No. 25 Maryland baseball looked to capture its seventh consecutive series victory with a doubleheader sweep over Indiana in College Park on Saturday.
“Indiana’s a good ballclub, you know, I thought we competed really hard today. We didn’t let the weather really affect us,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “Most importantly, we got two good starts. That’s the reality. Without two good starts, [we’re] not matching [Indiana] and you’re not there at the end and having a chance.”
Maryland’s pitching ruled the day in Saturday’s games, as they swept both games against Indiana, 4-3 and 5-2, to improve to 28-15 on the season and clinch a second-place finish in the Big Ten.
Maryland comes from behind late to steal game one, 4-3
Maryland starter Jason Savacool faced the minimum in the top of the first, and the Terps wasted no time in grabbing their first lead of the weekend in the bottom of the frame.
“I challenged Savvy before the game a little bit and he did nothing but respond well beyond his years,” Vaughn said.
Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week second baseman Matt Shaw laced a double into the left-center gap with one out, and shortstop Benjamin Cowles and right fielder Randy Bednar reached base behind him to load the bases. Designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak followed up with a bases-loaded walk to give the Terps a 1-0 lead.
Despite just one run through three innings, the Terps were still making an impact at the plate; Indiana’s starter Gabe Bierman was laboring through a patient and pesky Maryland lineup and threw 65 pitches over the course of three frames.
“You’re talking about a pitching staff that’s in the top five in the country and ERA. We’re not talking about our league, we’re talking about the country,” Vaughn said on the quality arms his team went up against.
“[Our scoring effort] doesn’t have to be pretty all the time ... but you just keep coming, and you just keep coming, and you just keep coming, and then you pick it up when you can, and that’s what the boys did today.”
The Hoosiers drew even in the top of the fourth. Shortstop Jeremy Houston led off the frame with a four-pitch walk, advanced to third on a single up the middle by centerfielder Grant Richardson and scored on a sac-fly to right by third baseman Cole Barr.
In the top of the sixth, it would be Richardson, again, who hurt Savacool and the Terps. Houston led off the frame with a double, and Richardson’s third hit in as many at-bats drove him in to give the Hoosier’s their first lead of the game. Richardson trotted home on another sac-fly, and the Hoosiers took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth.
“[Richardson] was unbelievable in that first game. He was all over every pitch, he was on the barrel with everything, he’s physical, he’s got a good arm. I mean, that kids a player that’s a high draft pick if I’ve ever seen one,” Vaughn said.
Maryland’s Luke Shliger pinch-hit for catcher Riley Langerman in the bottom of the eighth and gave the Terps a great start to their comeback effort. Center fielder Chris Alleyne moved him to third with a fly ball to right, and Shaw drove in the run with a ground ball to second base to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Right-handed pitcher Grant Macciocchi, who replaced Bierman for the Hoosiers back in the bottom of the seventh, stayed in the game for the bottom of the ninth and promptly retired Bednar but gave up a game-tying solo homer to first baseman Maxwell Costes on the first pitch of the at-bat to push the game into extra innings.
“That was a massive swing out of Max, holy cow. That was really big right there,” Vaughn said.
Lefty Ryan Ramsey took over on the mound for Maryland and worked a perfect top of the 10th inning, and then the Terps got to work in the bottom half of the inning.
Left fielder Tucker Flint walked and moved to second on a sac bunt by catcher Justin Vought. Alleyne and Shaw were then hit by pitches, loading the bases for Cowles with one out.
Righty Nathan Stahl entered the game in relief for Indiana and battled with Maryland’s shortstop, but ultimately walked him to force in the winning run for Maryland’s third walk-off walk of the season to give the Terps the win.
Sean Burke’s lights out start leads the way to a 5-2 win in game two
After Sean Burke tossed a hitless top of the first, the Terps took advantage of an erratic McCade Brown to the tune of five walks, including two with the bases loaded, to take an early 2-0 lead without recording a hit.
