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Nick Lorusso’s three-run blast propels Maryland baseball past Rutgers, 6-4

Lorusso’s seventh-inning homer was the difference in the first game of the series.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland baseball hosted its first Big Ten opponent of the season Friday night, welcoming Rutgers for the first game of a three-game series.

A sixth-inning rally by the Terps tied things up at three. Junior shortstop Matt Shaw hit a first-pitch home run, followed by a series of walks, steals and an error to even the score.

After a scoreless top of the seventh by Rutgers, the Terps got a hit and a walk to put two runners on, bringing senior third baseman Nick Lorusso to the plate.

Faced with a chance to put his team ahead, Lorusso made no mistake, crushing his team-leading 12th home run of the season over the center-field wall. The three-run blast proved to be all the Terps needed, as they took down Rutgers, 6-4.

Junior pitcher Jason Savacool struggled early, giving up hits in the game’s first two at-bats. Rutgers had runners at the corners, and a double-play ground ball drove in the first run of the game. Despite being gifted the double play, Savacool plunked a batter and then walked the next three to give Rutgers another run. He threw 39 pitches in the first inning.

Rutgers left-handed pitcher Grant Besser was able to keep Maryland at bay in his first inning, following Savacool's lengthy frame with an eight-pitch inning. In the second, Besser hit senior outfielder Bobby Zmarzlak, and an errant pickoff attempt moved Zmarzlak from first to third with no one out. Kevin Keister knocked him in on the next at-bat with a pop-up to center field, as Zmarzlak beat a strong throw from junior outfielder Ryan Lasko to score Maryland’s first run.

The Scarlet Knights and Terps then traded scoreless frames, as Savacool settled in over his next three innings of work. Despite being labeled as a bullpen game, Besser kept the Terps silent, surrendering only two hits, one run and no walks in a five-inning outing.

Lasko started the fifth inning with a bang, hitting a missile to deep left field and extending Rutgers’ lead to two. Savacool retired his next three batters, though, shaking off a bad start to the inning.

Rutgers was unable to create outs on two infield grounders by the Terps to start the bottom of the fifth, and a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt by Zach Martin put runners at second and third with one out. The top of the order couldn’t get to Besser, though, who struck out junior catcher Luke Shliger and Lorusso to end the inning.

Shaw put the end to Maryland’s scoreless streak, as he homered on the first pitch of the bottom of the sixth, forcing Besser out of the game. Junior right-handed pitcher Drew Conover came in for Besser and promptly walked the first two batters he faced. A double steal by Zmarzlak and Keister was meant to put runners on second and third, but a misplay saw the catcher’s throw make its way to the outfield, bringing Zmarzlak home to tie the game. Conover was able to settle in thereafter, striking out the next two batters to kill the Terps’ momentum.

Savacool was brought back out for the seventh inning, which would be his last. He struck out the first batter, and a long fly ball by Andy Axelson looked like it was headed out, but Zmarzlak had just enough room to record the second out. A walk took Savacool out of the inning, as he finished with a whopping 118 pitches.

In the bottom half of the inning, outfielder Zach Martin got his second hit of the season, which ended the night for Conover as redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Garrett French relieved him in the seventh. Shliger then worked a walk and Lorusso sent a ball to center that left the ballpark, giving the Terps a three-run lead.

Rutgers got back one in the eighth, with a double and walk setting up a sacrifice fly by junior infielder Cameron Love. Redshirt sophomore right-handed pitcher Nigel Belgrave came in to close the game, and what looked like a likely RBI single by redshirt freshman designated hitter Hugh Pinkney turned into an inning-ending out after an acrobatic play up the middle by Shaw.

Belgrave came back to pitch the ninth, and after he gave up a hit to start the inning, he shut the door on the Scarlet Knights, clinching a 6-4 win for the Terps.

Maryland will play its next two games on national television, with the next game Saturday on Big Ten Network at 3 p.m.

Three things to know

1. Savacool shook off a tough first inning. Savacool gave up five runs in the first inning against Iowa, but he eventually settled in, surrendering just one earned run afterwards. It was a similar outing for him Friday, as he surrendered two runs and four free passes in the first inning.

It took him nearly 40 pitches to get out of the first frame, but the junior gave up only one run the rest of the way. While his strikeout stuff wasn’t there, he was able to get plenty of weak contact to get out of jams.

2. Lorusso’s magic continues. The senior continued to build his MLB draft stock, as he recorded a hit for the 28th straight game and hit a massive three-run home run to put the Terps up in the seventh inning. Lorusso leads the team in batting average, RBIs, and home runs. He’s been Maryland’s most consistent hitter this season.

3. Impressive defense saved the game for the Terps. Several double plays and web gems kept Maryland in striking distance the whole game. Lorusso’s home run was the deciding factor, but Shaw’s defensive play in the eighth was also key in the victory.