Maryland softball finished 1-4 against strong competition in Norman, Oklahoma this weekend. Here’s what you need to know about it:
The Oklahoma Invitational started very, very poorly for the Terps. Hannah Dewey allowed a one-out grand slam and 6 total runs in the top of the first inning. Sami Main entered immediately after, surrendering a run in the second and another in the third. Before every Maryland hitter had reached the plate, the Terps were already down 8-0. The team pushed runs across in the third and fifth, but the Billikens scored 3 in the sixth to put the game on ice.
The Cougars jumped out to a lead by scoring one in the first and two in the third, but Maryland got on the board in the bottom of the third thanks to back-to-back home runs. Emily Libero led off the inning with her first career homer, and Skylynne Ellazar followed up with her second. The Terps loaded the bases but couldn’t tie the game. BYU’s Emilee Erickson responded with a solo shot of her own in the top of the fourth, but two more Maryland runs in the bottom of the frame evened the score at 4-4. The tie lasted up until Cougar second baseman McKenzie St. Clair began the seventh with a go-ahead homer off Madison Martin. Dewey came in and allowed two more runs to cross before the inning ended, and Maryland went down in order to close things out.
This was the Terps’ best performance of the season thus far, and it’s not close. Brenna Nation threw the school’s first no-hitter in three years, surrendering nothing more than a pair of first-inning walks. Even though she retired the last 13 hitters she faced, the junior actually wasn’t aware of the no-hitter until her teammates started congratulating her after the game.
Maryland’s bats came alive, as well. Hannah Dewey started things off with an RBI single in the top of the first, and Emily Libero blew the game open with a grand slam in the second. Kristina Dillard drilled a two-run homer in the third to extend the lead to 7-0, and another Dewey RBI single in the fourth stretched it to 8-0. The Terps left just 2 runners on base, an incredible total considering how many baserunners they had.
This game was close for a long while. The Sooners pushed two runs across in the bottom of the first, but that score held for a full three innings. With two outs in the fifth, Sarah Calta tripled and Hanna Dewey homered to tie things up. But Oklahoma right fielder Fale Aviu responded with a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning, giving the Sooners the lead back. The Terps went down quietly in the sixth, but thought they’d at least have another chance. Instead, Oklahoma erupted for 6 runs to put the run rule in effect.
Brenna Nation’s bid for another no-hitter ended with the very first Oklahoma batter. She allowed three runs in the second, two in the third and one in the fifth. Three Sooner pitchers combined to shut down the Terrapin offense, and the lead was 6-0 entering the bottom of the sixth. With no outs, the bases loaded and a run already in, Paris Townsend knocked a grand slam to end the game and the weekend.
Best in the Nation
It’s a horrendous pun, but for a brief time on Saturday, one could argue that Brenna Nation was just that. She held a good St. Louis team hitless in 5 innings of work, and even though the game ended early, it counts just the same as any other. This wasn’t exactly expected, given her 6.82 ERA and 1-9 record entering the weekend, but both she and head coach Julie Wright entered with a lot of confidence after a week spent working on Nation’s mechanics. Assistant coach Lisa Norris has been telling the junior to "trust the process," and that’s what she’s doing. Even though she couldn’t enjoy anywhere near the same level of success against Oklahoma, this should be a big confidence boost for her and perhaps the whole pitching staff.
Note 1: No-hitters are a lot more common in softball than in baseball because the games are shorter and dominant pitchers can simply shut down opposing offenses. But there’s still something to be said for being this effective against a team that had run-ruled the Terps the day before. It’s the first no-no by a Maryland pitcher since 2013, so don’t expect to see another all that soon.
Note 2: One of my favorite things in sports is when reporters try to coax players into discounting certain accomplishments, because they never take the bait. Ever. When PGA golfer Gary Woodland made an ace on a converted, 100-yard Par 3 last year, he refuted such questions with the rhetorical "did it go in?" Big league ballplayers get the same question when they homer against a position player, and the list goes on and on. This was my first chance to ask somebody such a question, and I took it. Nation responded with the perfect laugh/scoff and said "of course." Sorry and thanks.
From no-hitters to the hitters
Skylynne Ellazar barely saw the field last year, but stepped in at third base after senior Juli Strange tore her ACL in the fall season. She’s hitting .380 for the season and was the Terps’ best hitter this weekend, with a 7-for-14 showing that included a homer. Hannah Dewey was 6-for-12 and continued to draw walks; she leads the team with a .463 on-base percentage and 20 RBIs. But the leader in average is still transfer catcher Kristina Dillard (.384), whose weekend included her second homer of the season.
Emily Libero hit the first homer of her college career on Friday, then drilled a grand slam on Saturday. She has stepped in for Lindsey Schmeiser (the senior continues to sit out nonconference games for precautionary reasons) and held her own against high-level competition. Libero is actually manning third base, with Ellezar at short. It remains to be seen what changes and who sits upon Schmeiser’s return, but both players have been pleasant surprises.
Of course, the Terps’ offense ran into some quality pitchers throughout the tournament and the team was run-ruled three times, but there’s still a good deal of young talent that will be on display as Maryland returns home.
Home games! The Terps (7-17) will hold the Maryland Invitational in College Park. All games will be at the Maryland Softball Stadium, and the Terps will play Massachusetts and North Dakota State Friday, Boston and Ball State Saturday, and Binghamton Sunday.
Junior Brenna Nation: "I actually had no idea [I was throwing a no-hitter] until after the game, when my teammates and coaches came and congratulated me and I found out I didn’t allow any hits."