After watching an early six-run lead slip from its grasp, Maryland baseball was forced to steal a last-minute victory with its offense.
Tied at nine in the top of the eighth, the Terps mounted a five-run offensive attack on the backs of senior right fielder Randy Bednar and senior second baseman Tommy Gardiner. Both contributed two-run singles in a rally that proved to be too much for Penn State to overcome.
“I thought we were relentless offensively.” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “I credit our offensive players, man. Those guys kept grinding at-bats off ... since we’ve been here, [today was] probably the most complete offensive game we’ve played.”
The Terps overcame a rocky pitching performance and tallied 19 on 15 hits to grab a 19-10 win in a wild back and forth contest on Saturday, bailing out their bullpen and surviving a game that saw a combined seven errors between the two teams to improve their record to 4-5 on the season.
Maryland got to work from the first pitch against Penn State starter Bailey Dees. After center fielder Chris Alleyne reached on and advanced to second on a wild pitch, he was driven in by a Matthew Shaw single to left.
Not trying to do too much at the plate, the Maryland batting order kept the line moving. With two outs and two strikes, shortstop Benjamin Cowles added another two runs with a sharp line drive to center bringing home right fielder Randy Bednar and designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak.
Having been outscored in the first inning 12-6 on the season, it was Maryland’s turn to strike first on Saturday, taking a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the first.
Right-handed pitcher Sean Burke, keen on overcoming the first inning difficulties he has had in his first two starts of the season, was lights out to open the game. He struck out two Nittany Lions en route to a perfect bottom of the first.
The Terps would threaten in the second and finally break through again in the fourth. Second baseman Tommy Gardiner hit a hard single into left to send Cowles home. Alleyne followed up with an RBI triple down the right-field and Maryland extended its lead to 6-0.
Burke cruised through the first three innings, striking out seven and allowing just one baserunner.
Center fielder Johnny Piacentino opened the scoring for the Nittany Lions in the fourth, dropping a bloop single into left that was bobbled by Logan Ott. Burke struck out the next batter but surrendered a two-run double to shortstop Jay Harry. First baseman Cole Bartels knocked an RBI single into right, adding the fourth run of the inning and making it 6-4. Right-hander Sean Heine replaced Burke and quickly ended the threat, but the damage had been done.
Reminiscent of last Sunday, the Terps saw an early advantage evaporate before the middle innings were finished. It would be up to the Maryland offense to create some breathing room for their bullpen for the remainder of the game.
Cowles, the conference co-leader in home runs coming into the game, took advantage of two runners on base. The Maryland shortstop launched a three-run home run to dead center field, his seventh long ball of the season, and extended Maryland’s lead to 9-4 in the top of the fifth.
“I think everyone’s just feeling energetic and having fun at the plate,” Alleyne said. “Hitting is contagious, so when the guys in front of you hitting good, it kind of gives you some confidence to say ‘Hey, I can pick it up’ and pass the torch to the next guy.”
Penn State got to work quickly in the bottom of the inning, getting two men on base. Maryland third baseman Matthew Shaw’s fifth error of the year and Maryland’s third of the game shortened the lead to 9-5, and forced head coach Rob Vaughn to call on left-hander Ryan Ramsey, his best reliever so far this season. Ramsey struck out the side in order and ended the Nittany Lion threat.
Miller and Ramsey traded strikeout-laden scoreless innings until the bottom of the seventh when a Piacentino double off of the right-center wall spoiled what had been a dazzling relief performance.
“I thought Ramsey was tremendous today,” Vaughn said. “All of our guys, just towards the end of their outing, just started to labor a little bit.”
Penn State would score both base runners on a passed ball and RBI fielder’s choice from left fielder Kyle Hannon. Redshirt freshman David Falco, who replaced Ramsey, allowed an RBI double to third baseman Justin Williams brought the deficit to just one run.
We’ve had way, way, way too many wild pitches and passed balls the first two weekends,” Vaughn said on catcher Justin Vought’s run-conceding passed ball. “I coach our catchers. I haven’t done a good enough job, kind of, making sure we’re taking care of that baseball.”
Maryland was able to preserve the lead by throwing the trail runner out at the plate on a perfect relay from Alleyne and Cowles, but a balk by Falco allowed Penn State to tie the game on an RBI infield single from Cole Bartels. Maryland’s early six-run lead evaporated completely, and the Nittany Lions came all the way back to tie the game at nine.
Lefty Tyler Blohm replaced Falco and worked out of the inning, but the damage had been done. Maryland had just two innings to come up with a score and victory.
Penn State brought in a lefty reliever of its own in Hutch Gagnon, who promptly hit Ott with a pitch and was pulled for Mason Mellott. The Terps immediately loaded the bases with no outs against Mellott, and Bednar lined a two-RBI single into left to regain the lead. Luke Shliger, pinch-hitting for Vought, lined a single into left to add another run. Second baseman Tommy Gardiner lined another single into left, and the Terps took a 14-9 lead into the bottom of the eighth.
Blohm quickly loaded the bases in the bottom half of the inning, forcing Vaughn to go to his bullpen yet again. Closer Sam Bello took the mound in a pivotal spot for the Terps. Bello surrendered a run on a walk, but limited the damage to just one run.
“I thought [Tyler] Blohm threw the ball pretty good,” Vaughn said. “I thought all of our arms who were giving up runs, at times they threw the ball well. They all kind of hit a wall, or they had a mistake behind them that compounded.”
With a 14-10 lead in the top of the ninth, Maryland was intent on putting the game out of reach. Randy Bednar drove in a run with an RBI single to left, and a sac fly from Orlando improved Maryland’s lead to 16-10. A wild pitch and throwing error tacked on another two runs, and Maryland took a 19-10 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
“Our batting practice before the game was the best we’ve ever had,” Bednar said. “Not just based on our performance, but based on our energy and the way we took batting practice. I think that set the tone for us going into this game today.”
Bello would lock in and retire the Nittany Lions in order in the bottom of the ninth, solidifying the win for Maryland.
Three things to know
1. Benjamin Cowles remains the most dangerous hitter in Maryland’s lineup. With six home runs in his last five games and seven on the season, Cowles is undoubtedly the biggest power threat in the Terps’ lineup. Improving his slash line to .429/514/1.214, the Maryland shortstop added a double and a long home run, increasing his RBI total to 16.
2. Big Ten batters continue to hit well against Maryland pitching. Maryland’s pitching staff surrendered ten over the course of Saturday’s game, letting Penn State stick around in a game that appeared to be out of reach in the early innings. Sean Burke started brilliantly, but faltered late and didn’t make it through the fifth inning. The Maryland bullpen surrendered the remainder of what had been a six-run advantage, forcing the Terps to grab a win with their bats.
3. Maxwell Costes remains sidelined with a wrist injury. While Costes is available to play this weekend, he was not subbed into Saturday’s game amid a flurry of late substitutions made by head coach Rob Vaughn. Costes, who hasn’t played since the finale of the Michigan State series, is an integral piece of the Maryland lineup and defense and will provide another power bat at first base for the Terps when he does return.