Down three in the ninth inning, Maryland baseball needed a miracle to pick up a crucial win at Penn State.
But when junior second baseman Kevin Keister hit a sacrifice fly to bring up the top of the order, it seemed like all of State College, Pennsylvania held its breath. Junior catcher Luke Shliger hit an RBI double, and junior shortstop Matt Shaw was intentionally walked, bringing up senior third baseman — and college baseball RBI leader — Nick Lorusso with the bases loaded.
With one swing from Lorusso that guided a seeing-eye single to left field, the Terps took the lead after an improbable comeback, and ultimately won, 17-15.
Thursday’s game was full of rallies, with the Terps striking first in the second inning. Elijah Lambros got things going with a two-RBI single to take an early lead, and an error by the Nittany Lions allowed another run to score. But Penn State answered almost immediately, with four hits, three errors and a hit batter scoring a total of seven runs in the bottom half of the inning.
From there, it was a wild back-and-forth contest. After a scoreless third, the Terps fought back within a run with another three-run rally, with Lambros getting things going again with a single that led to an error, scoring Matt Woods.
The Terps squandered plenty of opportunities, though. With two runners on in the fourth, junior shortstop Matt Shaw hit a ball that would have been way out of his home park, but it was caught at the wall, becoming a sacrifice fly. In the fifth, Woods hit a ground ball that could have scored Petrutz to tie the game, but Petrutz held at third and was stranded.
The game was also plagued by mistake-laden defense by both sides. Of the seven runs scored in the second by Penn State, only one of them was earned — Maryland made three errors that inning and five overall. Penn State was barely better, committing two errors of its own.
In the sixth inning, Keister misplayed a ball at second that looked like a probable double play, but instead, it led to three straight RBI hits which scored five runs and lengthened the Penn State lead to seven.
Despite all of this, the Terps came roaring back in the seventh. Keister rebounded with a two-run double to cut the lead to five. Two walks loaded the bases, which was followed by an RBI single by senior third baseman Nick Lorusso, his 91st of the year. A sacrifice fly, single and two more walks brought two more runs home. All in all, the Terps put up six runs in the inning to make it a one-run ballgame.
Penn State scored two more runs in the eighth after redshirt sophomore Nigel Belgrave couldn’t find the strike zone, which put the Terps down three in the ninth.
But late-game heroics lead to a miraculous comeback in State College, with a five-run ninth inning and game-sealing save by redshirt junior David Falco Jr.
The win keeps the Terps in the driver's seat in the Big Ten, as they are now 16-6 in Big Ten play and 36-18 on the season. They will face Penn State in the second game of the series at 5 p.m Friday.
Three things to know.
1. The Terps never gave in. While the Terps’ pitching and defense were horrendous, they came back to make it a game after every Penn State rally. When Penn State scored seven runs in the second, the Terps put up three to come within a run in the fourth. When Maryland gave up five in the sixth, it came back with six runs of its own. And when all hope seemed lost, Maryland continued to fight, scoring five runs in the ninth.
2. The impact of the field. The Terps' defense was awful Thursday on the first dirt field they’ve played on this season. They made three errors in the third inning and five total. The dimensions — much larger than Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium — also led to Jacob Orr, Eddie Hacopian and Shaw hitting long flyouts that would have been homers in College Park.
3. Big Ten consequences. With the win, the Terps continue to control their own destiny for the Big Ten regular-season title. If they can find a way to take the next two games, they won’t need help from Michigan State in its series against Indiana. Maryland stole this game from the Nittany Lions, and the next two games will surely also be tests.