“[We were trying] to just make McCade Brown pitch to us,” Cowles said on the team’s approach against the wild Indiana starter. “We had to stay on his fastball and at one point, he was only landing sliders, so we’re just sitting on sliders and got to him a little bit.”
Brown’s command issues continued through the early innings of his outing. After tallying his five walks in the first, he added another two in the second and one in the third, inflating his pitch count to 88 after just three innings of work.
That would be the extent of Brown’s outing on Saturday. Plagued by control issues, he managed just three innings of two-run ball with eight walks and one hit.
While Brown’s outing was cut short, his counterpart could not have been sharper. Sean Burke was dicing through the Hoosier lineup, racking up ten strikeouts and just two walks over five hitless innings of work.
“From warm-ups today, I felt really good. It was probably one of the best outings just from my arm and body feeling good,” Burke said. “The fastball felt really good in the ‘pen, everything was good in the ‘pen. And I kind of carried that into the game.”
Braydon Tucker replaced Brown in the bottom of the fourth. He tossed a scoreless frame in his first inning of work but allowed the Terps to add to their advantage in the fifth.
Shortstop Benjamin Cowles bunted for a single and attempted to steal second two batters later. With the runner on the move, first baseman Maxwell Costes lined a double off the top of the wall in right field to increase Maryland’s lead to 3-0.
While Burke continued to dominate Indiana’s lineup, Tucker was equally as overpowering. He tallied seven strikeouts through three innings of work, limiting Maryland’s ability to put the game out of arm’s reach and keeping his lineup in the game.
“It was, I think, the most fun I’ve had playing in the past couple weeks,” Burke said on Saturday’s start.
Reese Sharp, Tucker’s replacement, was greeted by a triple off the top of the right-field wall from Matt Shaw on the first pitch of his relief outing. Cowles singled through the middle to drive him home, and Maryland’s lead jumped to four runs.
Randy Bednar walked, and he and Cowles advanced to second and third on a ball in the dirt with no outs. Indiana intentionally walked Costes to load the bases with one out, giving Luke Shliger a chance to do some damage.
Shliger chopped a single through the middle of the infield to add another run and keep the bases loaded. The Terps stranded all three baserunners but took a 5-0 lead into the eighth.
Left fielder Drew Ashley broke the shutout in the top of the eighth on a long solo home run to left field, but reliever Elliot Zoellner limited the damage to just one run.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s pitching led the way in both games of Saturday’s doubleheader. Jason Savacool and Sean Burke combined for 12 and two-thirds innings of work with 18 strikeouts, five hits and three earned runs over their two starts on Saturday. Burke’s outing, in particular, set the tone for the Terps after their walk-off win in game one, completely shutting down Indiana’s bats and leading the way to a Maryland sweep of Saturday’s doubleheader.
2. Rob Vaughn’s offense did what it had to against a very talented Hoosier staff. Indiana entered play this weekend with the best pitching staff in the Big Ten by a considerable margin, pitching to a 3.14 ERA as a team. Saturday’s starters Gabe Bierman (2.78) and McCade Brown (3.26) both entered play top ten in the league in ERA and top three in opponent’s batting average (.176 and .166, respectively). Maryland toppled both, forcing Bierman to labor early in game one and frustrating Brown in the first three innings in game two to secure the sweep of Saturday’s doubleheader.
3. The Terps have won seven consecutive series and 18 of their last 21 games. Postseason runs are all about playing well at the right time. Fortunately for Vaughn and Maryland, there are few teams in NCAA baseball that are hotter than the Terps entering the postseason. With its seventh consecutive series win, Maryland has undoubtedly punched its ticket to the NCAA Regional, as they have won series against four of the top six teams in the Big Ten through the second half of this year’s conference-exclusive schedule.
With a chance to sweep the Hoosiers out of College Park, Cowles said, “We’re going to come out guns blazing, same we did today. Lots of energy and stay in our approach.”
“As a group, I’m just incredibly proud of this team. This is a special group of dudes, and the one thing that I’m very confident in is that they’re not done yet. This group’s got something to them,” Vaughn said.