No. 13 Maryland baseball headed into Oxford, Mississippi, knowing that this weekend was going to be one of its toughest battles of the season as it prepared to face the reigning national champion: the No. 4-ranked Ole Miss Rebels.
Both teams are coming off magnificent seasons and had their first ranked matchup of 2023 in the series opener, which fueled even more fire to this highly anticipated matchup.
Maryland’s weakness in its two losses were poor performances from starting pitchers, putting it in big deficits early and forcing late-inning comebacks to give the Terps a chance. That wasn’t the case Friday night, with junior right-hander Jason Savacool having an electric outing against the fourth-ranked team in the country. He threw seven innings, totaling nine strikeouts, five hits, no walks and just one earned run.
The Terps held a 3-1 lead going into the seventh inning and were able to work the bases loaded with no outs. Sophomore designated hitter Ian Petrutz — having been in the same position just last week against South Florida — hit a grand slam that sailed into the Ole Miss bullpen, his second grand slam of the season. Petrutz’s blast put the finishing touches on the Terps’ 9-2 win over the reigning national champs, giving them a 1-0 lead in the three-game series.
Ole Miss sophomore right-handed pitcher Jack Dougherty was named the starter for the Rebels after Hunter Elliott was ruled out due to injury. Dougherty was a notable reliever for the Rebels last year, finishing fourth on the team in strikeouts. He quickly got out the top of the Maryland order to start the game.
Savacool also started off strong, forcing two strikeouts and a flyout.
Dougherty cooled off in the second inning, having trouble with his command. Petrutz got the first hit of the game against the shift, followed by Eddie Hacopian hitting a single. That set up Bryant transfer Matt Woods’ first Maryland at-bat, which resulted in a walk.
With the bases loaded, Kevin Keister brought in Petrutz on a sacrifice fly to right field, and Bobby Zmarzlak subsequently beat out a potential double play to earn an RBI fielder’s choice, giving the Terps a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the second, Savacool surrendered his first hit on the first pitch to Calvin Harris. Savacool the struck out Ethan Lege, but Harris moved to second on a dropped third strike. After a wild pitch, Harris moved to third, and was promptly brought home by an Anthony Calarco groundout.
Savacool kept his composure, though, striking out his next batter on three pitches. He did not surrender a hit to anyone other than Harris in his first four innings.
After a tough second inning, Dougherty bounced back, preventing damage in the third and fourth.
Lambros started the fifth inning by legging out a double. On the next pitch, Shliger knocked him in with a single, extending Maryland’s lead to 3-1. That ended Dougherty’s night with a line of four innings, six hits, three earned runs and three strikeouts.
Senior right-hander Mitch Murrell came in and retired the side with a strikeout of Hacopian, despite a stolen base by Shliger and a walk of Petrutz.
Murrell and Savacool then traded shutdown innings until the seventh.
In the top of the seventh, Shliger got his second hit of the game and Shaw got his first, putting runners on second and third with no outs and ending Murrell’s night. After that, things went downhill for the Rebels.
Freshman pitcher Jordan Vera walked Nick Lorusso to load the bases. And with Petrutz up to the plate, he launched a ball over the right field wall, breaking the game open. Woods was then plunked, followed by a wild pitch and a single by Keister to bring him home to extend the lead to 8-1. As the top of the order came to bat again, freshman right-handed pitcher Brayden Jones was sent in to stop the bleeding, managing to strand the bases loaded to get the Rebels out of a disastrous inning.
The Rebels were able to get a run back with a double by Anthony Calarco and an error by Kevin Keister that brought him home, but Savacool was allowed to finish the seventh inning, getting his ninth strikeout to end his superb outing.
The Terps got another run in the eighth via a walk, bunt and a throwing error that allowed Hacopian to bring Lorusso in on a sac-fly. Maryland’s lead was 9-2 going into the bottom of the eighth, and Kenny Lippman closed out the final two innings to seal the Terps’ win over the Rebels, 9-2.
Both Petrutz and Shliger had three hits in the game, and every Terp got on base at least once.
Three things to know
1. Jason Savacool put on a masterclass. Savacool struggled in his first outing of the year, getting blown up early on. But Friday, Savacool was dominant. Maryland has had no problem putting up runs in the early part of the season, but its issue has been early starting pitching woes. Savacool was able to keep a two-run lead going into the seventh, which was critical to the Terps’ success.
2. Seventh-inning explosion. The seventh inning was electric for the Terps, and equally disastrous for the Rebels. In the top of the inning, the Terps scored five runs on five hits, including a grand slam from Petrutz, his second of the year. Maryland hit around, which effectively broke the game open. Maryland has hit four grand slams in five games so far this season.
3. Ian Petrutz has impressed so far. In Petrutz’s first year as an everyday starter, he has shown himself to be a massive offensive asset. He has three home runs this year, including two grand slams, and has had a hit in all five games. Petrutz has fit the cleanup role extremely well and could very well lead the team in RBIs when the season is over.