Maryland softball had a rough weekend during its first series ever against Northwestern. The long-awaited matchup between two struggling programs that found themselves near the bottom of the Big Ten conference was competitive, as two games were decided by one run.
Maryland missed an opportunity to improve its conference record, losing two of three games, yet picked up its first Big Ten win of the season thanks to clutch performances in the circle from Hannah Dewey and Madison Martin.
Saturday afternoon: Northwestern 11, Maryland 4
Due to a flight cancellation, Friday's game was moved to Saturday as a part of a doubleheader. Maryland had to shift its travel plans and took a bus to Pittsburgh before flying to Chicago.
The Terps jumped out to a three-run lead in the top of the first and they appeared to be on the way to securing their first Big Ten win of the season. But that hope didn’t last long. Martin gave up six runs in the bottom of the first inning, and Maryland couldn’t recover after that. The Terps collapsed and surrendered 11 runs in the opening game of the series for the second straight weekend. The loss appeared to set the tone for the series just like last weekend against Michigan State.
Maryland actually out-hit the Wildcats, but surrendering eight walks and committing three errors was too much for the Terps to overcome.
Saturday evening: Northwestern 6, Maryland 5
Maryland had a slow start to the second game of the doubleheader. The Terps were held scoreless by Nicole Bond and trailed 3-0 until Anna Kufta opened the fourth inning with her fourth home run of the season. A double by Dewey and a single from Jordan Aughinbaugh each brought home a run to tie the score.
After Maryland gained the momentum in the top of the fourth, Dewey walked the leadoff batter in the bottom half of the inning. Three hits later and the Wildcats had another three-run lead.
Maryland fought back adding runs in the fifth and sixth inning, but was unable to tie the score and dropped the second game of the series.
Sunday afternoon: Maryland 5, Northwestern 4
After dropping the first two games of the series, the Terps would not go down quietly. Maryland had a big second inning to give Dewey some run support. Kristina Dillard hit a two-run double to left center, and then Northwestern made a series of miscues. After Maryland took the 2-1 lead, the Wildcats made three errors in the inning that led to five runs.
Unfortunately for the Terps, they weren’t able to cruise after gaining a four-run lead. A strikeout and pickoff by Dillard got the Terps out of a jam in the second, but Northwestern cut the lead to one in the third inning. Peterson hit a two-run homer, her second of the series, and Brooke Marquez singled in a run.
Dewey ended the fourth inning with a big strikeout of Marissa Panko when the Wildcats had runners on second and third. The strikeout was the last batter for Dewey as Martin entered in the bottom of the fifth inning. Northwestern began to rally against Martin as the Wildcats loaded the bases with only one out. Martin managed to hold them scoreless by recording a groundout and strikeout to end the inning.
Martin kept the game interesting by recording a strikeout with the bases loaded to end the sixth inning. She kept it simple in the seventh inning as she retired the side in order to end the game.
Has Madison Martin run out of gas?
Martin has been a bright spot for the struggling Terps this year. The team’s had its best chances to win when she has been in the circle, including when the Terps shocked then-No. 1 Florida. A lack of pitching has forced head coach Julie Wright to be dependent on her ace.
Since shutting out St. John’s on March 20, the Terps lost eight straight games before the win Sunday. Martin has started four games since her last win and has given up 20 runs in 15.4 innings.
When Martin seemed to be slumping, she had big strikeouts to get out of innings Sunday. However, that was after she allowed the tying run to reach scoring position in three straight innings.
The problem for Wright is that it appears that she has no other options in her bullpen. Dewey kept Maryland competitive in enough starts as the No. 2 in the rotation, but there has been no other reliable arms. After Dewey, Lauren Graves has an 11.2 ERA while Ari Jarvis is 0-5.
Martin’s recent struggles are a huge issue, but there does not appear to be any type of solution.
Making the Big Ten Tournament is going to be difficult for the Terps
Maryland is now 1-8 in conference play and is tied for last place with Rutgers (10-27, 1-8 Big Ten). With the poor record, missing the Big Ten tournament f is a strong possibility. The top 12 teams in the Big Ten make the tournament while the bottom two get left out like the Terps did a year ago. The Terps have 14 conference games remaining, including two games against Rutgers. However, even sweeping Rutgers may not even be enough to fall outside the bottom two of the conference. The Terps will have to begin scoreboard watching for any chance at the tournament and hope that a team like Iowa (9-22, 3-5 Big Ten) falters down the stretch.
Captain Kristina Dillard leads the team in RBIs and has thrown out 14 runners from behind the plate, but the focus for the rest of the season will be on the growth of young hitters like Anna Kufta, who had six hits over the weekend.
Things could get ugly next weekend when the Terps host No. 18 Michigan. The Wolverines (28-8-1, 8-1 Big Ten) are tied with No. 7 Minnesota for first place in the Big Ten and had won 14 straight games before losing to No. 25 Ohio State on Sunday. Michigan is a very balanced team that has both the second best hitting and pitching in the conference behind only Minnesota. The Wolverines have the best fielding percentage in the conference, so the Terps won’t be able to count on taking advantage of errors like they did Sunday.