In its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017, No. 3 seed Maryland baseball took on the No. 2 seed Charlotte 49ers in the opening round of the Greenville Regional in Greenville, North Carolina on Friday.
In two of their last three postseason appearances, the Terps came away with a victory in their opening-round games.
But Friday’s game would not carry the same good fortune. What looked to be a promising start for Maryland’s lineup and starter Jason Savacool quickly turned into a rocky night on the mound. Charlotte tallied 13 runs on 14 hits and only struck out three times as Maryland fell in its opening round game, 13-10.
After managing no damage in the first, Maryland jumped onto the scoreboard in the top of the second, thanks to first baseman Maxwell Costes.
Costes, who hadn’t seemed like his usual self of late, drove a fastball from Charlotte starter Andrew Lindsey off of the scoreboard in right field for just his third solo home run of the season.
The lead wouldn’t last for long. After surrendering a one-out hustle double to designated hitter Will Butcher, Savacool left a fastball over the middle of the plate to shortstop Jack Dragum, who gave Charlotte the lead with a two-run homer to right.
Savacool continued to struggle with his control. He walked two 49ers and hit a batter in the third, forcing the bases loaded with one out. After a sacrifice fly from right fielder LuJames Groover III, the freshman was able to work out of the jam to limit the damage to just one run.
The Terps came right back in the top of the fourth with a response of their own. Costes walked and designated hitter Luke Shliger singled with one out and advanced to second and third on a wild pitch from Lindsey. Third baseman Tommy Gardiner beat out an infield single to shorten Charlotte’s advantage to 3-2, and Lindsey was pulled from the game after injuring his ankle covering first base.
Center fielder Troy Schreffler Jr. tied the game at three with a safety squeeze bunt down the first baseline, and the Terps had earned themselves a new ballgame heading into the bottom of the frame.
Charlotte would retake their lead in that frame. Savacool surrendered a walk and a single with no outs, and a ball bunted to third by center fielder Todd Elwood was thrown away by Gardiner, pushing in another run for the 49ers.
Charlotte added another run on a fielder’s choice to third, and Savacool’s night came to an end after his fourth walk of the outing loaded the bases with one out.
The 49ers batted around in the inning and scored three more runs, taking an 8-3 lead into the top of the fifth.
Christian Lothes, who came in in relief of Lindsey, began to falter in the fifth. The lefty walked the bases loaded with one out, and he was replaced by 6-foot-8 righty Austin Marozas.
Although Maryland’s offensive efforts had been matched or outdone by Charlotte all game, the Terps refused to go quietly. They used their patient at-bats in the fifth to score two runs and cut Charlotte’s lead to 8-5 going into the bottom of the fifth.
After their strong bounceback inning in the top of the inning, the 49ers stole a run back on a wild pitch that got through the legs of catcher Justin Vought to push their lead to 9-5.
First baseman David McCabe launched a solo homer to right field in the bottom of the sixth, and Butcher added a two-run shot of his own to seemingly put the game out of reach for the Terps.
But once again, Maryland refused to surrender. They loaded the bases in quick succession against Marozas in the seventh, forcing him out of the game.
Charlotte reliever Jackson Boss came in in relief, and singles from Costes and Gardiner added four runs and once again brought the Terps within striking distance, shortening the deficit to 12-9 and forcing another pitching change.
No matter the situation, Charlotte refused to get complacent as well. McCabe launched another solo home run, nearly identical to the one he hit an inning before to push the 49er lead to 13-9.
Right fielder Randy Bednar hit a solo home run to left field to lead off the top of the ninth, but the Terps were unable to add on any more offense to send the game to extras.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s pitching struggled in its opening game. Savacool, seemingly bothered with his ability to grip the baseball later on in his outing, lasting just three and a third innings in the first NCAA Tournament start of his budding career. He gave up eight earned runs on six hits and four walks, and only struck out two in a performance that was below his standard. The Terps’ relief pitching had their own struggles. David Falco surrendered four runs over two innings, and Sean Heine surrendered one run over two and two-thirds innings. Look for the Terps to turn it around on the mound against a much less powerful Norfolk State lineup on Saturday.
2. The Terps battled at the plate but were eventually no match for the 49ers. Maryland’s lineup managed just nine hits over the course of Friday’s slugfest, almost half of the 49ers total for the game. Charlotte’s pitching struggled with their command just as Maryland’s had, but the Terps couldn’t muster the big hit to finish off offensive chances. The long ball was an especially deciding factor, with the 49ers tallying four and Maryland having one long ball that came in the second inning.
3. Facing elimination, Maryland will play Norfolk State Saturday for a chance to extend its season. A win over Norfolk State, who lost earlier on Friday to No. 13 and Regional host East Carolina, 8-5, will be Maryland’s last hope of continuing to play this season.
The No. 4 seed in the Greenville Regional, Norfolk State is one of the best small-ball and stolen base teams in the country. They have stolen 109 bases this year, good for seventh-best in Division I baseball, a matchup that plays poorly against Maryland. The Terps have thrown out just nine would-be base stealers this season, as all three of their consistently played catchers have struggled to control the running game at a high level.