Kyle McCoy was working his way through a promising Sunday start when Rutgers senior third baseman Chris Brito came to the plate. Having already tossed four innings, McCoy was tasked with keeping the Terps within striking distance to sweep Rutgers in the third and final game of their weekend series.
But the freshman’s outing came to a frightening end when Brito sent a 3-1 pitch on a collision course with the 6-foot-5 southpaw. McCoy had no more than a split second to react, as the ball, which left Brito’s bat at a measured velocity of 109.7 miles per hour, struck him in the face and ricocheted into left field.
A team trainer rushed out of the dugout onto the field to tend to McCoy, but miraculously, McCoy met them halfway, dropped his hat and glove and sunk his face into a towel as he walked off the field under his own power.
Even so, the Terps looked shell-shocked and couldn’t rebound after watching their teammate suffer an unnerving injury. Rutgers, badly needing to salvage a win after dropping the first two games of the series, pounced on a hurried Maryland bullpen and exploded for a 14-8 win Sunday.
“It’s just kind of a gut punch, you know, when one of your guys catches one,” Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn said after the game. “Scary. In the face and in the head area, obviously it rocks you a little bit and I even felt our team’s energy dip a little bit.”
Vaughn also noted after the game that McCoy’s lip and tongue were cut, but his teeth were “OK.” He was unable to provide further details on McCoy’s status moving forward.
“Him being able to walk off on his own and walk himself back there was obviously a good sign.”
When McCoy left, Maryland was down 4-3 in the top of the fifth inning, using a trio of two-out RBI hits to hang around in what was shaping up to be a hotly contested series finale. Sophomore first baseman Eddie Hacopian opened the scoring with a first-inning double to right-center field, and junior catcher Luke Shliger followed suit in the second and fourth innings with two identically-placed RBI singles to left-center.
But after Brito’s line drive forced McCoy out of the game, the floodgates opened for the Scarlet Knights. Vaughn hastily called on Nigel Belgrave to fill the vacancy on the mound, but the junior right-hander couldn’t do so effectively. After struggling with command early — understandably so after being rushed into the game on short notice — Belgrave was shelled to the tune of six runs allowed in just 1 1⁄3 innings.
Brito, who had by this point advanced to third base, came around to score after a bloop single dropped in right field. Then, a sacrifice fly made it 6-3 before Belgrave finally ended the top of the fifth inning.
“You’re kinda thinking you’re gonna get through five or six and [McCoy’s] gonna be in the game, but it’s kind of the circumstances of the game, you know,” Vaughn said. “... We gotta find a way to execute and minimize there in the middle [innings] and give us a chance to win.”
The Terps went scoreless in the fifth, and the next half-inning was where Rutgers sealed the game. A six-run top of the sixth etched the final result into stone, featuring home runs by junior center fielder Ryan Lasko, junior first baseman Jordan Sweeney and sophomore shortstop Josh Kuroda-Grauer.
“I felt like our energy just wasn’t awesome today,” Vaughn said. “And you know, some of that is your guy getting hit and some of that kind of knocking you back and staggering you a little bit.”
While Kuroda-Grauer and Sweeney contributed to the Scarlet Knights’ onslaught, it was Lasko that led the charge. He torched Maryland by recording five hits in six at-bats, including a mammoth home run that landed on the roof of the Varsity Team House in left field and a fourth-inning two-RBI double that he lasered into the left-center field gap. Lasko added a third extra-base hit with another double in the top of the ninth.
“When he gets rolling, it doesn’t matter whether you throw him a fastball, slider, changeup. Whatever is on the plate, he’s gonna hammer it. That’s kind of the zone that he was in today,” Vaughn said of Lasko.
Despite the loss, Maryland sophomore Zach Martin stood out with an impressive offensive showcase, tallying three doubles and scoring four runs just a day removed from launching a two-run blast. After stepping into the designated hitter role with both Ian Petrutz and Matt Woods hampered with injuries, Martin impressed with a 5-for-10 weekend.
Additionally, senior third baseman Nick Lorusso managed to extend his program-record hitting streak to 30 games with an infield single in the eighth inning. Brito fielded Lorusso’s ground ball deep behind third base and let loose a throw that forced the first baseman off the bag, and Lorusso narrowly avoided the tag and was awarded a hit for his troubles. He would smack an RBI single an inning later.
Maryland sophomore left-handed pitcher Andrew Johnson settled down after allowing Kuroda-Grauer’s home run and kept Rutgers scoreless in the seventh and eighth innings, but Sweeney added his third and fourth RBIs of the game with a single in the ninth. Despite a last-gasp Maryland rally that featured freshman right fielder Luke Zeisloft hitting his first career home run, Rutgers had put enough distance between itself and Maryland to bring home a six-run victory.
The Terps will be back in action on Tuesday when they host Georgetown.
Three things to know
1. McCoy’s health. Regardless of the result, the biggest takeaway from Sunday’s game will be the health of McCoy. The freshman had become a mainstay in the Terps’ weekend rotation and was developing into one of the most promising young arms in the Big Ten, but will likely be forced to miss time after being clocked by a comebacker.
2. Two-out rallies. 15 of Sunday’s 22 total runs were scored with two outs, showcasing the importance of situational hitting. Three of Rutgers’ runs were unearned, and if the Terps could’ve avoided their two errors, they would have been within a reasonable distance to mount a comeback.
“Sundays you have to show up with energy and you have to play clean defense,” Vaughn said. “And if we do those things, shoot, maybe we’re up in that inning and it’s 10-4 instead of 14-4. Maybe it’s even less than that.”
3. A series win. Despite Sunday’s result, Maryland still emerged victorious in this weekend’s series. It’s now 4-2 in the Big Ten and 19-12 overall. Last season, the Terps won every conference series they played, and even though they couldn’t secure a sweep of Rutgers, they are still on pace to put together another impressive Big Ten campaign. Next weekend, Maryland plays three games at Ohio State.