Maryland baseball’s offense is among the most explosive in the country. And on Sunday in a rubber match against Minnesota, that potency showcased itself once again.
Down 7-6 entering the bottom of the sixth inning, the Terps were facing the possibility of dropping a weekend series to Minnesota that would’ve been a major blow to not only their Big Ten title hopes, but their postseason resume as well. But Maryland came alive in that half-inning, erupting for seven runs in a frame that proved to be the difference in its 15-9 victory over the Golden Gophers.
The 19th-ranked Terps (35-18, 15-6 Big Ten) had been going back and forth with their opponent to that point, and after redshirt sophomore infielder Ike Mezzenga drilled a two-run home run in the top half of the sixth to put Minnesota up one, it was Maryland’s time to strike. Sophomore left fielder Jacob Orr set the tone with a hard-hit double down the left field line, and after senior catcher Luke Shliger was hit by a pitch, junior shortstop Matt Shaw drove Orr home with a line-drive single to right field.
The floodgates opened from there. Senior third baseman Nick Lorusso followed Shaw’s lead with an RBI single before five more Terps crossed home plate on a combination of a sacrifice fly, two singles and a walk to give Maryland a much-needed cushion.
“That’s what we can do when we just string at-bats one after another,” Lorusso said. “... I’m really proud of our offense, how we, you know, never let up anytime.”
Run-scoring walks were an unusually common occurrence on Sunday. The Golden Gophers (15-34, 8-14) were able to hang around much in part due to Maryland’s pitchers’ inability to find the strike zone. When fifth-year right-hander Kenny Lippman entered the game, he was wild; nine of his first 10 pitches were outside the strike zone and walked in two runs in the fifth inning before being relieved by junior southpaw Logan Ott, whose first six pitches failed to find the zone and brought another run home with a free pass.
Even so, Maryland’s offense flexed its muscles and lifted itself to victory. It was senior day, and the first runs of the game fittingly came home on a lofty two-run home run by fifth-year right fielder Matt Woods. After that, it was Shaw that brought home three more runs with a blast in the fifth.
“After we went down through four, he said ‘I’m not going to let us lose this game,’ Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn said of Shaw. “And he pumps that ball about 500 miles an hour over the center field wall.”
While he wasn’t a participant in the senior day ceremonies before the game, Sunday was Shaw’s de facto curtain call. He will almost assuredly not be with the Terps next season for no reason other than his play on the field, which has earned him first round projections for July’s MLB draft. And in his final game in College Park, Maryland’s all-time leader in home runs and runs batted in made a definitive statement with a 3-for-6, four-RBI performance.
Maryland wraps up the regular season next weekend in a road conference series at Penn State.
Three things to know
1. Senior day. Maryland honored its seniors before the game, which was its final one at home this season. On the day, the Terps’ four- and fifth-year players combined to go 8-for-15 at the plate with six RBIs and threw five innings, allowing two earned runs. In the eighth inning, Vaughn pinch hit Bobby Zmarzlak for Orr and sent Michael Bouma into the on-deck circle, although he didn’t get an at-bat.
“Special group of seniors, man. They’re unbelievably unselfish,” Vaughn said. “I think, you know, that’s where you have a lot of guys, they just want to get theirs and it’s pro ball, and it’s this, and it’s that. That group just wants to win.”
2. Unearned runs. Despite the win, Maryland didn’t play a clean game. Only five of the nine runs it allowed were earned, and there were a few makable plays that it didn’t execute that could’ve come back to bite it, but didn’t.
3. Twenty-three consecutive Big Ten series without a loss. The Terps came up short on Friday, but rattled off back-to-back wins on Saturday and Sunday to avoid losing a conference series for the 23rd consecutive time. Tied with Indiana atop the conference standings, the Big Ten regular season title will come down to next weekend, when Maryland plays at Penn State and Indiana travels to play Michigan State. The Terps hold the tiebreaker — they swept the Hoosiers earlier in the season.
“You can rip the stats and throw them out the window, because I can promise you when you’re hopping on the top of the dogpile, you’re not gonna remember where you’re hitting .250 or .390,” Vaughn said. “It’s just about winning. Just refusing to lose down the stretch.”