Maryland defeats Illinois in first game of Big Ten Tournament

In the Maryland’s first Big Ten tournament appearance under second-year head coach Rob Vaughn, the Terps continued their hot streak, defeating the Illinois Fighting Illini 6-2 on Wednesday in Omaha, Nebraska, to move on to the winner’s bracket.

Maryland got on the board first, after loading the bases on a pair of walks and an infield single from Josh Maguire. A fielder’s choice from Randy Bednar drove in Chris Alleyne from third, giving the Terps a 1-0 lead.

After Illinois starter Andy Fisher retired the Terps in order in the first, Maryland had runners reach base in every inning. Even so, the Terps struggled to plate runners and provide Parsons with a bigger lead with which to work. The lack of solid run support from Maryland came back to haunt the Terps, as they stranded a total of 12 on the day.

Illinois finally got a runner on base in the fourth, after Parsons threw three consecutive 1-2-3 innings to start. After the Fighting Illini’s first hit, a one- out single to right field from Michael Massey, Parsons walked two with two outs to load the bases. But the Maryland right-hander induced a huge ground out to end the half and strand the bases loaded, maintaining the Terps’ 1-0 lead.

But the Fighting Illini continued to threaten in the fifth, putting two on after a leadoff single from Grant Van Scoy and two-out walk. Then, a single to second base from Massey drove home Van Scoy, who beat the throw from Ben Cowles after the second baseman bobbled the ball and hesitated before throwing home.

Parsons found his groove again in the sixth and seventh, however, retiring the Fighting Illini in order in both innings to give the Terps the chance to pull ahead as the right-hander threw his 115th pitch on the day.

Then, the Maryland lineup came alive in the eighth. After Taylor Wright led off the inning with a single through the left side against the shift, freshman Maxwell Costes sent a two-run homer to left field. Then, two batters later, sophomore Justin Vought went deep with a two-run shot of his own, putting the Terps ahead 5-1 and providing Parsons much-needed run support.

Parsons threw 7.1 innings, allowing only one run on four hits and threw walks, recording four strikeouts in his 123 pitches thrown. After the righty secured the first out of the eighth with a runner on first, Mark DiLuia entered to secure the final two outs of the half. The sophomore recorded a three-pitch called strikeout and induced a fly-out to end the inning and hold on to Maryland’s lead.

Behind DiLuia, the Terps tacked on another run on a drag bunt single from Alleyne in the ninth. Illinois tacked on a run in the ninth, but senior closer John Murphy recorded back-to-back strikeouts to secure Maryland’s first win of the conference tournament.

Maryland takes on the winner of No. 2 Michigan and No. 7 Ohio State at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday.

 

 

2019 Big Ten Tournament Preview

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Maryland baseball swept Iowa last weekend at home and received the help it needed to qualify for the Big Ten tournament as the No. 6 seed — the Terps’ first trip to the postseason under second-year head coach Rob Vaughn.

It took inspired pitching performances from senior ace Hunter Parsons and junior Zach Thompson, a walk-off homer from shortstop A.J. Lee in the series opener and a clutch eighth-inning, game-winning hit in the finale from Chris Alleyne.

Maryland entered the last three games of conference play in 10th place in the standings, needing to finish in the top eight to extend its season. Not only did the Terps sweep their first conference series of the year, but they also won a Big Ten series at home for the first time. Because of tiebreakers, the sweep propelled Maryland to the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which starts on Wednesday.

Lee, who went 10-for-17 in the final week of the regular season, earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors. The conference also announced its yearly awards on Tuesday, which recognized Maxwell Costes as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and an All-Big Ten first team recipient. Randy Bednar was an All-Big Ten second team outfielder, while starting pitcher Hunter Parsons, third baseman Taylor Wright, Michael Pineiro and Lee were featured on the third team.

Costes and Pineiro were also named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team.

Now, the red-hot Terps (28-27, 12-12 Big Ten) will look to continue their momentum in the double-elimination tournament in Omaha. Here’s a breakdown of which teams stand in the way of Maryland and its first-ever Big Ten tournament title, and how the Terps fared against them during the regular season.

Let’s start with Maryland’s first opponent, the No. 3 seed Illinois Fighting Illini:

#3 Illinois (36-17, 15-9 Big Ten)

Maryland went on the road and took two of three from Illinois in April, a huge series win for the Terps against a team that has the 22nd-best RPI in the country and could potentially host a regional in the NCAA tournament.

