In the bottom of the ninth, with the score knotted at three, Maryland found themselves in a bases-loaded situation thanks to three walks by Minnesota’s pitching staff. With two outs, third baseman Tommy Gardiner stepped into the box.
It wasn't just Gardiner who willed the win to victory. The Terps’ entire dugout was animated, forcing Minnesota’s pitcher to walk Gardiner and bring in the winning run.
Maryland squeezed out the 4-3 victory on Saturday afternoon in an intense back and forth affair that saw each team record six hits and the starting pitchers duel for much of the contest.
“That’s the game of baseball,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “The boys found a way to win and I think that’s the story today. It wasn’t our most prolific outing. It wasn’t our most fun outing to be a part of but they found a way to get it done in the end.”
Center fielder Chris Alleyne got the Terps going early in the bottom of the first. Alleyne, batting at leadoff, took the second pitch he saw on the day and crushed it to center field to give Maryland an early 1-0 advantage.
However, Minnesota responded in the following inning. First baseman Ronald Sweeny hit a ball deep to right field that barely stayed in play with one man on to give Minnesota its first lead of the game and series at 2-1.
In the third, it looked like the Gophers were going to drive in more runs with two men on base and no one out. Just as quickly as Savacool got himself in the jam, he got himself out. The following three batters Savacool faced struck out, flew out and grounded out as the freshman delivered and escaped any potential further damage to the scoreboard.
The game quickly turned into a pitcher's battle, with both teams struggling to get anything going at the plate. Once again, with his back against the wall, Savacool came up big when he needed to in the sixth.
The righty found himself in another two-on situation with only one out. Savacool never wavered, delivering another strikeout and then forcing a gopher batter into a flyout to end the inning, his fourth straight scoreless frame of the day.
In the sixth, a controversial call at first base led to coach Vaughn coming out of the dugout animated with some colorful language for the first base umpire. He only received a warning and received an ovation from the fans and his players as he headed back to the dugout fired up.
“I love our guys, man and I felt like it was a situation that wasn't right,” Vaughn said. “You fight for people you care about and I care about these guys a whole lot.”
In the bottom half of the inning, second baseman Matt Shaw singled. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and then later third on a sacrifice fly. First baseman Maxwell Costes was due up at the plate and hit an RBI single to left field to advance the tying run home.
Savacool’s day ended after six innings as Sean Heine came in to replace him at the start of the seventh. Heine only faced two batters before he was pulled for Elliot Zoellner.
In the seventh inning, Heine walked Minnesota’s shortstop Drew Stahl, who then advanced to second and stole third. He crossed home plate later in the inning on a pitch that got away from Terps catcher Luke Shliger, giving Minnesota back a one-run advantage.
Maryland responded once again in the bottom of the inning when Alleyne hit a double off the back wall for his second hit of the day. Shaw then stepped into the batter's box and hit an RBI single through left field to drive in Alleyne and tie the game at three.
Shortstop Benjamin Cowles was hit by a pitch and Costes was walked to give a bases-loaded opportunity to Shliger with two outs. Shliger hit a ball into the infield and was called out at first base that ended the inning on a call that could have gone either way.
Vaughn, furious with the umpire's decision, stormed out of the dugout for the second time of the day before he was held back by his assistants. This time, it wasn't just a warning as he was tossed from the game for the first time this season.
“We kind of started off sluggish and after he got tossed, it really fired us up and made us play more team baseball, and ultimately helped us,” Gardiner said.
The Terps headed into the ninth tied with the Gophers at three but Fisher closed out the top of the ninth with a 1-2-3 inning and Maryland got to work at bat. After three walks by Minnesota’s pitching staff, the Gophers walked Gardiner as the Terps secured their fifth consecutive victory and clinched the series win.
Three things to know
1. Pitcher Jason Savacool showed incredible poise. While the right-handed freshman did allow six hits and two earned runs in six innings pitched, he delivered five strikeouts, which came in big spots. Savacool got himself in multiple jams throughout the afternoon but always worked his way out of them. Minnesota was 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, in large part to Savacool’s delivery in difficult situations.
“As I pitch more and more, especially at the college level, I’m learning more and more about how to control my emotions,” Savacool said.
2. Maryland shined in advancement opportunities. The key for the Terps to grind out the win was their ability to advance runners on base. While they didn't pile up an abundance of hits on the afternoon, when they did, the Terps produced. Maryland was 10-for-17 in advancement opportunities, while the Gophers were just 3-for-14. The Terps were also 2-for-6 with runners in scoring position. In a game that tight, that was the difference.
3. Maryland went deep into the bullpen for the win. When Savacool exited the game after six innings, the Terps had to rely on three pitchers in the final three innings to will the team to victory, including Fisher, who was awarded the win. Elliot Zoellner also pitched a full inning and allowed no hits. Maryland’s bullpen has been terrific in recent outings, and today was no different.
“I thought [the bullpen] did a masterful job out of there,” Vaughn said. “I thought as a whole, the pitching staff was very good today.”