Maryland baseball walked into Ray Fisher Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Saturday with a chance to clinch this weekend’s series against No. 24 Michigan.
Any aspirations of a sweep of the ranked Wolverines were quickly dashed, as Maryland faced a 6-0 deficit after the first three innings of play. With two outs in the bottom of the fourth, second baseman Ted Burton dug into the batter’s box with two runners on and a chance to extend the Terps’ deficit even further.
Michigan’s second baseman turned on a fastball from reliever Sean Heine, sending it well over the wall in left field for a three-run homer and putting the game firmly out of reach for the Terps.
Maryland pitcher Jason Savacool struggled early, while Michigan’s bats and pitching staff turned in brilliant performances, as the Terps suffered a 14-3 loss to the Wolverines. The defeat drops Maryland to 25-15 on the season and sets up a tense rubber game on Sunday.
“We weren’t able to hold them down defensively, we couldn’t get hits in big spots, stuff we’ve done really well the past couple of weeks,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “That’s the game of baseball. Sometimes you get kind of punched in the mouth by good teams.”
The Wolverines worked their way onto the scoreboard in the bottom of the second to kick off the scoring. After back-to-back doubles from Burton and catcher Griffin Mazur, Savacool uncorked a wild fastball to the backstop to push the first run of the afternoon across home plate.
Designated hitter Joey Velazquez stepped to the plate and promptly lined a two-RBI double to the left-center gap to increase Michigan’s lead to 3-0. For the first time all weekend, Maryland played from behind.
The Terps had their chance to bounce back in the top of the third, putting two runners on with one out against Michigan starter Cameron Weston. But left fielder Randy Bednar, playing in just his second game since mid-April, grounded into a double play up the middle to end the frame with no damage done.
Michigan used the momentum from stifling the Terps in the top of the frame to add to its lead in the third. Right fielder Clark Elliott walked and advanced to second on a pick-off attempt that dribbled through the legs of Matt Orlando at first base.
First baseman Jimmy Obertop walked and Burton was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out, and left fielder Tito Flores added a run on a single back up the middle.
Savacool, struggling with his command, was pulled after just two and two-thirds innings in favor of right-hander Sean Heine.
“[Savacool] was just yanking his fastball ... he wasn’t landing his breaking ball, and he kind of became a one pitch guy. He got in a lot of bad counts,” Vaughn said.
Heine was no more fortunate than Savacool with his efforts. His first pitch of the evening was lined through the left side by center fielder Jordan Rogers, and Michigan took a 6-0 lead into the fourth inning.
After Maryland failed to put pressure on Weston in the top of the frame, Michigan landed their heaviest punch of the night; Burton hit his towering homer out to left field, extending the Wolverines’ lead to 9-0.
“Hitting is contagious. There in the first couple of innings, when it was ‘hit-hit-hit’, it’s like a race to the bat rack. Everybody wants to go hit, and that’s what it turned into today,” Vaughn said.
Facing the largest deficit of the series for either team, the Terps had to play catch up. But standing in their way was what had been a dominant effort from Weston, who commanded the strike zone with a heavy sinker and well-disguised breaking ball all evening. Maryland had managed just two hits over the first four innings.
Weston remained true to form in the last inning of his outing and worked out of a two-on two-out jam by striking out shortstop Benjamin Cowles on a sharp curveball. Through five innings, the Terps had still not pushed across a run.
“I thought we got into some bad counts, and then his stuff plays up. He had good [pitch velocity] today. I mean, he was up to 95 today as well with good stuff,” Vaughn said.
Michigan continued to pour it on later in the contest with its prolific offense. Left-hander Logan Ott was greeted with a double to right-center off the bat of shortstop Benjamin Sems, and the Wolverines opened up a 10-0 advantage. Burton followed up with an RBI double of his own, and the Wolverines took an 11-0 lead into the seventh.
The Terps got on the board in the top of the seventh thanks to a loud three-run homer to left off the bat of center fielder Chris Alleyne, but it would be too little, too late for Maryland. The Wolverines answered with a three-run shot of their own and closed out a game that appeared to have been over from the early frames.
“We’re a very resilient team. We’ve been like that all year, and I don’t think we succumb to pressure in these kinds of situations,” Alleyne said on bouncing back through the rest of the season.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s pitching struggled from the get-go on Saturday. After a strong first inning, Savacool struggled mightily with his command and turned in one of his weaker and most abbreviated outings of his freshman season. The bullpen didn’t fare much better, with both Heine and Ott struggling to keep the Wolverines at bay in the late innings of Saturday’s game. The 22 runs surrendered by Maryland pitching is the most through the first two games of a series since the weekend of April 9 against conference-leading Nebraska, and the majority of Terp pitchers to toe the rubber this weekend have had a difficult time getting outs against this red hot Michigan offense.
“Today they just kind of lined up and smoked us. That was the reality of the game,” Vaughn said.
2. The Terps couldn’t get their bats going, either. Alleyne’s long home run was a bright spot in an otherwise rough day at the plate for Maryland. The Terps managed just three hits before that home run, and were completely shut down by Michigan’s starter Weston. After Friday’s 11 hit outpouring, expect Maryland to bounce back on Sunday with a much improved offensive performance.
“One of the biggest reasons why we weren’t scoring runs is because we were taking the fastball early,” freshman infielder Matt Shaw said. “If [Weston] can land that first fastball and he’s [throwing] three pitches for strikes, it makes it really hard as a hitter to hit. He put us into tough counts, and from there it was harder to hit.”
3. Sunday’s series finale may be Maryland’s most important of the season so far. Maryland lost its six-game winning streak on Saturday, and now enters Sunday’s game with playoff implications in the balance. A series win over the No. 24 Wolverines would dramatically shore up the Terps’ playoff resume come next Monday’s selection show, but a loss puts even more pressure on Maryland to turn in a highly successful weekend against Indiana next weekend. Maryland’s remaining four games are all against teams that are likely to make postseason appearances, and the Terps are going to have to prove that they belong in an NCAA Regional here down the stretch.
“Me and Ben Cowles have a saying that we say to each other before every game: ‘It’s just another day,’” Alleyne said on the team’s approach to Sunday’s series finale. “I think that’s how we need to treat it ... this game does have a lot of importance in terms of going to the postseason and stuff like that, but if you treat it like that you’re going to put too much pressure on yourself and make everything seem bigger than it really is.”