleyne rolled a ground ball down the first base line for an infield single which scored Keister – at least everyone thought so.
After a quick review, the umpires determined that there was runner’s interference on the All-American, who was called out at first, sending Keister back to third. So instead of a 10-9 game with one out and the speedy Alleyne on first, it was still 10-8 – a score that remained at the end of the half inning – with two outs. The crowd, commentators and Maryland bench were all perplexed at the questionable call.
“The [ump] made the call he felt was the right call and that’s just baseball,” Alleyne said. “It’s out of our control…I’m proud of the way we continued to play after the call happened.”
Junior Matt Orlando stepped in to start the bottom of the eighth but lasted just three pitches after surrendering a double to senior Will Stock. Lorusso, who had pitched just eight innings and allowed seven runs prior to tonight, came in to relieve him. Lorusso allowed just one run, giving Maryland three outs to score three runs and keep its season alive in the ninth.
However, there were no heroics for the Terps on Monday as Maryland failed to overcome its early deficit and controversy in the three-run loss.
Three things to know
1. Lack of available pitching was costly. With a combined record of 25-6, Maryland’s three-headed monster of Ryan Ramsey, Nick Dean and Jason Savacool was one of the best starting rotations in the nation. With the Terps having to play four games in three days, they were all unavailable and Rob Vaughn had no choice but to play this game with a bullpen committee; Maryland used a total of nine pitchers on the mound. When a team allows six runs in the first inning, it’s nearly impossible to crawl its way back. The Terps fought hard, but the early 9-1 deficit was just too large to come back from.
2. Maryland never quit. Down 6-1 after one inning, 9-1 after four and 10-5 after five, Maryland showed a resilient quality about them that was on display throughout the historic season. It played three games in a two day span, all being elimination games, and they fought until the last out tonight. The bullpen was clearly fatigued, but in the end, again and again, the Terps almost found a way to be regional champions. It was a tough way to end the year, but despite falling short, the Terps never quit and showed poise as they attempted to complete an improbable comeback.
3. Historic season comes to a close. The 44 regular season wins for the Terrapins gave them reasonably high postseason aspirations, as they hosted a regional for their first time ever as the No. 15 overall seed. Unfortunately, after a costly early loss in the bracket to UConn, Vaughn’s crew put themselves in a hole too deep for even the high-flying Terps to dig out of. Despite winning two games in a row on Sunday, the catastrophic beginning to the game was too costly, and the Terps were unable to advance to their first Super Regional since 2015. Nonetheless, it was a historic season for Maryland, which won the most games in program history and captured its first Big Ten regular season title.
“This team man, they rewrote every record that we have here,” Vaughn said. “…Proud of them, proud to be their coach, proud to getting back with each and every one of them.”