Down 4-2 in the fourth inning Friday night, Maryland baseball was in need of a breakthrough against Rutgers.
With one out and Tucker Flint on base, Benjamin Cowles lined a single to left, putting two runners on with one out. Catcher James Heffley then advanced Flint to third with a flyout to right field, setting the table for senior centerfielder Chris Alleyne with two runners on and two outs. The senior had a prime opportunity to do what Maryland’s offense from last weekend could not; drive in runs with two outs.
Alleyne missed an RBI double down the third baseline by inches on the first pitch of the at-bat. But two pitches later, Alleyne smacked a three-run home run over the batter’s eye in dead centerfield, showing off some power to the deepest part of the ballpark and giving the Terps a 5-4 advantage after four innings.
The fourth was one of three three-run innings the Terps put up en route to a 13-8 victory in their first home game of the 2021 season.
“I’m proud of the effort tonight,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “Not too typical Friday night baseball in this league, but we had to find a way to win, and our boys did that tonight.”
Faced with an early deficit in Friday’s home opener against Rutgers, Maryland baseball was forced to produce one of its strongest offensive performances in this young season.
The Terps’ offense was largely dormant last weekend against Michigan State, doing too little too late to stave off an efficient Spartan lineup in a weekend series that left Maryland with a 1-3 record to start the year. Despite their greatest efforts, the Terps struggled to come up with the big hit, especially with two outs.
Facing off against an early deficit against a potent Rutgers offense, Maryland would turn to veterans in shortstop Benjamin Cowles Alleyne to power them to a home-opener victory on Friday night.
Rutgers was aggressive in their at-bats early on, putting Burke in a first and third jam in the top of the first thanks to back-to-back knocks from designated hitter Josh Rodriguez and center fielder Richie Schiekofer. The speedy Schiekofer stole second with one out, and the red-hot right fielder Evan Sleight walked to load the bases after a strikeout of third baseman Chris Brito.
With Rodriguez creeping down the third-base line, Burke’s pitch got away from catcher Heffley and allowed the Scarlet Knights’ designated hitter to scamper home and open the scoring.
Shortstop Danny DiGiorgio followed up with a two-RBI single, and Rutgers amassed a three-run lead before the Terps took their first at-bat.
“It was a frustrating outing, I don’t think I had anything going as far as stuff-wise until later in the game,” Burke said. “[I have to] just go batter by batter, not make it a huge deal, and kind of win each battle as it comes up.”
Despite the early deficit, Maryland’s offense was intent on chipping away immediately against Rutgers ace Harry Rutkowski. The speedy Alleyne reached on an error and advanced to second on a Matt Shaw fly out to deep right-center. Alleyne then stole third and was driven home on a Randy Bednar groundout to shortstop to put the Terps on the board.
“I think Bubba [Alleyne] did an unbelievable job in the first of creating a run for us without a hit,” Vaughn said. “It’s what seniors do, and he did that, and it allowed us to keep going.”
Shortstop Benjamin Cowles was integral to the Terps’ offense in their lone win last weekend against Michigan State. He was responsible for two runs in Sunday’s matinee and the first victory of the season for the Terps.
Cowles was just as important to the Terps on Friday afternoon as Maryland continued to try to come from behind in support of their starter. With two outs, Cowles got a hold of a Rutkowski fastball and drove it out to one of the deepest parts of the ballpark, just to the right of the batter’s eye in center. A three-run first inning deficit had dwindled to just one run in an inning and a half.
“I think we’re coming far as a team so far,” Cowles said. “The first game we struggled a bit, but I think we’re getting our confidence back.”
Rutgers refused to go quietly, however, scoring another run in the third inning to extend its lead to 4-2.
With five runs already on the board for Maryland following the fourth inning explosion, Rutkowski remained on the mound in the bottom of the fifth. Wanting to give their starter some extra breathing room, designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak went with an outside offering from the Rutgers starter and sent it over the right field wall, giving the Terps a 6-4 lead and continuing the Maryland lineup’s hot hitting.
Burke came out to start the top of the sixth, but gave up a single to catcher Peter Serruto and walked left fielder Mike Nyisztor to put two on and two out. Right-hander David Falco came on in relief in Burke, but a passed ball by Heffley pushed a run across for Rutgers, cutting the deficit to 6-5 with the tying run still in scoring position.
Falco got Schiekofer to ground out and end the inning, but the Terps would need more run support from their offense to create some breathing room between them and the Scarlet Knights.
And Maryland did just that. Tommy Gardiner walked to lead the inning off, chasing Rutkowski from the game. Ben Gorski replaced the Rutgers standout and was greeted by the red hot Cowles, who skied a fly ball over the wall in right-center for a two-run homer, his second of the night. Bednar went on to drive Alleyne in with an RBI single. Suddenly, the offense had given its bullpen four runs of breathing room to work with.
Cowles didn’t think he had gotten enough of the pitch to hit it out until he saw it sail over the fence. “I was just trying to bust my butt around first, try to get a double out of it.”
Maryland continued its offensive attack in the seventh with a double to center by Tommy Gardiner. Cowles struck out to the new Rutgers pitcher Parker Scott, and a popped-up James Heffley squeeze miraculously fell in between Scott and the shortstop Danny DiGiorgio, bringing in another run. A Bednar walk would make it 12-5 Terps in the bottom of the seventh.
Rutgers’ was able to tack on three more runs in the eighth, but Maryland’s lead was ultimately insurmountable against a solid performance from Maryland’s bullpen, solidifying the 13-8 victory.
Three things to know
1. Maryland found its power stroke. Zmarzlak, Cowles and Alleyne all went deep in Friday’s big win. Extra base hits were few and far between for the Terps last weekend, but they had no problem hitting for power in this weekend’s series opener, collecting five extra-base hits and driving in 12 runs. Most notable so far is Cowles, who has already matched his home run total from last season in just five games.
2. Sean Burke was solid in his second start of the season and the bullpen followed suit. Maryland’s ace was able to work through a turbulent first inning, surrendering only two earned runs over the next four and two-thirds innings, striking out seven along the way. While Friday’s performance wasn’t as dominant as Burke is capable of, he did well to cool down a Rutgers lineup that scored 28 runs over four games last weekend. Maryland’s bullpen was equally as steadfast, overcoming a shaky series last weekend to hold the Rutgers lineup at bay for three and two-thirds innings.
3. First baseman Maxwell Costes remains sidelined with an injury. The most nationally recognizable name in the Maryland lineup, Costes, sat out Friday’s game with an apparent injury. While the Terp’s fared well without Costes in their four-home run night, his health will be an interesting story to follow throughout the season, as his offensive potential should contend with some of the best hitters across the country this season. He’ll miss the entirety of this weekend’s series, according to Vaughn.
“He’s been battling stuff in his wrist for a couple of weeks,” Vaughn said. “He was trying to play through it, but it just got to a point where he wasn’t going to play through it.”