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Maryland baseball rallies, but falls short in rubber match against Illinois

The Terps scored four in the ninth to tie it, but gave up a walk-off homer in the bottom of the inning.

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nick cieri
Sung Min Kim/Testudo Times

Down to the last out, Maryland baseball rallied for four runs to tie Illinois in the ninth inning, thanks to two big hits from Nick Dunn and Will Watson, but it wasn’t enough, as a walk-off home run from Mark Skonieczny gave the Fighting Illini an 8-6 victory and a weekend series win.

Watson hit two homers, including the game-tying two-run shot in the ninth, and drove in three runs on the day. Dunn delivered a two-run double earlier in the ninth as part of the rally. Maryland had its chances, but left nine runners on.

Taylor Bloom went 4.1 innings and allowed four runs. He was opposed by Matthew James, who gave up only two runs in six innings for the Fighting Illini.

Like Saturday, Illinois struck first, but this time in the second inning. Leadoff batter Michael Massey took Bloom deep to right field, his sixth of the season, to give the Fighting Illini a 1-0 lead.

The Terps led off the first four innings with hits, but all four were stranded. Maryland had real scoring chances in the second and in the fourth, when the Terps had two runners in scoring position with one out, but couldn’t bring either home.

In the fifth, Maryland had another chance to tie the game up, as Zach Jancarski reached on a throwing error that went out of play, advancing him to second. He then stole third, but was unable to come home as Brandon Gum flied out to center field.

In the bottom half, the Illini offense came alive. Bloom let the first four Illini batters reach, including two RBI singles from Ben Troike and Pat Mclnerney. Ryan Hill entered in relief of Bloom, but surrendered another run on a sacrifice fly from Massey, extending the Illinois lead to 4-0.

The Terps were able to get on the board in the sixth. After James retired the first two batters of the inning, Watson hit a foul ball that Illinois left fielder Bren Spillane attempted to catch, but he ended up injuring himself on the chain-link fence down the line, exiting the game. When the at-bat resumed, Watson jumped on the next pitch, hitting a solo home run to left, his third of the season, to cut the Illini lead to 4-1.

The Terps further cut into the Illini lead in the seventh. Dan Maynard started it off with a double, and Kevin Smith followed with a single, putting runners on the corners with no outs. That forced the Illini to pull James after six. Madison Nickens attempted a suicide squeeze, but popped the bunt up to the pitcher. Jancarski came up next and almost ended the inning with a double play, but he beat out the throw to first, allowing Maynard to score, cutting the lead to 4-2.

In the bottom half of the inning, Illinois further extended the lead. Troike reached on a single, and Mclnerney brought both of them home on a two-run opposite field home run, his 13th of the season, to put the Illini ahead 6-2.

The Terps had a golden opportunity for a big inning in the eighth, as they loaded the bases with only one out in the inning. Illinois pitcher Ryan Thompson left the game for Joey Gerber. Gerber struck out Maynard and Smith in succession to end the Maryland threat, stranding the bases loaded.

In the ninth, pinch hitter Nick Cieri and Jancarski both reached on walks. Gum’s fielders choice put him and Cieri at the corners with one out. Marty Costes struck out for the second out of the inning, but Dunn drove a pitch to the wall for a two-run double, cutting the Illinois lead down to 6-4. Watson came up next and launched the game-tying homer, his second of the game.

Jamal Wade came in to extend the game in the ninth, but walked the first batter he saw. Wade was taken out for Andrew Miller, who retired the next two batters before he gave up the walk-off home run to Skonieczny.

Maryland (31-15, 14-7 Big Ten) comes back home for its last home stand of the season, starting with UMBC on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET. That game can be seen on BTN Plus and heard on the Maryland Baseball Network.