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Maryland baseball dominates Minnesota, 12-4, in series opener

The Terps exploded early and kept rolling against the Golden Gophers to capture the win at home.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Coming off of three straight wins against talented Iowa and Northwestern teams last weekend, Maryland baseball opened up a three-game home set against the 4-23 Minnesota Golden Gophers on Friday night.

The Terps came out swinging early, crushing three straight doubles over the course of just five pitches to take an early two-run lead. Then, right fielder Tucker Flint dug into the batter’s box.

Flint wasted no time, sending a low-and-in fastball well over the fence in right field to open up a 4-0 first-inning lead. The home dugout yelled in excitement and the Terps took a lead they would not surrender over the course of the game.

Behind a dominant offensive performance, Maryland defeated the Golden Gophers, 12-4, to improve to 17-13 and take home its fourth straight win.

“Obviously, really good night tonight. Really proud of the effort,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “I thought the guys were really hooked in from the jump. We talk about how you start, and I knew it was really important for us to get a good start.”

Maryland looked like world-beaters out of the gate against Golden Gopher starter Trent Schoeberl, stringing together four extra-base hits to take their early 4-0 lead.

Minnesota got one back in the top of the second on a solo shot from catcher Chase Stanke, cutting the lead to three. Maryland starter Nick Dean buckled down and retired the side in order, working out of the frame and getting his offense back in the batter’s box.

Alleyne did what he does best in the bottom of the second, reaching base on a hit by pitch and advancing to third on an errant pickoff throw. Cowles followed up with a continuation of his hot hitting, sending an opposite-field homer over the wall in right, his conference-leading 13th of the year.

With the long ball, Cowles jumped into ninth in the nation in home runs and is just two homers out of second place, despite having played significantly fewer games than the rest of the field.

“I love me some Benny Cowles, but I think I’d be lying if I told you I thought he’d be ninth in the country in homers right now,” Vaughn said. “The reason [his production] has continued is because his routine is unbreakable. That guy works more than about anybody on our team.”

Minnesota didn’t lay down and concede the game despite Maryland’s relentless offensive attack. The Golden Gophers scored two more in the top of the third, highlighted by catcher Chase Stanke’s second RBI knock of the evening, to shorten Maryland’s lead to 6-3.

But the Terps loaded the bases with one out for the top of the lineup in the bottom of the frame, looking to put the game out of reach. Reliever Drake Davis struggled with his command, hitting Alleyne and walking Cowles to bring in two more Maryland runs.

On the other side of the ball, Dean had finally started to settle in. After a rocky first few innings, the sophomore showed why he is more than capable of pitching in Friday night games, tossing three consecutive scoreless frames through the sixth. He took advantage of the early lead and was unafraid of giving up contact, trusting his defense to make plays behind him to preserve the lead.

“Instead of trying to nip the corner, [I was] going right at guys to make them earn it,” Dean said. “Letting them put the ball in play for the guys behind me. No need to be too pretty.”

Maryland loaded the bases again in the bottom of the sixth, holding a chance to blow the game wide open with the bottom of the lineup set to dig into the batter’s box.

Center fielder Troy Schreffler walked to force in a run, chasing Davis from the game. His replacement, Drew Hmielewski, fired a wild pitch to the backstop to push in a run. A walk and a fielder’s choice pushed another two runs across, giving Maryland an 11-3 lead in the sixth.

“It was nice to [go ahead] early,” Schreffler, who cleared COVID-19 isolation protocol earlier in the week, said. “It was a little weird [coming back after quarantine] ... the first at bat I was a little anxious, but after I got that first hit out of the way I was fine.”

Dean was pulled for left-hander Ryan Ramsey in the top of the eighth after his fantastic outing. Ramsey who has been lights out this season, quickly retired the side with two strikeouts to hold Minnesota at three runs on the night.

“[Ramsey] hadn’t faced hitters in about ten days so I wanted to give him an inning, just to get his feet wet,” Vaughn said. “He’ll be available again either tomorrow or Sunday depending on how he feels.”

The Terps added one more in the bottom of the eighth on a fielder’s choice, and freshman right-hander Gavin Stellpflug took the mound to close the game out.

Stellpflug loaded the bases with one out and allowed one run to score, loading the bases again with two outs and exiting in lieu of closer Sam Bello, who needed just three pitches to eventually seal the Friday night win for Maryland.

“Our back’s literally against the wall every game. That’s what I told our guys, that’s the reality,” Vaughn said on his outlook for the rest of the season. “We’re in a position now to where we’ve fought our way back into a [postseason] conversation, but there’s not a game to give away.”

Three things to know

1. Dean was stellar once again. Maryland’s sophomore starter has now strung together three fantastic outings dating back to his start against Ohio State back on April 17. After Friday’s seven-inning outing, Dean has allowed just five earned runs over his last 21 innings pitched, scattering 16 hits and striking out 24 batters along the way. He has proven that he deserves to stick in the weekend rotation down the stretch after joining the team late in the season and he’ll be an integral part of Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn’s stable through the remaining four full series of the season.

“Honestly, I’m feeling a lot more confident out there,” Dean said. “I’m not second guessing any of the pitches I’m throwing. I know exactly where I need to throw them in order to be successful and let [the other team] put the ball in play for the guys behind me.”

2. The top of Maryland’s order was locked in on Friday. Each of the first seven batters in the Terps’ lineup recorded a hit in Friday’s win, going a combined 9-for-22 with nine RBIs and just one strikeout. Even more impressive is the fact that this performance came without two regular starters, freshman catcher Luke Shliger and senior outfielder Randy Bednar, being in the lineup. Bednar, sidelined with an ankle injury, should return to the lineup within the next couple of weeks, and Shlgier should be back in the lineup to catch either Jason Savacool or Sean Burke later in this series.

“That was about as relentless of an offensive approach as we’ve had. I thought we scored in a lot of different ways tonight, which is what I really really liked,” Vaughn said.

3. The Terps have now won seven of their last eight games. Playing well when it matters most is crucial to the most iconic playoff runs in college baseball. For example, take the 2014 and 2015 Maryland teams that advanced to super regionals against a Virginia team that went on to reach the College World Series finals in both seasons. With their team getting to full strength and young players stepping up and turning in strong performances, everything looks to be coming together for the Terps down the stretch.

“Going into this series, we were treating [Minnesota] just like we were treating Nebraska,” Schreffler said. “We have to go out, step on their throats, win, come out tomorrow and do it again.”