In a crucial series that could determine Maryland’s softball season, the Terps were overmatched early in the opening game and were unable to recover. Maryland (10-35-1, 3-15 Big Ten) dropped two of three against Penn State (22-29, 8-12) in College Park.
The Terps relied on Hannah Dewey in the circle and at the plate, as she delivered one of her best all-around series of the season. Throughout the three games, both teams struggled to make plays, and in the end the series went to the team that took advantage of their opponent’s mistakes.
Friday evening: Penn State 10, Maryland 3
Penn State packed an early punch, scoring three runs in the first inning. Martin gave up two crucial singles that were just beyond the reach of a diving Skylynne Ellazar at second.
The Nittany Lions kept rolling in the second inning when Madison Martin was unable to find the strike zone. Two walks and an error by Anna Kufta loaded the bases for the middle of Penn State’s batting order. Penn State broke the game open when Shelby Miller drove a three-run double to left. The double extended the lead to 6-0.
The Terps’ offensive production came from the bottom of the order. Ellazar had two hits and two RBIs in front of her family who made the trip from Hawaii. This was the first time her family had seen her play since her freshman year.
“It was really fun to play in front of them,” Ellazar said. “Just having them around feels like home.”
Penn State made four errors over the course of the game, including two by shortstop Toni Polk, but Maryland was not able to take advantage, going 5-for-21 with runners on base.
Saturday afternoon: Maryland 2, Penn State 1 (11 innings)
The large Maryland Day crowd was treated to a pitching duel, as Dewey had her best start of the season, pitching all 11 innings while only allowing two hits. Dewey’s efforts were nearly matched by Penn State starter Jessica Cummings, who threw 10.2 innings and gave up two runs.
In a start head coach Julie Wright described as “the best game of her career,” Dewey was in complete control of the game and had no thoughts of coming out. In the later innings Wright asked how she was feeling, but Dewey assured her coach that she was fine and wanted to stay in.
Her only run allowed came from a misplayed fly ball in right by Sarah Calta that put Tori Dubois on third. Shelby Miller followed with a shallow sacrifice fly to center that allowed the unearned run to score.
Kristina Dillard’s third home run of the season tied the score in the fifth inning, and the crowd was then treated to the Terps’ first walkoff win of the season when Kufta drove in the winning run on an opposite field single to right. The hit drove in a racing Ellazar, who beat the throw home.
Kufta was moved down to sixth in the batting order for the game, but that did not mean her coach had lost any confidence in her. “There was probably no other hitter I would want at the plate at that time,” said Wright. “The defense was perfectly set up for her to drive the ball to the opposite field.”
Sunday afternoon: Penn State 7, Maryland 4
Wright made a bold move going back to Dewey in the circle to start the game, but it seemed to pay off, as she showed no signs of fatigue in the early innings. The Terps scored in each of the first three frames and took a 4-0 lead into the fourth.
Dewey’s 132 pitches from the day before appeared to catch up to her in the fourth inning. After allowing a leadoff single, she walked two straight batters to load the bases for Kristina Brackpool, who cleared the bases on a double down the left field line and came around to score when Destiney Weber grounded out to second. Sami Main had to enter the game the finish the inning. Wright insisted that Dewey could handle the innings and explained that she was worried more about Dewey’s legs than her pitch count.
Maryland fell behind in the sixth when Strange threw the ball to second when she tried to get a force out. Ellazar was unable to make the play and the runner advanced to third. The error set up a three-run triple from Tori Dubois that gave the Nittany Lions a 7-4 lead.
On offense, the Terps finally took advantage of Penn State’s errors. Strange took an extra base in the first inning, and Jordan Auginbaugh reached second after a popup dropped in shallow right field.
Kufta added another run in the third inning when she drove a triple to right that scored Brashear. She scored on another error when Dillard hit a ground ball to third base.
Switching up the batting order
After the loss Friday, Maryland had scored only 11 runs in seven games. Wright decided to make a lineup change for the second game of the series, moving Ellazar up to cleanup and Dewey to fifth in the lineup. Ellazar added another hit and scored the winning run Saturday, while Dewey had two more hits.
Wright made even more changes to the lineup Sunday, moving up Strange back to the leadoff spot in order to provide energy at the top of the lineup. The move immediately paid off as she singled to center and advanced on an error. She then advanced to third when Brashear grounded out back to the pitcher, before scoring the first run of the game on a ground ball.
Dewey was dominant
The senior was phenomenal in every phase of the game Saturday. Her pitching performance was nothing short of outstanding, and she also led the team in hits.
In what was an impressive all-around weekend by Dewey her value to the team was shown by the coach’s confidence in her. Wright believed that it was adrenaline that helped Dewey get through the later innings and she saw nothing that warranted removing her from the game. Dewey’s value was also shown when Wright noted that her senior would be available for the rubber match, despite throwing a season-high 11 innings Saturday.
Instead of bringing Dewey out of the bullpen, she got her second start of the series Sunday. She had complete control of the game before the fourth inning where she ran out of gas. Remarkably, Dewey only gave up four earned runs in 14.1 innings over the weekend.
The Terps may finally play Rutgers (13-32, 4-13 Big Ten) this Wednesday after the matchup has been postponed twice. Both teams remain at the bottom of the Big Ten, and this series remains crucial for whoever hopes to make a run for the final spot in the conference tournament, where the top 12 teams get in.
After the doubleheader against Rutgers, the Terps return home for their final home stand against Wisconsin. The magnitude of this series depends on how Maryland performs on Wednesday. Regardless, if the Terps are playing for anything meaningful, they are closing their season way better than they did a year ago. Last year Maryland lost 13 of its final 14 games, but this season the team has an opportunity to close the season on a much higher note.