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Maryland baseball drops series opener to Iowa, 6-4

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The Terps showed fight on offense, but their bullpen failed to get the job done.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

With Saturday’s series opener against Iowa tied at four in the top of the ninth, left-hander Ryan Ramsey and Maryland baseball looked to preserve the stalemate long enough to give itself a chance to come away with a win.

Hawkeye rightfielder Zeb Adreon had different plans. With one out in the inning, he got a hold of a Ramsey fastball and launched it over the left-centerfield wall for the home run to put his team up by two.

With their earlier comeback efforts crushed and a fantastic outing from starter Sean Burke wasted, the Terps fell to the Hawkeyes, 6-4, Saturday night.

The right-hander Burke has had his fair share of early game woes this season. The first inning, in particular, has been a bugaboo of sorts for the Maryland ace; he had surrendered five first-inning runs over his three prior starts.

“I actually talked to Jason Savacool about some of his pregame stuff and what he does in the bullpen during warmups,” Burke said. “I think it was more of a shift of putting some more intent into the pitches earlier in the game and letting that carry over into the later innings... today was just a case of coming out more aggressive in the first couple of innings.”

The redshirt sophomore retired the side in order in the top of the first, giving the Terps the chance to open the scoring. Iowa starter Drew Irvine countered with a 1-2-3 inning of his own, striking out Randy Bednar and Maxwell Costes in an impressively strong first trip through the top of the order.

Maryland put the game’s first baserunner in scoring position in the bottom of the second with a one-out double to left by shortstop Benjamin Cowles. Irvine remained stingy, however, as a defensive shift robbed left fielder Logan Ott of an RBI single up the middle and kept the game scoreless.

“When you face pitchers like that that mix well, are able to throw all of their pitches over the plate for strikes, you just have to make sure that you can’t stay in-between on pitches,” Bednar said. “I think the most important thing in games like this is taking something away in each at bat. When you do that you start wearing guys out on the mound, that’s when you’re able to put up more runs later on if you have to.”

Both pitchers continued that trend through the first three innings of the game, displaying strikeout stuff and consistently missing their opponent’s bats. Maryland and Iowa were both able to get runners on in scoring position but weren’t able to deliver base hits in the clutch to push runs across.

Iowa centerfielder Ben Norman broke that pattern in the top of the fourth, driving a fastball off of the scoreboard in right field to open the scoring and put Maryland at a one-run disadvantage.

Iowa put Burke in a jam once again in the sixth, putting another two runners into scoring position with a real opportunity to bury the Maryland lineup. The Hawkeyes pushed one run across on a fielder’s choice from DH Tyler Snep, but were unable to keep the rally going as Burke buckled down and produced a pop-out from left fielder Brayden Frazier to end the inning.

“I thought Burke was phenomenal to start,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “He cut a ball to Norman that he made him pay for, and after that, it was pretty much sheer dominance from Burke’s part.”

The Terps began to mount a comeback in the bottom of the inning, thanks to a single to left from right fielder Randy Bednar and a walk to first baseman Maxwell Costes. With two runners on and one out, the middle of the order had an opportunity to back up their hard-working ace.

As Irvine finally appeared to labor on the mound, Maryland had the heart of its order step to the plate with a legitimate chance to make Saturday’s contest a tie ballgame. After a fly out to left from designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak, Cowles stepped to the plate with a crucial opportunity for his squad.

The Maryland shortstop got under the two-strike offering from Irvine, flipping his bat in disgust as the ball floated into shallow centerfield. Miscommunication between Norman and Fullard, however, resulted in the ball hitting the turf and scoring two key Terrapin runs.

After surrendering one earned run and striking out eleven Hawkeyes through six innings, Burke was lifted for right-handed closer Sam Bello. Bello surrendered a single up the middle to Fullard, but the Maryland infield turned a double play to erase the leadoff baserunner and end any potential threat from the Iowa lineup.

Irvine followed Burke in exiting Saturday’s matchup in the seventh after an equally stellar performance. He was relieved by right-hander Jackson Payne, who was charged with holding a re-invigorated Maryland lineup at bay.

Sophomore third baseman Matt Orlando had other plans for Payne. With one out in the seventh, Maryland’s eight-hole hitter lined a ball over the wall in left, putting the Terps up for the first time all evening and finally breaking through against a potent Hawkeye pitching staff.

The Hawkeyes were not content with wasting a stellar outing from Irvine. With two outs in the top of the eighth, Iowa took the lead back on a long two-run homer to right from first baseman Peyton Williams.

Bello, who looked untouchable in his first inning of work and had yet to surrender an earned run before Saturday’s game, lost the lead and his perfect ERA on his first mistake of the night.

What was a pitcher’s duel through the first five innings had turned into a bonafide home run derby before the end of the eighth inning. Senior right fielder Randy Bednar drove a towering homer over the wall in dead center, just out of the reach of center fielder Ben Norman, and re-tied the contest at four in the last of the eighth.

Iowa ultimately threw the last punch against left-hander Ryan Ramsey as he allowed his third and fourth earned runs of the year in dramatic fashion on a long home run to left-center by Adreon.

With the Terps’ hopes of pulling out a win deflated, the Hawkeyes worked a scoreless bottom of the ninth and solidified a crushing defeat for Maryland.

“That’s a game you want to win. I think it hurts, our guys are competitive and they want to win,” Vaughn said. “Bello and Ramsey are the two guys in the right spots [there]... I think the game of baseball can be a really cruel game and it can be a really fun game. Obviously tonight it kind of punched us in the gut.”

Three things to know

1. Sean Burke turned in his best outing of the season on Saturday. Burke was due for a solid outing, and he delivered just that for his team on Saturday. The redshirt sophomore righty turned in six strong innings, surrendering just one earned run and striking out eleven Hawkeyes in the process. He was aggressive early in counts, attacking Iowa’s lineup with his mid-90s fastball and power slider. Burke pitching like he did in this weekend’s series opener will be crucial to Maryland’s push for an NCAA Tournament bid.

“I think he’s a first-rounder, I think he’s got first-round stuff,” Vaughn said. “I thought he was way more efficient with his pitches, and when you strike out eleven, and you’re efficient, that’s tough. I thought that was his best outing of the year without it being close.”

2. Matt Orlando has earned a spot in the lineup. Orlando picked up most of his innings in Maxwell Costes’ absence, filling in for him at first base while he tended to a wrist injury. Despite the return of Costes, Orlando proved he could be a mainstay in the lineup, posting a meager .103 batting average but driving in four runs from the bottom of the order and playing clean defense. Orlando’s home run in the eighth inning was a key part of the Terps’ attempt to fight back against the Hawkeyes and keep Saturday’s game competitive down the stretch.

3. The Terps failed to build positive momentum. After Burke’s lights out start to the game, Maryland’s bullpen was unable to follow up with a solid performance of their own. Sam Bello and Ryan Ramsey, two of Maryland’s best relievers out of the bullpen, were unable to hold the Hawkeyes at bay as Burke had and surrendered four runs in two innings, all by way of the long ball.

“I definitely think that [coming into a game with two outs and runners on base] is a difficult thing to do,” Burke said. “Just knowing you aren’t getting a fresh inning, you’re kind of thrown into the fire there... I think the biggest thing with [Ramsey] is keeping his confidence up because he’s throwing the ball so well.”