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Maryland baseball struggles in late battle, falls to Penn State, 6-5

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The Terps were put in a hole down the stretch and tried to battle back, but the Nittany Lions were too much to handle.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Just like Saturday’s 19-10 Terps victory, Maryland baseball was forced to come up with runs late in the game on Sunday to overcome a ninth-inning deficit in Sunday’s matinee at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Both teams fought for control down the stretch, relying yet again on eighth and ninth inning scoring efforts to put the game away. After Maryland scored two runs in the top of the ninth to tie the game, Penn State quickly loaded the bases for Josh Spiegel in the bottom half of the inning.

The Penn State dugout, eager to take home a well-earned victory, lined the dugout railing in anticipation. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Spiegel lined a would-be extra-base hit into the gap in left-center, driving in the winning run and sending his teammates sprinting out of the dugout to celebrate. Dejected after squandering a late comeback effort, the Terps walked off of the field following the 6-5 defeat.

“It was a tough game,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “We were really sloppy at times throughout the game today. They did a good job of making freebies come back to bite us.”

A heartbreaking loss for the Terps, the defeat wasted a solid outing from right-hander Connor Staine and dropped their season record to 4-6.

The Terps got to work early once again on Sunday against Penn State starter Connor Larkin. Centerfielder Chris Alleyne blooped a single into shallow right-center and advanced to third on a ball in the dirt and subsequent overthrow at second base. Senior right fielder Randy Bednar then grounded a first-pitch single through the middle to score the first run of the afternoon for Maryland.

Bednar’s 10th RBI of the season and fourth in the last two days put the Terps on the board first for the second time in this series, creating an early advantage for Maryland starter Connor Staine.

Bednar led the top of the fourth off with his second single of the afternoon, and designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak lined an opposite-field homer over the 375-foot marker in right-center. With his second long ball of the season, Zmarzlak provided some extra breathing room for the cruising Staine, with Maryland holding a 3-0 advantage in the top of the fourth.

Penn State finally began making a game of it with a strong response in the bottom half of the inning. With runners on second and third with two outs, Staine’s 1-2 offering was blooped down the right-field line by Tayven Kelly for a two-run double, shortening the Maryland lead to 3-2.

Staine retired the first two batters in the bottom of the fifth in rapid fashion, looking to give his team yet another chance to create some space. But Williams turned a fastball around to the tune of a long solo home run, leaving the bat at 107 miles an hour and tying the game at three in the fifth.

After surrendering an early lead, Connor Larkin was magnificent in the fifth and sixth, retiring six consecutive batters and compiling eight strikeouts on the afternoon in order to silence Maryland’s offense.

“I thought Connor Larkin, their guy, was outstanding today,” Vaughn said, commending his lineup’s ability to put pressure on him early on.

A starter in the season’s first two series, left-hander Sean Fisher replaced Staine in the bottom of the sixth. Fisher surrendered a first-pitch single to Homer and a two-out walk to Bartels, but retired Wood on a ground ball to second baseman Kevin Keister.

But as each team began to dip into its bullpen with both teams still knotted at three runs apiece, it began to become more and more clear that this one was going to come right down the wire once again.

A two-out walk to Jay Harry put another runner in scoring position as Shliger failed to control another ball in the dirt. Catcher Josh Spiegel grounded a hard single into right, scoring Harry and giving the Nittany Lions their first lead of the series at 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh.

Penn State tacked on another run in the bottom of the eighth on yet another mishandled ball behind the plate, this time by replacement catcher Riley Langerman. With just three outs to work with, the Terps would need to come up with two runs in the top of the ninth to play on.

“There were some tough pitches today,” Vaughn said on his catchers’ difficulty with controlling balls in the dirt. “[Connor] Staine had three wild pitches, [Sean] Fisher had two, and we had another passed ball mixed in there... we just weren’t clean enough.”

Costes lined a single into left to lead off the ninth, and after back-to-back strikeouts by Troy Schreffler Jr. and Kevin Keister, Alleyne and Shaw both lined extra-base hits to the wall in left field, tying the game and forcing Penn State to mount another offensive chance.

“To be completely honest, I wasn’t feeling pressured or feeling anxious leading off the ninth inning,” Costes said. “I’ve kind of come to some understanding about baseball, it kind of just is what it is. You can really only go up there and give your best effort, and whatever happens, happens.”

The Nittany Lions wasted no time in grabbing a last-minute win, loading the bases with no outs against righty Elliot Zoellner and setting the table for Josh Spiegel.

Spiegel took full advantage of his opportunity and ended the game with a walk-off single to left-center, spoiling Maryland’s comeback efforts in the top half of the ninth.

“It’s definitely frustrating, especially with a game like that,” Bednar said. “I think just like anything in life you just have to look at it as a learning experience and try to bounce back from it, try to have a short-term memory.”

Three things to know

1. Maryland pitching struggled again in Sunday’s contest. Connor Staine was solid in Sunday’s start, going five innings with four strikeouts and giving up three earned runs. Sean Fisher, who came in relief, was slightly less stellar, throwing three innings and giving up two runs. The Terps struggled to hold Penn State down in the late innings, allowing the Nittany Lions to score in each of the final three innings and conceding a walk-off defeat in Happy Valley.

2. Penn State’s bats took over to set up a rubber match on Monday. The Nittany Lions took advantage of miscues behind the plate and tallied 12 hits on the afternoon. Catcher Josh Spiegel led the way with a 3-5 performance, driving in two runs and delivering the final blow on Sunday. Seven Nittany Lions recorded hits, and Penn State was able to leverage a solid offensive day throughout the lineup en route to the 6-5 victory.

3. Maxwell Costes returns to the field for the first time in two weeks. Costes pinch hit for first baseman Matt Orlando in the top of the seventh, taking his first in-game at-bat in two weeks. He added a single to left in the ninth to spark the Terps’ late comeback and was an important presence in the Maryland lineup late in the game. Regarded as one of the best first basemen in the country, Costes will be an important part of Maryland’s scoring threat once he returns to the batting order full-time.

“Just like anybody else, [Maxwell] wants to try to get back on the field as quick as possible,” Bednar said. “Hopefully he’s 100% healthy as soon as possible, but it’s great to see him out there playing.”