Maryland baseball desperately needed to bounce back in Saturday’s split-doubleheader against Iowa and Northwestern after dropping game one of the series to the Hawkeyes on Friday.
After being supported by their offense for most of the season, Maryland’s starting pitchers cashed in on an opportunity to repay the favor in both games. Stellar outings from sophomore Nick Dean and freshman Logan Ott led the way for the Terps, who supplied timely hitting and patient at-bats to secure a sweep on the day.
Dean’s lights-out performance and Matt Shaw’s 3-4 day at the plate carried the Terps to an 8-6 victory in game one, and Logan Ott’s collegiate pitching debut and solid performance from the bullpen secured a 2-1 game two win to improve the Terps’ record to 15-13 on the year.
“Long day. Really proud of our team, man,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “Tough night last night, didn’t play great. But we answered the bell this morning ... really good day for our program, really good day for our guys.”
Maryland strikes first, hangs on late to win game one
The Terps converted on their first-inning opportunity in Saturday’s game one after leaving the bases loaded in Friday’s first inning. After back-to-back walks to center fielder Chris Alleyne and left fielder Matthew Shaw, shortstop Benjamin Cowles launched a ball over the wall in right for his league-best twelfth homer of the season to give Maryland a 3-0 lead early.
Iowa starter Drew Irvine continued to struggle after his rocky first inning. The Terps loaded the bases in the third, forcing the Hawkeye starter to throw 82 pitches through just three innings of work.
While the frame would yield no additional runs for Maryland, it had ensured an early appearance from an Iowa bullpen that used two of its best arms in the previous game.
Dean took the mound for Maryland, coming off of his stellar eight-inning start against Ohio State last weekend. Unlike his outing against the Buckeyes, he was tested by Iowa’s lineup early and often in Saturday’s game but was able to hold the Hawkeyes off through three innings while his lineup worked on creating scoring chances.
That chance would come in the top of the fourth. With Irvine tiring, Alleyne lined a leadoff double down the right-field line. Shaw followed up with his second base knock of the game to drive in Alleyne and increase the lead to 4-0 and force Irvine’s early exit.
While the Terps continued to put pressure on Iowa’s bullpen, Dean worked a masterful outing on the mound. He worked out of jams in the fourth and fifth, utilizing spot-on command to produce inning-ending double plays in both situations to preserve his shutout effort.
Dean’s ability to wiggle out of trouble was tested yet again in the sixth after surrendering a one-out double to Peyton Williams and walking Austin Martin. Dean buckled down, striking out the dangerous Zeb Adreon, but allowed a bloop double to Dylan Nedved that scored two and halved Maryland’s lead to 4-2.
“That’s Dean-o’s thing, man. His heart rate doesn’t go up too high very often,” Vaughn said. “That allows him to be consistent.”
Matthew Sosa lined a ball that got through second baseman Kevin Keister to tack on another run for the Hawkeyes. The sixth inning proved to be a bear for the Terps yet again, and their lead was cut to 4-3.
Keen on not losing their lead in back-to-back games, the Terps struck back in the top of the seventh. Third baseman Tommy Gardiner lined a double to the center-field wall to drive in Luke Shliger and scored on a Tucker Flint RBI single past the diving Izaya Fullard at second.
Keister pushed Flint to second with a sacrifice bunt and catcher Riley Langerman walked, setting Shaw up for a two-out-two-run single, his third of the day. The Terps expanded their lead to five, their largest of the afternoon, and led 8-3 in the bottom of the seventh.
“We were able to do enough in game one to give ourselves a decent sized lead there. Those extra runs late ended up being huge,” Vaughn said.
Sidearmer Elliot Zoellner replaced Dean in relief, surrendering two runs in the eighth after a perfect seventh. Closer Sam Bello replaced Zoellner in the ninth to close the game out.
Bello went up 0-2 on each of the first two batters he faced but conceded walks to both. Fullard’s fly ball to left was snagged by Shaw, and two deep flyouts provided Maryland’s first win of the weekend, 8-6.
“We’re growing. We get better and better every time. This isn’t the same team that got on the bus to South Carolina eight weeks ago,” Vaughn said.
