Maryland baseball looked to continue its stellar play against Iowa on Friday night after completing its first sweep of the season last weekend.
After leading early, the Terps surrendered five unanswered runs in the sixth and seventh with consecutive safety squeeze bunts by right fielder Zeb Adreon and pitcher Dylan Nedved putting the game away for good, wasting a solid outing from Maryland ace Sean Burke.
The lineup just couldn’t fall into a rhythm, and the Terps dropped game one of this weekend’s four-game pod series to the Hawkeyes, 6-2, to fall to 13-13 on the season.
“You have to deserve to win on the road, and unfortunately we weren’t good enough,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “The reality is, sometimes against good arms on the road you have to make productive outs. We just made too many productive outs that blew up a couple of innings early.”
It was an inauspicious start for both Burke and Iowa workhorse Trenton Wallace as both pitchers loaded the bases in their first innings of work. Both pitchers settled in and recorded scoreless second innings before the Terps struck first in the top of the third.
Center fielder Chris Alleyne displayed his multifaceted talent, singling up the middle and advancing to third on a steal of second and subsequent overthrow. Left fielder Matthew Shaw lined out to center and forced Alleyne in, opening up a 1-0 lead for Maryland.
But the Terps still struggled to cash in on significant scoring chances. They left the bases loaded again in the fourth, forcing Wallace out of the game before third baseman Tommy Gardiner harmlessly bounced into a 6-4-3 double play to end the frame.
“We were taking hittable pitches, swinging at pitches we shouldn’t have,” Alleyne said. “Just kind of took ourselves out of at-bats more than he took them away from us. It was really just not a good day at the plate for the team as a whole.”
Burke had no issue holding onto his one-run advantage through the fifth. He stranded Iowa runners in scoring position in the third and fifth, racking up nine strikeouts along the way. He allowed two consecutive baserunners in the fifth before striking out the next two batters, screaming in excitement and pumping his fist after retiring first baseman Peyton Williams to end the inning.
Burke’s strong outing finally received reinforcements in the top of the sixth off the bat of Shaw. Freshman second baseman Kevin Keister singled to center and advanced to second on a fielder’s choice, and Shaw knocked him in with a single to center to double Maryland’s lead to 2-0.
Burke’s magical start was tested yet again in the bottom of the inning. Two Hawkeyes reached base after Maryland’s starter recorded his tenth strikeout of the night, setting the bottom of the Iowa order up with an opportunity to tie the game up.
Right fielder Zeb Adreon scored on a fastball that got to the backstop, and Burke’s 117th pitch was lined to the right-center gap by Brendan Sher, forcing in the leading run and giving Iowa a 3-2 lead.
“[Burke] was at the bottom of the order, we thought he had the matchups to [finish the inning],” Vaughn said on the end of Burke’s outing. “He had been landing the breaking ball all night and nobody had been swinging at it ... that guy did a good job, [Burke] left the breaking ball up and he put a good swing on it.”
The Terps looked to rally back in the next frame after Costes walked with no outs. Designated hitter Luke Shliger promptly ground into a double play, however, and right fielder Tucker Flint’s third strikeout of the inning brought Iowa’s offense back on the field with their lead still intact.
“We just weren’t competitive enough with two strikes ... when your 0-0, 3-0 [count] swing looks like your 0-2, 1-2 swing, that’s just a lack of buying into what we’re asking guys to do,” Vaughn said.
The wheels appeared to have fallen off for Maryland’s bullpen in the seventh. David Falco replaced Sean Heine, and Iowa tacked on two more runs, both by way of consecutive safety squeeze bunts. With the bases loaded and one out, the Hawkeyes looked like they would pull away and bury Maryland’s offense for good, but Falco induced a 1-2-3 double play to keep the deficit at 5-2.
A Peyton Williams single added one more in the eighth, and the deficit would be more than enough to clinch a weekend-opening 6-2 victory for the Hawkeyes.
“All we got to do tomorrow is come out and concentrate on playing a brand of baseball that deserves to win. We didn’t deserve to win tonight,” Vaughn said.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s offense struggled against Iowa’s pitching staff. The Terps tallied just five hits over the course of Friday’s contest, scoring one earned run. The team punched out twelve times in all, failing to put together any kind of momentum against the Iowa stable. The bottom of the order had an especially difficult time, as the five through eight hitters went 0-13 with nine strikeouts. With outfielder Randy Bednar still sidelined with an ankle injury, the bottom of the order will be especially important to pick up the slack left by Maryland’s senior star.
“There were some situations where we didn’t do some little things right. It basically cost us the game,” Keister said.
2. Sean Burke was solid in his tenth start of the year. Despite surrendering three earned runs over five and two-thirds innings, Burke looked very good on Friday night. He punched out ten Hawkeyes and gave up just three hits on the night, but simply looked overworked at the end of his outing as the lead slipped away. Burke’s only consistent problem has been walks, of which he surrendered six in his game one start. If Burke begins to pitch to contact and not nibble at the corners of the plate, Maryland’s ace will begin to truly shut down opposing lineups the rest of the way this year.
3. The bullpen failed to keep the game close down the stretch. After working out of Burke’s shaky sixth inning, the bullpen couldn’t hold Iowa down in the seventh and eighth. Sean Heine, Falco, and Zach Thompson surrendered three earned runs over two and a third frames, allowing Iowa to pull away and take control of the contest. All three will be important pieces of the bullpen going forward, and Heine specifically has been much improved of late. Look for the mid-inning relief arms in Vaughn’s bullpen to string together some solid outings as the season begins to wind down.
“The important thing is that we kind of [forget about] today. Whether we win or lose, we still have three games coming this weekend regardless,” Alleyne said. “It’s three more games independent of this one, so [we just have to] focus on these next three games.”