No. 3 seed Maryland baseball took on No. 2 seed Charlotte in a rematch of its opening game in the Greenville Regional Sunday.
The Terps would come from behind late to tie the game in the eighth, overcoming offensive troubles early on in the game to load the bases with no outs. With the game on the line, catcher Justin Vought stepped to the plate.
Vought took the first pitch he saw and lined it into a vacated right field, one hopping it over the wall and sending Maryland to a regional final against East Carolina. The Terps stormed out of the dugout, chasing Vought into the outfield in pure elation with their first Regional final appearance since 2015.
Clutch hitting late and stellar pitching propelled the Terps to a walk-off win, 2-1, to eliminate the Charlotte 49ers and propel them into a showdown against No. 1 seed and No. 13 ranked East Carolina.
“Having [Ryan Ramsey] step up and do what he did, I mean, goodness gracious,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “It’s going to be all hands on deck to try to figure out a way to score one more than East Carolina tonight.”
Maryland baseball has seemingly played with its back against the wall in every series since mid-April, needing to put together an impressive 18-4 finish to secure a postseason appearance.
The Terps’ NCAA Tournament experience has been no different. After dropping its first game of the Greenville Regional to No. 2 seed Charlotte, 13-10, on Friday, Maryland came back and extended its season with a convincing 16-0 victory over No. 4 seed Norfolk State, setting up a rematch with the high-octane 49ers on Sunday in North Carolina.
Maryland tapped the left-hander Ramsey for the first start of his collegiate career, and he and Charlotte starter Matt Brooks dueled for the first handful of innings of Sunday’s win-or-go-home contest.
Ramsey, who has been the Terps’ most viable option out of the back end of the bullpen this season, turned in three innings of work that were reminiscent of the 29.2 he threw over the course of the regular season. The sophomore wisely pitched to contact, working for efficiency knowing he would likely have to go deep into the game.
Brooks was just as effective early on. The righty gave up some hard contact, including two fly balls to the warning track in right and center, but kept the ball in the stadium in a departure from Maryland’s recent long-ball prowess in Greenville.
The 49ers opened the scoring in the top of the fourth. Star third baseman Austin Knight, who entered the game 0-5 in the NCAA Tournament, turned on a fastball from Ramsey and deposited it just over the wall in left. The first hit for either team on the afternoon broke the scoreless tie and spelled a return to form for the dangerous Knight.
The Terps just couldn’t muster the tying run. Brooks kept Maryland hitless through three innings and allowed just one baserunner, keeping a lineup that scored 26 runs over their last two games quite early.
Shortstop Benjamin Cowles low-bridged Brooks on a line-drive single up the middle to lead off the fourth, and designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak tallied a single of his own with two outs. But Maryland’s most convincing offensive chance early on evaporated after Brooks buckled down and struck catcher Justin Vought out on a high cutter.
The fifth saw a similar chance evaporate thanks to Charlotte’s clutch defense and pitching. With one out, left fielder Tucker Flint laid a perfect bunt down the third baseline and beat out the throw to first. On the same play, centerfielder Troy Schreffler attempted to take what appeared to be a vacated third base, but catcher Aaron McKeithan sprinted up the line to receive the throw and tag Schreffler out, effectively ending Maryland’s scoring opportunity.
“Schreffler plays the game really hard, he plays it really fast, and he made a decision to make an aggressive play, and they just made a play,” Vaughn said.
That trend would continue through the seventh. Ramsey remained stingy, bending at times but refusing to break. The 49ers put a runner on second base with less than two outs in both the sixth and seventh innings, but the Maryland southpaw worked out of trouble both times to keep the deficit at one.
“It kind of reminds me of my last game of my senior season in high school, just 0-0 ballgame the whole entire way. [I] just kind of keep the same mentality the entire game, just keep on throwing pitches and getting outs,” Ramsey said. “I trust [our] guys to pull away.”
Brooks, on the other hand, was even more difficult to work against. Cowles and Bednar both sent balls to the warning track in the sixth inning, but both were hauled in just shy of the wall for nothing more than loud fly-outs. Through most of Sunday’s game, Maryland had been zapped of its most consistent offensive catalyst; the long ball.
The Terps hit seven of them in Saturday’s win and were able to keep pace with Charlotte in game one thanks to three runs by way of homers. Without the ability to put the ball over the fence, Maryland seemed powerless. They managed just five baserunners through seven innings.
Maryland had their chance to draw even in the bottom of the eighth. With just six outs to work with, Schreffler singled up the middle, advanced to second on a passed ball, and to third on a bunt and reached-on-error by Flint. With no outs, second baseman Matt Shaw stepped to the plate with runners on the corners.
Shaw grounded into a double play, but Schreffler came across to score and even the contest at one.
Elliot Zoellner worked a tense but scoreless ninth inning, and Charlotte called on game one starter Andrew Lindsey to pitch the bottom of the ninth.
Right fielder Randy Bednar led off with a single through the right side and advanced to third on a single from first baseman Maxwell Costes. All of a sudden, the Terps were set up with runners on the corners with no outs.
Zmarzlak reached base on a fielder’s choice, and Vought lined the first pitch he saw into right for the game-winning hit.
“It was two seniors that just made plays when they had to,” Vaughn said on Zoellner and Vought’s performances in the ninth inning.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s offense couldn’t muster much offensive momentum early but turned it around late. Before they tallied their first run in the eighth, the Terps were held to just three hits by Brooks. It was a very uncharacteristic performance from the Terps, who seemed to have loved their time at the plate this weekend in Greenville before Sunday. Entering their second matchup with Charlotte, Maryland had scored 26 runs on 21 hits with nine home runs, one of the most dominant first-two Regional game offensive performances of any team in the country.
Maryland was able to get it done late with a pair of singles, a fielder’s choice and a double to right, a performance that was slightly more reminiscent of their usual offensive prowess. The Terps are a dangerous team when they start to string hits together, and they did just that in the bottom of the ninth of Sunday’s win.
2. Ryan Ramsey was very solid in his first collegiate start. A starter in his New Jersey high school career, Ramsey worked through eight fantastic innings of work against a very potent Charlotte lineup. The same team that put up 13 runs against the Terps in eight innings on Friday was able to manage just one run against Ramsey on Sunday. He showed tremendous poise and command in Maryland’s most high-leverage game of the season and proved that he can be a viable option in the weekend rotation going forward in his Maryland career.
3. The Terps keep their season alive. Maryland will now face No. 1 seed East Carolina in the Regional final on Sunday night. The No. 13 team in the country, the Pirates are a formidable opponent at home and employ a gritty brand of baseball to come away with wins. If the Terps topple the Pirates Sunday night, they will force a game on Monday where the two teams will rematch. However, if East Carolina wins, Maryland’s season will come to an end.
“They play really hard ... we know it’ll be a little rauccus in the crowd, so it’s just going to be about us stepping up and playing our game,” Vaughn said. “That’s been my message to the guys, to just enjoy the moment and stay present.”