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Maryland baseball uses a strong first two innings to blow past Rutgers, 9-5

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The Terps were threatened with another deficit, but scored six runs in the first two innings to answer and even the series.

Photo from @TerpsBaseball

Maryland baseball was faced with yet another early deficit in Sunday’s series finale against Rutgers.

The Terps trailed the Scarlet Knights at some point in the first four innings of all three games of the series coming into the matchup, and the first inning of Sunday’s matinee was no different.

Down one, Maryland’s resilient scoring attack, led by right fielder Randy Bednar and designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak, earned six runs through the first two innings to turn the game around en route to a 9-5 win, splitting the four-game series and improving their record to 3-5 on the season.

“Obviously, really pleased with the effort today all around,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “It’s been a long weekend already, and I thought the boys responded very maturely.”

Rutgers right fielder Josh Rodriguez led off the game with a single to the right-center gap, which Richie Schiekofer followed up with a single under a diving first baseman Matt Orlando at first base. Rodriguez then scored on a fielder’s choice from third baseman Chris Brito to take a one-run lead.

Maryland refused to stay down. Centerfielder Chris Alleyne led off with a walk, and third baseman Matt Shaw pushed him to second with an opposite-field base hit to right. Rightfielder Randy Bednar walked to load the bases, bringing Zmarzlak to the plate with a chance to strike back for Maryland.

A Zmarzlak walk and Orlando single to left drove in two for the Terps, chasing Hoopes from the game with just 23 pitches thrown and no outs recorded. Jared Bellissimo, Hoopes’ replacement, struck out catcher Luke Shliger.

Shortstop Benjamin Cowles, the conference leader in home runs as of Saturday, just missed his seventh long ball of the season for a sacrifice fly to center. Bellissimo produced a fly out from second baseman Tommy Gardiner, but the damage had been done. Maryland took a 3-1 lead after one inning of play.

Maryland forced a second pitching change in as many innings, and Zmarzlak greeted Scarlet Knight reliever Aaron Winkler with a two-RBI double to left-center.

Winkler lasted just 11 pitches before being tapped out for Justin Sinibaldi, who finally retired the Maryland side. The Terps continued to take advantage of scoring opportunities, however, taking a 6-1 lead into the third inning.

“Our approach is pretty straightforward across the board, it’s that everybody puts together good at-bats,” third baseman Matt Shaw said. “Today we were just able to string them along, and a couple of balls went our way.”

Rutgers added a run in the fifth thanks to a homer from first baseman Jordan Sweeney, but Savacool continued to attack the Rutgers lineup and retired the next two Scarlet Knights in the inning to limit the damage and get the Maryland offense back in the batter’s box.

The Terps set themselves up to take advantage of Savacool’s quick rebound in the bottom half of the fifth, thanks to a leadoff double down the third baseline by Shliger. The Maryland backstop advanced to third on a wild pitch from Sinibaldi, and the red hot Cowles added his second sacrifice fly of the afternoon to expand the lead to 7-2.

Rutgers refused to surrender in the later innings and finally broke through against Savacool. The top of the sixth yielded third baseman Chris Brito’s sixth long ball of the season, a towering blast over the batter’s eye in center, bringing the Scarlet Knights within four runs yet again.

“Those guys are scary, man. Brito had an unbelievable weekend,” Vaughn said. “If there are too many better hitters in college baseball, I don’t know where they’re at. When you start hitting 2-0 sliders out to right-center, that’s when a hitter is locked in.”

Savacool hit left fielder Evan Sleight in the leg and walked second baseman Grant Schulman, and Sweeney knocked in a run with a double to right-center. Lefty Ryan Ramsey replaced Savacool, giving up one more run before eventually working out of the inning.

The freshman’s afternoon was finished after yet another shaky start from a Maryland starting pitcher. He went five and two-thirds innings, surrendered five earned runs, and struck out six. Despite his solid start, the Maryland youngster dwindled down the stretch and left the game with the Terps clinging to a 7-5 lead.

The Terps were insistent on putting more space between themselves and the Scarlet Knights. Shaw led the bottom of the sixth off with a solo home run down the right-field line, and Randy Bednar followed up with a solo shot of his own to right-center.

The back-to-back shots were the 19th and 20th home runs between the two teams on the weekend, and Maryland pushed the lead to 9-5.

“It came at a really good time, a really important time,” Shaw said on the first homer of his career. “I was just happy to do my job at the plate and add to our lead.”

Left-hander Tevin Murray replaced Sinibaldi and was able to work out of a jam to keep the Scarlet Knight deficit at four runs.

Murray worked himself into a jam in the bottom of the seventh and was replaced by left-handed pitcher Eric Reardon. The Terps failed to capitalize on a bases-loaded situation with one out, and Rutgers had all the momentum against Ramsey going into the late innings of Sunday’s game.

But Ramsey retired the side in the seventh and eighth, preventing the Scarlet Knights from chipping away at Maryland’s four-run lead. After collecting the first two outs in the top of the ninth, closer Sam Bello shut the door and solidified a much-needed victory for the Terps.

“As a reliever, you just have to be ready to come in at any point,” Ramsey said. “I’ve gotten a lot better at this year than last year, being able to come into those situations and being absolutely ready to get an out off the bat.”

Three things to know

1. Maryland’s starting pitching was bailed out yet again by its offense. Jason Savacool fell victim to Rutgers’ scoring prowess on Sunday, just as all three previous Maryland starters had over the weekend. The Terps were able to outscore Rutgers in games one and four to split the series, but Maryland played from behind in all four games of the weekend and fought off a resurgent Scarlet Knights lineup on Sunday to salvage a win.

2. Both teams showed their high octane offenses. Rutgers came into Sunday’s game leading the conference in homers (15), RBI (50), slugging percentage (.509), hits (64), and total bases (119), far and away to most productive scoring threat in the league. The Terps were able to go toe to toe with the Scarlet Knights over the course of the series, and combine with their opponent for 20 homers over the four-game set, scoring 32 runs on the weekend.

3. Maryland will have an opportunity to grab their first series win next weekend. The Terps will travel to Penn State’s campus for a three-game set against the 2-4 Nittany Lions. Coming off of a series split against the best offense in the conference, Maryland will look to continue to stay hot and improve its record against a conference rival.

“I’ve got a laundry list of things we gotta do better,” Vaughn said. “We did some good things, but there are some things we can clean up ... [we have a] COVID test tomorrow, make sure we’re all good there, and then we’ll line up on Tuesday for a good day of work and head out to Happy Valley on Thursday. “