Maryland baseball had an opportunity to return to their winning ways Sunday in a doubleheader against Illinois Saturday. After dropping Friday’s game one, a sweep of the series-ending doubleheader would be Maryland’s greatest hope to stay in the conversation for an NCAA Regional bid.
Pitcher Jason Savacool followed up on his solid performance from last week with a very strong outing in game one, surrendering three runs over eight and a third innings against the dangerous Illinois lineup.
Game two saw a return to the Terps’ home run hitting form, as Maryland tallied six long balls en route to their second victory of the day and series-clinching sweep of the doubleheader.
Maryland was able to shut down Illinois’ bats in a 5-3 win in game one, and took over with its lineup in a 12-4 win in game two to improve their record to 21-14 on the season.
Savacool tosses a gem in Maryland’s game one win
It took until the third inning of game one for the Terps to score their first runs of the weekend. Designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak grounded a single to left and advanced to second on a left fielder Logan Ott bunt. The Terps then strung together an RBI single from center fielder Chris Alleyne and an RBI double from second baseman Matt Shaw to jump out to a 2-0 lead.
Maryland starter and freshman Jason Savacool took the mound for the Terps and was magnificent through three innings. After facing the minimum through the first trip through the order, however, Illinois seemed to have figured out Savacool’s tendencies.
A one-out walk and subsequent single from Branden Comia put runners on the corners with one out for the Fighting Illini in the fourth.
Savacool surrendered his first run of the afternoon on a fielder’s choice to Shaw at second but spun a double play to work out of the jam and hold on to the Maryland lead.
“When you’re able to see [Nick Dean’s outing] as a starting pitcher, it really sets the tone for the next couple of guys to come out there and to go ‘Alright, I’m going to attack the zone right here,’. You know, no fear, go right at them, let’s do exactly what Dean did,” Savacool said.
The Terps got that run back in the top of the fifth. Zmarzlak doubled to left, stole third, and scored on an Alleyne sac fly.
Illinois starter Nathan Lavender seemed to lose his command of the strike zone after Alleyne’s sac fly. Maryland went on to load the bases with two outs for first baseman Matt Orlando, who pinch-hit for the injured catcher Luke Shliger.
Orlando worked a full count but was unable to add on to Maryland’s 3-1 lead.
Third baseman Tommy Gardiner doubled to left to lead off the top of the sixth after Savacool’s bounce back frame in the fifth. Troy Schreffler looped a single in front of left fielder Nathan Aide to increase Maryland’s lead to 4-1 and chase Lavender from the game.
While Maryland's offense continued to add to their lead, Savacool buckled down in the middle innings. He surrendered just one hit and one run through six innings and consistently kept the Fighting Illini off balance in the box. The freshman stuck to what has worked best for him this season; he pitched to contact and attacked hitters early in counts, forcing very weak contact and frustrating Illinois’ lineup from top to bottom.
“I was just trying to give us a good outing, especially with some length knowing we had a second nine inning game coming up,” Savacool said. “I was just looking to pick up the first win of the day and work towards the next one.”
The righty seemed to ratchet his sharpness up late in the game. He retired three straight batters by way of strikeout through the middle of the seventh increasing his total to seven on the day and holding Illinois down with just two innings of play left.
Schreffler led the top of the eighth off with a single through the left side and stole second on the first pitch to Zmarzlak, the team’s sixth swiped bag of the game. Alleyne followed up with a two-out RBI single to put the terps up 5-1.
Illinois put the leadoff runner on base in the bottom of the eighth, threatening to chip away at their deficit late. The dangerous center fielder Jackson Raper strode to the plate, but Savacool calmly got him to fly out to center field to end the threat.
Savacool ran out of gas in the bottom of the ninth, allowing two base runners on with one out. Righty Sam Bello relieved Savacool and gave up a two-run double to Jacob Campbell, but worked out of the jam to secure the game one win for Maryland.
Power bats lead the way in the Terps’ 12-4 win in game two
Maryland sent righty Connor Staine out for game two in place of probable starter Sean Burke. The Terps would need a strong start from their sophomore opener with a chance to sweep the doubleheader and win the series on the table.
Their offense set up a chance to score in the top of the first thanks to back-to-back singles from Shaw and shortstop Benjamin Cowles. Illinois starter Riley Gowens buckled down, however, and ended the threat with a strikeout of Schreffler.
After Illinois took an early 1-0 lead on an RBI single from Raper, the Terps put themselves in a position to draw even in the top of the third. First baseman Maxwell Costes and Gardiner both singled into shallow right field and advanced to second and third on a deep fly ball from Zmarzlak. With two outs, left fielder Tucker Flint stepped to the plate.
