In the bottom of the fourth inning of Monday’s series finale between Maryland baseball and Penn State, freshman starter Jason Savacool worked himself into a potentially disastrous situation, trying to cling to a narrow one-run advantage.
The Nittany Lions loaded the bases with no outs on three consecutive hits. Savacool was producing soft contact, but hits simply started to fall in for the home team as they moved through their lineup for the second time.
Designated hitter Josh Spiegel drove in a run on a fielder’s choice double play, evening the score at one apiece, setting up a precarious scenario for the youngster who was making just his third collegiate appearance.
However, Savacool displayed a veteran approach in a high-pressure environment and struck out Gavin Homer amidst jeers from the Penn State dugout. The freshman worked himself out of a massive jam and put the momentum back in his team’s dugout.
The freshman’s shining performance was the backbone of Maryland’s dominant 7-1 series-clinching victory over Penn State, bringing the team’s season record to 5-6.
“We really needed a great start. Starting pitching really sets the tone,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “And my goodness, Jason Savacool was about as impressive as you can be.”
Savacool tossed his second complete-game victory of the season, giving up one unearned run on five hits and striking out three on just 92 pitches. He now stands at 3-0 on the season and has made his presence known as the Terps’ best pitcher.
Penn State starter Kyle Virbitsky, pitching to the tune of an 8.38 ERA coming into today’s contest, retired the side in the first on strikes, varying the tempo of his windup and keeping the Terps off balance.
Savacool countered with a clean inning of his own, working around an infield single from first baseman Cole Bartels and a mishandled ball behind the plate by catcher Luke Shliger to retire the side.
Shortstop Benjamin Cowles was hit by a fastball on the wrist in the top of the second and left fielder Logan Ott lined a single into right to set up a legitimate scoring chance early on for the Terps.
Virbitsky would buckle down, however, and retire the Maryland side in the second and strand another Terp baserunner in scoring position.
Both starters remained solid throughout the early innings, refusing to fall into the sloppy early play of the first two games of this series. In this series’ closest rendition of an early pitcher’s duel, Virbitsky and Savacool showed grit and composure on the bump to keep the first two innings quiet for the first time all series.
Maryland broke through in the third on an RBI single from Shliger, who punched a ground ball through the left side to score Bednar. Penn State had an opportunity to end the inning in the previous at-bat but botched a double play opportunity to bring Shliger to the plate.
As Virbitsky broke in the third, Savacool remained calm and collected on the mound. He retired the side in order in the bottom half of the inning, not shying away from contact and forcing the Nittany Lions to put the ball in play.
“The approach today was really just to try to extend through the game and try to get through a decent portion of the game,” Savacool said. “My slider was a lot better today than it was last outing, so that helped me out a lot. It plays off of my two-seam well, and I was able to get them to pound [the ball] into the ground a lot.”
After Savacool’s clutch performance to end the fourth, the Terps loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the fifth on a reached-on-error, walk and Maxwell Costes’ third hit by pitch of the afternoon. Unlike Penn State, however, Maryland was able to put up a crooked number and give Savacool breathing room going forward.
Designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak chopped a ball over the head of Justin Williams at third, driving in Maryland’s second run of the afternoon on an infield single. Shliger lifted a ball to the warning track in left for a sacrifice fly, and shortstop Benjamin Cowles re-loaded the bases with a single to left.
After a solid start, Virbitsky was pulled from the game and replaced by Jared Freilich. The Terps left the inning leading 3-1, but Freilich tallied a massive strikeout of Gardiner to end the inning, yelling and pumping his fist on his way back to an exuberant Penn State dugout.
Savacool returned for the bottom of the fifth to swiftly halt any momentum Penn State picked up, retiring the side in order and getting the Maryland offense back in the batter’s box.
“My job is just to keep Jason confident on the mound,” Shliger said on working with his fellow freshman from behind the plate. “I think it’s just having confidence in each other. I know he’s going to land a pitch.”
The Terps were quick to take advantage of the opportunity to score again. Alleyne led the top of the sixth with a towering home run to right, his second of the season, widening the Maryland advantage to 4-1 in the top of the sixth.
The Terps took advantage of a laboring Freilich to load the bases with one out in the seventh, driving in one more run before forcing a Penn State pitching change.
Righty Ralph Gambino took the mound and promptly surrendered two more runs without the ball leaving the infield. With Savacool still looking sharp, the Terps took a 7-1 into the bottom of the seventh, which held throughout the rest of play for the series-clinching victory.
“I’m the type of guy who starts a game, and I want to finish it. There’s nothing more that I like than throwing a complete game,” Savacool said. “You only get one start a week, so I’m trying to stay out there as long as I possibly can, and extend through the game and give us a chance to win.”
Three things to know
1. Jason Savacool was lights out in his third start of the season. Savacool turned in another strong performance to earn his third win on the year. He held the Nittany Lions to just one unearned run over nine innings to provide much-needed momentum for the Maryland offense, working himself out of trouble at times and refusing to give up solid contact. He struck out only three batters, but was fearless on the mound and worked economically to lead Maryland to a big win at the quarter mark of the 2021 season.
“Every time he’s touched the baseball, he’s gotten more efficient,” Vaughn said. “Shoot, that guy just knows what he’s trying to do. On gameday, he’s a different animal ... that dude is well beyond his years.”
2.Maryland’s defense was much improved in Monday’s game. Maryland was able to overpower Penn State in game one, overcoming a handful of defensive mistakes to grab a win. The Terps were less fortunate in Sunday’s game, as a flurry of wild pitches, passed balls, and errors gave Penn State too many chances to climb back into what would eventually be a loss for Maryland. The Terps were locked in on Monday, making the simple plays but also flashing the leather as they were able to keep Penn State to just one run.
3.Maxwell Costes returns to the starting lineup for the first time in two weeks. Sidelined since opening weekend with a wrist injury, Costes made his return to the starting lineup on Monday. A 1-2 performance at the plate combined with solid defensive play at first base proves how integral Costes is to this Maryland team. He should be healthy to return to the lineup full time in next weekend’s split series against Iowa and Ohio State.