No. 18 Maryland baseball dropped a heartbreaker to No. 7 Vanderbilt, as fifth-year outfielder RJ Schreck walked it off for the Commodores with a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.
Maryland entered the bottom of the ninth with a 7-6 lead, but a leadoff walk by Nigel Belgrave put pressure on freshman Kyle McCoy, who inherited the tying run on base with no outs. Vanderbilt took advantage with a two-run frame, stealing the victory from Maryland, 8-7.
The Terps fell to 4-6 on the season and are losers of four of their last five.
In the first inning, junior Luke Shliger started the game off by taking advantage of a fielding error by sophomore third baseman David Diaz. Shliger stayed aggressive early, stealing second and giving Maryland an early runner in scoring position. Junior shortstop Matt Shaw walked the next at-bat, giving Maryland runners on first and second.
Vanderbilt junior southpaw Hunter Owen struggled finding the zone early with a wild pitch that advanced Shliger and Shaw to second and third. Not long after, sophomore Ian Petrutz knocked in Shliger on a fielder’s choice to draw first blood.
The bottom half of the first was a nightmare for Maryland senior right-hander Nick Dean. Vanderbilt wasted no time as junior outfielder Enrique Bradfield Jr. got a hold of the first pitch of his at-bat, launching a ball just over the left field fence to knot the game up at one.
Dean then walked two straight batters to give Vanderbilt men on first and second with one out. The Commodores continued to apply the pressure, as Diaz crushed a laser to left-center field for an RBI double and a 2-1 Vandy lead.
Freshman designated hitter Chris Maldonado got another run across for Vanderbilt when he flew out to center field, allowing Schreck to tag up and advance the score to 3-1. Dean’s struggles continued, as he gave up another RBI single to junior catcher Jack Bulger — advancing the Commodores lead to three — but escaped the inning without allowing any more damage.
“I really think they had a good plan against him. I think they sat soft early and I think when you look at it a lot of the damage that we’re doing on sliders and on off-speed pitches, it’s a good job of preparing for Nick,” said Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn.
The Commodores stole the momentum and kept it in the second, as Owen proceeded to shut Maryland down by striking out the side.
Vaughn gave Dean another chance in the second, but he gave up another solo shot to RJ Austin, who kept his hands back on a breaking ball and smoked it to left field to give Vanderbilt a 5-1 lead. Deanfinished the inning without giving up another run and extend his outing a bit longer.
In the top of the third, Shaw doubled, giving Maryland a chance to chip away at the deficit, but Owen continued to settle in by striking out the next two batters to end the inning and advancing his strikeout total to five.
Dean looked more comfortable in the bottom half of the third, as he recorded his first scoreless inning of the game, sending Vandy down 1-2-3 with three straight groundouts.
In the fourth, fifth-year Matt Woods and junior Kevin Keister collected back-to-back singles to give Maryland runners on first and second with one out. Senior Bobby Zmarzlak drew a walk the next at-bat, giving sophomore Elijah Lambros a huge bases loaded opportunity. But, on the second pitch of the at-bat, Lambros grounded into a rally-killing double play.
Shliger began the fifth with a single hoping to swing the momentum to the Terps. Shaw followed up Shliger’s hit with a single of his own and reached second on an error by senior left fielder TJ McKenzie. Lorusso then drew a walk to give the Terps the bases loaded for the second time. This time, Petrutz scored Shliger on his second fielder’s choice of the game, making the score 5-2.
Sophomore first baseman Eddie Hacopian got another run across as he reached on a fielder’s choice. Next up was junior Kevin Keister, who demolished a ball to dead center for a three-run homer, giving Maryland a 6-5 lead after the Terps’ third, fourth and fifth runs of the inning.
Right when it looked like Maryland was going to start cruising after the five-run inning, Austin annihilated a ball into the upper deck in right field, tying the game at six.
Lorusso started the seventh with a bang, pimping a fastball to left field for a solo home run to put Maryland back on top. Hacopian drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch, but got a little too cute with his lead and was picked off, followed by a Woods strikeout that ended Maryland’s rally.
Right-handed flame-thrower Nigel Belgrave came in relief for Dean in the sixth and pitched scoreless frames in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, shutting down Vanderbilt’s offense.
In the bottom half of the eighth, Schreck launched a ball to left center, and while Lambros knocked it down to keep it in the park, it turned into a triple — putting the tying run on third with one out. Belgrave then struck out Diaz for the second out but walked Maldonado, giving the Commodores runners on the corners. Belgrave kept his cool, forcing a ground out to get out of the jam.
Belgrave came out to close the game in the ninth, but walked the first batter of the inning. He was then yanked for freshman lefty Kyle McCoy. Junior Calvin Hewett reached on a bunt single after a miscommunication on the defensive set-up, putting the winning run on first with no outs. Bradfield had ice in his veins, as he lined a ball up the middle scoring the tying run and advancing the winning run 90 feet away with no outs.
Schreck ended up delivering the final blow with his walk-off sacrifice fly.
“I told our team after the game that, that loss is really on me to be honest with you because as good as Nigel was, there’s no way I should have sent him back out,” said Vaughn.
Three things to know
1. The long ball played a crucial role. There were a combined five home runs in Saturday’s game. Numerous home runs have been a common theme in Maryland’s games so far this season. A late solo shot by Nick Lorusso seemed like it was going to seal the deal for Maryland, but another bullpen implosion blew it for the Terps.
2. Disastrous innings for each starters kept the game close. Dean had a rough first inning, allowing four runs and giving Vanderbilt an early 4-1 lead. Luckily for Maryland, it responded in the fifth, getting five runs across against Owen in the frame.
3. Another bullpen implosion cost Maryland the game. The Terps entered the bottom of the ninth up one, but a leadoff walk by Belgrave put McCoy in a tough spot, allowing Vanderbilt to take the game. Maryland had similar bullpen struggles in its last series at Ole Miss, when it lost two winnable games.