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Maryland baseball drops Saturday doubleheader to Rutgers

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After a strong offensive game Friday night, the Terps struggled to get over the hump on Saturday.

Photo by @TerpsBaseball

Coming off of a 13-run performance in Friday night’s home opener against Rutgers, Maryland baseball looked to carry that offensive momentum into Saturday’s doubleheader.

A four-hit performance in game one halted that momentum in its tracks, as Rutgers’ bullpen held the Terps down. The Scarlet Knight offense also forced a short outing from Sean Fisher in a losing effort in Saturday’s first contest.

Maryland scored first in game two, but a resilient and dangerous Rutgers lineup took advantage of a rough outing from pitcher Connor Staine to take a mid-game advantage. The Terps chipped away in the mid and late innings but were unable to come away with a come-from-behind win.

A poor showing on the mound from Maryland pitchers sank the team as it dropped both games of Saturday’s doubleheader. The Terps are now 2-5 on the young season.

Maryland falters late, can’t match Rutgers offense in game one

Rutgers got on the board early in game one against starter Sean Fisher, scoring on RBI hits from third baseman Chris Brito and first baseman Jordan Sweeney in the first. A flurry of errors and softly hit singles brought in three total runs for the Scarlet Knights for the second night in a row, putting Maryland at a first-inning disadvantage right away.

“We didn’t play clean defense,” senior outfielder Randy Bednar said. “We didn’t play our best brand of baseball.”

The Terps were committed to continuing their recent power surge, despite once again facing an immediate deficit. In the second inning, first baseman Matt Orlando contributed his first home run of the season and shortstop Benjamin Cowles launched his fourth homer in six games to right-center.

Cowles surpassed his home run total from last season (3), and in just an inning and a half, the Scarlet Knights’ advantage was cut to just one run.

Maryland’s starting pitcher continued to have trouble holding the Scarlet Knights’ offense at bay. Chris Brito responded with an RBI double to the centerfield wall, expanding the lead to 4-2.

The Terps’ offense, keen on coming from behind yet again, tacked on another run on an Orlando sac fly to right, bringing the score to 4-3 after three innings.

Elliot Zoellner replaced Fisher in the top of the fourth with two runners on and one out. After waking the first batter he faced to load the bases, Zoellner locked in and retired Brito on a soft liner to Cowles at short, and followed up with a strikeout of left fielder Ryan Lasko, yelling in celebration as he walked off of the mound towards an ecstatic Maryland dugout.

With only seven innings to work with in Saturday’s early game, the Terps needed to quickly come up with a decisive hit. That opportunity would not come against Rutgers starter Ben Wereski, who maneuvered through the Maryland lineup efficiently aside from the two long balls.

Maryland looked to start a two-out rally in the fifth on the back of a Randy Bednar single to left, but Kyle Muller, who replaced Wereski, promptly retired designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak on strikes to end the inning.

Zoellner could only hold the Scarlet Knights at bay for an inning and a third. Right fielder Josh Rodriguez and shortstop Danny DiGeorgio both hit solo home runs in the top of the sixth, chasing Zoellner from the game and further putting room between Rutgers and the Terps.

Right-hander Chris Chaney replaced Zoellner and struggled to stop Rutgers in its tracks. Second baseman Bradley Norton knocked in a run with a perfectly executed safety-squeeze bunt and the Scarlet Knights expanded their lead to 7-3.

Josh Rodriguez would add his second homer on the day in the seventh and the growing deficit would prove insurmountable for the Terps. Maryland’s offense couldn’t muster more than their four total hits to keep up with Rutgers’ three home runs and ultimately fell, 9-3, in game one.

Maryland falls behind early, can’t recover in game two

The Terps looked to rebound from their mediocre offensive showing in game one with an efficient scoring display in game two.

Maryland starter Connor Staine worked a 1-2-3 first inning, giving the Terps the opportunity to score first for the first time this weekend.