Maryland’s pitching shines in a close victory in game two
With a game one win under their belt, Maryland looked to sweep the day with a win in game two against Northwestern.
The freshman two-way player Ott made his collegiate pitching debut on the bump and surrendered the first run of the game in the second after looking sharp in the first. Center fielder Ethan O’Donnell doubled home Leo Kaplan, and Northwestern took a 1-0 lead into the third inning.
“I was a little nervous [after that run scored],” Ott said. “When runners get on base, I usually get a little nervous.”
Maryland wasted no time in taking the lead right back. Three consecutive baserunners reached in the top of the third and an RBI single by shortstop Benjamin Cowles and reached-on-error by first baseman Maxwell Costes put the Terps up 2-1 in the top of the third.
Ott would ditch the debut-jitters after his slip up in the second, cruising through the next two frames with just one more hit allowed.
But Doherty regained his form as well, stranding Alleyne at third with one out in the fifth to keep the Terps from adding an important insurance run.
The Terps broke into the Wildcat bullpen in the sixth, greeting righty Hank Christie with a two-on and two-out jam. But after Matt Orlando turned a patient at-bat into a walk, catcher Justin Vought struck out swinging to increase Maryland’s stranded runner total on the night to seven.
Ott continued to cruise along, maneuvering through the fifth and sixth as if he had been pitching all season long. The youngster collected his fourth and fifth strikeouts of the night in a lightning-quick shutdown frame in the sixth, holding the Wildcats down as the Terps looked for much-needed insurance.
“Before the game, Coach Muscara came up to me and said ‘We’re going to treat it as if you’re pitching to nobody,’” Ott said. “I’m pitching to contact, and that’s what I did. They got one run, but I knew one run wouldn’t beat our offense as good as we’re playing right now.”
But the Terps floundered again in the eighth, stranding Luke Shliger at third with less than two outs. It would be up to the bullpen to hold on to the narrow advantage and seal the sweep.
“You could see the batspeed was gone [in the second game]. We had some tired swings,” Vaughn said on his team’s lack of offensive output late in game two.
Righty David Falco replaced Tyler Blohm and inherited his two-on-one-out jam in the bottom of the eighth. Falco retired Stephen Hrustich on a fly ball to shallow center, and left fielder David Dunn struck out swinging to end the threat on a slider, as Maryland’s reliever hopped off the mound to join his exuberant teammates in the dugout.
Falco came back out for the ninth, and after allowing Kaplan to advance to second, retired the side on a soft ground out to second to secure the second win on the day for the Terps.
“Being where we are in the season, realizing we have a chance to do something special, I think coming into game two we knew we had to win,” Shaw said. “That definitely got the energy going, and then Logan pitching such a good game, that kept the bench involved ... it definitely helped us win.”
Three things to know
1. Nick Dean turned in another stellar outing in game one. While he didn’t have the unhittable stuff he had last weekend, Dean still provided six innings of solid baseball. He gave up two earned runs and struck out six in the outing and refused to give in to a pesky Iowa lineup. The sophomore could easily have folded knowing he didn’t have his best stuff on the mound but found a way to keep his opponent at bay and give his team and chance to continue to add to their lead.
2. Logan Ott was stellar in his pitching debut. The freshman, who didn’t know he was starting until after game one, fired six innings of one-run, five-hit baseball with five strikeouts, looking seasoned beyond his years on the mound in a crucial game. While his stuff wasn’t overpowering and he pitched largely to contact, he was unafraid to challenge hitters and force them to put the ball in play and trusting his defense behind him. If Ott can continue to pitch like this down the stretch he’ll provide interesting two-way talent for Vaughn as the Terps push towards the top of the Big Ten Standings.
“Logan Ott was unbelievable. What an unbelievable start for the first time he’s out there,” Vaughn said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
3. The Terps improve to 15-13 with the sweep. After winning five of their last six, the Terps have leapfrogged into the upper echelon of the Big Ten. Separated from the top four by just two games on the loss side and with the next three series coming against three of the bottom five teams in the league (Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois), the Terps are in a good position to make a push towards an NCAA regional bid.