After failing to capitalize on a bases-loaded opportunity in the top half of the inning, Maryland baseball headed to the bottom of the ninth inning in an do-or-die situation, looking to extend its season and send the elimination game against No. 4-seed George Mason to extra innings.
But redshirt junior right-handed pitcher David Falco Jr. plunked the leadoff batter, who then advanced to third after an overthrow on a steal attempt. Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn strategically loaded the bases with two intentional walks in a desperate attempt to make it easier to cut down the winning run, but the Terps’ season came to a close right in front of their eyes due to self-inflicted wounds.
Senior second baseman Brett Stalling was the hero for the Patriots, ending Maryland’s season in a sour way on a sacrifice fly to right field to seal an 11-10 George Mason victory.
“You always know this day’s coming,” Vaughn said. “You know at some point your season ends and your time with some of these guys kind of comes to a close. But you never expect it to happen. Gosh dang, it was a fun ride with this group and they emptied the tank.”
After two consecutive appearances in a regional final, the Terps were sent home early in the blink of an eye Sunday, getting blown out by top-seeded Wake Forest in a game that ended early Sunday morning due to a lengthy weather delay and then running out of gas in an elimination game that started just 12 hours later.
George Mason felt no remorse for the Terps’ short rest, and jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
“That’s a different George Mason team ... they got a great identity, they’re tough, they play hard and they’ve got some attitude to them,” Vaughn said.
Sophomore catcher Connor Dykstra started the scoring for the Patriots with a two-run double which hopped over the right-center field wall. Then, senior second baseman Brett Stalling ripped a ground ball through the middle to tack on the third run for George Mason.
Maryland’s starter, sophomore right-handed pitcher Ryan Van Buren, saw his day end after just two-thirds of an inning. Sophomore left-hander Andrew Johnson entered in relief.
The Terps’ bats showed fight in the third inning, though, as junior second baseman Kevin Keister blasted a leadoff shot to right, and two batters later junior shortstop Matt Shaw tied the game with a two-run homer.
The Terps continued to rally, loading the bases for sophomore center fielder Elijah Lambros, who poked a two-RBI single up the middle to give Maryland its first lead of the afternoon, 5-3.
Maryland kept producing hits, and put together a three-spot in the fourth. Senior third baseman Nick Lorusso doubled to right-center before sophomore first baseman Eddie Hacopian ripped a two-run double to extend the lead to five.
But in the bottom of the frame, Maryland’s all-too-familiar pitching woes struck. George Mason exploded for a seven-run two-out rally.
After allowing the first two scores, Johnson was pulled in favor of redshirt sophomore right-hander Nigel Belgrave, who immediately allowed a single and three-run homer to put the Patriots up 10-8.
In the bottom of the sixth, though, the Terps tied it up again when fifth year right fielder Matt Woods launched a two-run homer with two outs.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Patriots nearly took the lead back, but the Terps’ defense came up big. George Mason sophomore first baseman Reece Woody tried to score from first after a double, but was thrown out at the plate by Shaw, who completed a perfectly-executed relay started by Lambros.
Unfortunately for the Terps, their offense couldn’t make the memorable defensive moment worth it, and George Mason finished Maryland’s season off in the ninth.
“We just weren’t good enough the last two days,” Vaughn said.
Three things to know
1. Another regional exit for the Terps. Maryland was bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in the regional round for the third consecutive season. Maryland had high hopes to make an extended run and redeem itself in a regional this year, but was unable to do so. The Terps ended the 2023 season with an overall record of 42-21.
“Three years ago, we were talking about dogpiling,” Shliger said. “And we’ve gotten to dogpile three times [since] and I think that’s just kind of each year you kind of see the culture get more concrete,” Shliger said.
2. Maryland’s offense kept it in the game. After facing what was their toughest pitcher all season in Rhett Lowder on Saturday, the Maryland offense was able to put together a strong 10-run outing. The Terps had six extra base hits, with half of them being home runs. But, it proved to be too little to overcome their pitching woes.
3. A late error killed the Terps. In the bottom of the ninth, Luke Shliger overthrew second base on a steal attempt, which allowed junior outfielder Jordan Smith to advance to third with no outs. The late mistake proved to be the nail in the coffin of Maryland’s season.