And score, they did. Centerfielder Chris Alleyne led the bottom half of the inning off with a single and was driven in by a rocket double to center from third baseman Matt Shaw. Designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak drove Shaw in with a single to left, allowing the Terps to build an early advantage against Rutgers starter Brent Teller in game two.

After a strong first two innings, Staine was haunted by the long ball. Rutgers benefitted from a two-run home run in the third by first baseman Jordan Sweeney and another two-run homer in the fourth by third baseman Chris Brito. Peter Serruto added a two-run base hit in the fourth and Maryland fell behind once again.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been behind a couple of times,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “It was a strange outing. I really thought [Staine] had really good stuff tonight. Watching that game, if you had told me he had given up seven, I’d have told you ‘no shot’.”

With one out in the bottom of the fourth, second baseman Tommy Gardiner banged a triple off of the left-field wall, and scored on catcher James Heffley’s fielder’s choice to shortstop. Alleyne doubled down the right-field line, but Matt Shaw’s line drive was caught by Brito at third and ended the Maryland threat with the Terps still down 6-4.

Rutgers came back with another scoring effort in the top of the fifth, adding a run on another homer from the red hot Chris Brito, continuing to score on Staine’s replacement Sean Heine.

Down by four in the bottom of the sixth, the Terps needed to start coming up with runs in order to make the late innings interesting. With one out in the inning, Cowles and Gardiner hit back to back home runs to cut the Scarlet Knight advantage to just two runs, fighting to stay in lockstep with Rutgers’ offensive show.

As Sean Heine continued to limit the opposition’s scoring chances, Maryland just couldn’t muster any offensive rhythm against the Rutgers bullpen through the seventh inning. Cowles hit yet another home run in the bottom of the eighth, cutting the deficit to 8-7, but the Terps couldn’t push any more runs across going into the bottom of the ninth.

“I thought our at-bats were great,” Vaughn said. “I thought we competed really hard up and down the lineup. I thought we didn’t give in. I’m not one for moral victories, I don’t believe in them, but I did like the way we played in that second game.”

The Terrapins found themselves with a chance to play on beyond the final inning. Randy Bednar grounded into a fielder’s choice and advanced on a throwing error by Kevin Welsh, representing the tying run with two outs. Matt Orlando walked bringing up left fielder Tucker Flint.

Flint battled but ultimately struck out on a slider from Rutgers closer Brian Fitzpatrick, solidifying Saturday’s doubleheader sweep for the Scarlet Knights.

“We didn’t play a bad game,” Alleyne said. “We can still leave the series 2-2. Obviously not what we came there to do, but we can salvage the weekend with a 2-2 if we just come out with great energy [tomorrow], take the positives from this game, and move on.”

Three things to know

1. Maryland’s starting pitching struggled on Saturday. Sean Fisher surrendered four runs (two earned) over three and a third innings in game one and Connor Staine faltered in game two, giving up seven earned in five innings. The Terps struggled to fight from behind in both games, fighting an uphill battle from the first couple of innings against a Rutgers pitching rotation and bullpen that did enough to quiet Maryland’s bats.

2. Rutgers’ bats came alive to make the series interesting. After putting up eight runs in a losing effort Friday night, the Scarlet Knights’ order took control in both games on Saturday for 17 total runs. Chris Brito led the way in both games, combining to go an astonishing 7-9 with seven RBI on the day. Josh Rodriguez added another three hits in game one, and Jordan Sweeney knocked in three runs in game two to keep Maryland’s offense behind in the run column all day.

3. Benjamin Cowles is the hottest hitter in Maryland’s lineup. Cowles combined for three home runs on the day and has now doubled his homer total from last season (3) in less than half as many games. His run support was well-timed on Saturday, either adding to the Terrapin lead or cutting into Rutgers’ advantage with all three long balls. In the three games against the Scarlet Knights thus far, Cowles has totaled six runs and five RBIs.

“Benny’s pretty incredible right now,” Vaughn said. “I’m a huge believer that the game will pay you back when you do things the right way, and the game’s paying Ben back right now. He’s put his heart and soul into this team.”