Coming off of Saturday’s doubleheader sweep against Iowa and Northwestern, Maryland baseball had the opportunity to leave Iowa City with three wins from four games on the weekend with a win over Northwestern Sunday.
After losing their early lead in the fifth, the Terps had to fight to secure the win against a high-octane Wildcat lineup. With two runners on and two outs, designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak dug into the box with a chance to tie the game up.
He did just that. Zmarzlak drove a fastball into the opposite field, scoring catcher Luke Shliger and first baseman Maxwell Costes, who pumped his fist in excitement. Zmarzlak would come around to score the go-ahead run in a lead that the Terps would not lose for the rest of the game.
Pitcher Jason Savacool was shaky to start but was bailed out by his offense as Maryland defeated Northwestern, 9-7, to sweep the two-game set against Northwestern and improve their record to a season-best 16-13.
The Terps got right back to work on Sunday afternoon, responding to an early Wildcat run with three of their own. Singles by Costes and third baseman Tommy Gardiner gave Maryland its first lead of the day in the first inning of play against Northwestern starter Tyler Uberstine.
But Northwestern came right back with another run on a Leo Kaplan single through the shortstop hole, shortening Maryland’s lead to 3-2 in the second.
In a tennis-like back and forth affair, the Terps took that run back in the bottom of the second with back-to-back singles from Alleyne and Shaw, and Northwestern drew even in the fourth with a solo home run from center fielder Ethan O’Donnell and RBI double from shortstop Shawn Goosenberg.
It was an especially rough afternoon for Maryland starter Jason Savacool, who ran into trouble again in the top of the fifth. Maryland’s youngster struggled with his command and left his fastball up in the zone, forcing him to throw 98 pitches in just four and third innings. After two of the first three batters in the fifth reached base, Vaughn called lefty Sean Fisher in from the bullpen.
Center fielder Ethan O’Donnell chopped Fisher’s first pitch over the head of Gardiner in the shortstop hole, driving in two runs and re-gaining the lead for the Wildcats. After trailing by two in the first, Northwestern came all the way back to grab a 6-4 lead in the fifth.
The Terps came right back thanks to clutch hitting from designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak. The sophomore stepped to the plate with two on and two out, driving the first pitch he saw into right for a game-tying two-RBI single.
Center fielder Chris Alleyne added an RBI single of his own, and the Terps took a 7-6 lead after five innings of play.
As Fisher settled in and held the Wildcats scoreless through the seventh, the Terps sought further insurance. After three straight walks to begin the frame, they looked to be on track to do just that.
Freshman second baseman Kevin Keister grounded into a double play to drive in Gardiner, and Tucker Flint scored on a throwing error to increase Maryland’s advantage to 9-6.
Fisher buckled down to complete four and two-thirds of dazzling relief, shutting the door on a dangerous Northwestern lineup and securing the Maryland win.
Three things to know
1. Maryland is playing well at the right time. With Sunday’s win, the Terps are 6-1 in their last seven games and have set themselves up nicely to make a run at the top of the conference. Vaughn’s team is doing everything it needs to do to win right now, and the difference in play between the last two series and earlier games in the season is definitely noticeable. With a light schedule ahead of them, expect the Terps to string together many more successful weekends before facing off against powerhouses Michigan and Indiana to wrap up the season.
2. Maryland’s offense is working efficiently. Arguably the biggest improvement the team has made in the last two weeks is pushing runs across with less than two outs. Vaughn’s squad has developed into a situationally smart powerhouse utilizing bunts, opposite-field hitting and unselfish at-bats to find ways to score. The offense will be a major part of Maryland’s success down the stretch, especially as the big names in the pitching rotation work to fully close out lineups consistently.
3. Sean Fisher was lights out in relief Sunday. Originally a starter at the beginning of the year, Fisher was moved to the bullpen upon Nick Dean’s return to the rotation. Fisher has since worked as a distance reliever, utilizing his skills as a starter to provide length late in games. Sunday was a perfect example of what Fisher can provide: four and two-thirds innings pitched, five hits, one unearned run, and five strikeouts. Even more impressive is that such an impressive outing came against one of the most dangerous lineups in the conference. Look for similar appearances from Fisher out of the ‘pen down the stretch.