Flint got a hold of a two-strike fastball from Gowens and lined it over the left-field wall, driving in the two runners on base and giving Maryland its first lead of the game. Catcher Justin Vought followed up with a long solo homer of his own, also in a two-strike count, and the Terps jumped out to a 4-1 lead.
In his first relief appearance of the season, Maryland ace Sean Burke took the mound in relief in the bottom of the fourth. Working off of the three innings of a one-run ball tossed before him by Staine and reliever Elliot Zoellner, Burke worked scoreless fourth and fifth innings to keep the Fighting Illini guessing at the plate.
The Terps added two more runs in the top of the sixth off of talented Illinois reliever Alex Vera. Justin Vought drove his second homer of the afternoon to left field and Alleyne sent a Vera slider way out to center, and Maryland’s second back-to-back home run stretch of the game increased their lead to 6-1.
“I just feel like I’m letting the team down when I’m struggling at the plate. Today it felt really good to know that I played a pivotal role in getting us a good [win]. That’s what I’m most proud about,” Vought said.
Illinois began to chip away against Burke in the sixth, adding a run on an RBI single up the middle by center fielder Taylor Jackson. After two clean innings, Burke began to struggle with his command and had inflated his walk total to four in less than three full innings.
Burke was pulled in favor of lefty Ryan Ramsey after his fifth walk of the game loaded the bases with two outs.
But Illinois wouldn’t go away without chipping away. Catcher Ryan Hampe went deep to left field in the bottom of the seventh to shorten Maryland’s lead to 6-3 with three innings left to work with.
The Terps responded in kind at the top of the eighth. Vought hit his third homer in as many at-bats and Cowles added his first homer and second hit of the weekend to return Maryland's lead to five runs. It was much-needed breathing room for the Terps, as Illinois was seemingly beginning to creep their way back into the game after cutting their deficit to three.
“It was just one of those days, I really don’t have a way to describe it,” Vought said. “I was seeing the ball really well. [We] put some good swings on them, and the rest is history.”
Schreffler manufactured a run by himself in the top of the ninth, stealing second after a walk, advancing to third on a balk, and scoring on a wild pitch. Vought added his fourth RBI of the game with a single to left and Shaw added another two runs with a single to left of his own. Thanks to a four-run inning, the Terps took a 12-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
Righty David Falco, who replaced Ramsey in the bottom of the eighth, finished off the win for the Terps with a one-run inning in the ninth.
Three things to know
1. Maryland pitching was outstanding in the three-game set. Illinois entered the weekend leading the Big Ten in just about every major statistical category. Playing the Fighting Illini at their own stadium is usually a dangerous prospect, but Maryland’s pitchers rose to the challenge to limit their opponent to just nine runs over the series. Nick Dean and Jason Savacool were both lights out in their starts, and game three’s pitching committee limited Illinois to just eight runs over the course of the weekend. As the season has gone on, both Maryland’s starters and bullpen have both begun to round into form, putting together very solid outings in the last three weekends.
“The gameplan for us was to just get ahead. Get ahead, get in pitcher’s counts, then we can kind of work some more stuff in there ... and mix some things up,” Vought said.
2. The Terps’ offense turned it around in games two and three. After being shut out in Friday’s loss, the Terps turned their output around at the plate. Game one saw a much more opportunistic Maryland offense, as the team took advantage of their scoring opportunities and stole six bases to come away with the win. Game two was much more on-brand for this year’s Terps team as they launched six home runs, three of which came from catcher Justin Vought, on their way to a win in game two. Flint and Vought’s long balls were much needed, as both had been scuffling at the plate of late.
“Yesterday we were really bad with two strikes. We were getting ourselves in a lot of bad hitter’s counts, and when we got to two strikes we had a lot of strikeouts,” Vought said. “Today we just made that adjustment in [batting practice], going into the game we just had to be tougher and have tougher at bats.”
3. Injuries are beginning to pile up for Rob Vaughn’s squad. Senior captain outfielder Randy Bednar is still sidelined with a lower leg injury, and Saturday did not bode well for the overall health of Maryland hitters. Freshman catcher Luke Shliger game one with throwing arm tightness and junior first baseman Maxwell Costes left game two after a wide turn around third base prompted a leg injury.
Maryland’s young players have been solid in their replacement roles, especially Troy Schreffler and Logan Ott, but two more starters going down will not help Maryland’s depth chart. With big series against Michigan and No. 24 Indiana looming later this month, keeping the rest of the lineup intact will be very important for the Terps.