Hunter Parsons tossed eight innings and only allowed two runs on six hits before closer John Murphy successfully recorded a save to secure a 4-2 win in the series opener. The Illini scored two runs in the second inning and wouldn’t score again.

The Maryland offense was held mostly stagnant by Illinois ace Andy Fisher, who took a shutout into the ninth inning. But the Terps scored four runs in their final trip to the plate to steal a game, using two sacrifice bunts to tie the game at two before a wild pitch plated two additional runs.

The Terps lost the second game of the series, 5-1, but won 8-4 in the Sunday game to leave Champaign with a series victory. More importantly, Maryland won the game with Parsons and Fisher battling it out on the mound. The two pitchers will face off again in the first game of the conference tournament.

#1 Indiana (36-19, 17-7 Big Ten)

The Hoosiers are the 2019 Big Ten regular season champions. Maryland won the series opener against Indiana, when Hunter Parsons tossed eight scoreless innings and only allowed two hits to a powerful lineup.

The final two days of the series, however, did not go quite well for the Terps. Indiana won 20-5 and 19-4, one of the worst two-day stretches in recent Maryland baseball history.

The Hoosiers showcased their home run ability throughout the weekend, and they finished the regular season with a Big Ten leading 90 home runs. Ohio State, which is second in the conference in home runs, only had 62.

Indiana is led by Big Ten pitcher of the year Andrew Saalfrank and first-year Hoosiers head coach Jeff Mercer, who won the conference’s coach of the year award. Indiana had two players on the All-Big Ten first team and three on the second team.

#2 Michigan (38-16, 16-7 Big Ten) 

Maryland hosted Michigan in the first weekend of May, and the Wolverines won all three games pretty easily, as the Terps’ pitching staff struggled all series.

Maryland’s pitchers conceded 10 runs in all three games of the series. The Friday game of the series was the only conference game the Terps lost when Hunter Parsons started on the mound.

Maryland hasn’t beaten Michigan since 2017, and the two teams would meet up if both won its respective first game of the tournament. Michigan leads the Big Ten with a .285 team batting average and a 3.40 pitching staff ERA.

Outfielder Jordan Brewer won the Big Ten Player of the Year after ranking first in batting average (.358), second in slugging percentage (.637), stolen bases (19), hits (69) and RBI (52), and third in runs scored (51) and doubles (18).

#4 Minnesota (26-25, 15-9 Big Ten)

The Golden Gophers return to the postseason as the reigning Big Ten tournament champions.

Maryland went on the road and took the series opener against Minnesota before dropping the final two games of the series. Randy Bednar and Michael Pineiro combined for five runs batted in during the lone win of the weekend.

After dropping the middle game of the series, Maryland had its opportunities to take the series on Sunday. But the Terps wouldn’t score until the ninth inning and were contained offensively with only four hits.

Catcher Eli Wilson represents the Golden Gophers on the All-Big Ten first team, while their ace Max Meyer earned a spot on the conference’s second team as a starting pitcher. Minnesota won the tournament last year as the top overall seed.

#5 Nebraska (28-20, 15-9 Big Ten)

Maryland and Nebraska did not meet during the 2019 regular season.

The Cornhuskers beat up on the weaker teams in the Big Ten play and didn’t have a signature conference series win until the final weekend of the regular season. Nebraska beat Michigan in the first two days of the series, outscoring the Wolverines 12-2.

Nebraska had a chance to sweep the series and earn a higher seed in the tournament but fell 10-8 on the final day of conference play.

Outfielder Aaron Palensky and designated hitter Cam Chick earned spots on the All-Big Ten second team as Nebraska’s representatives. Like Maryland, Nebraska did not qualify for the Big Ten tournament last season.

#7 Ohio State (31-24, 12-12 Big Ten)

Maryland lost two games of three against Ohio State at home earlier this season. The Terps arguably should have won that series but timely Buckeyes hitting stole a series away on the road.

Maryland won 14-8 in the first game of the series in an offensive explosion and, after jumping out to a 7-2 lead in the second game, it appeared the Terps would finally win a Big Ten series at home. But the Buckeyes did not quit.

Ohio State chipped away, then scored five runs in the final two innings to force extras, before hitting a game-winning solo homer in the top of the 11th off Maryland closer John Murphy. The Buckeyes went on the win the rubber match on Sunday.

The Buckeyes’ .273 team batting average ranks third in the conference. Outfielder Dominic Canzone earned All-Big Ten first team honors, Dillon Dingler and Brady Cherry were on the second team and starting pitcher Seth Lonsway was a third-team recipient.

#8 Iowa (30-22, 12-12 Big Ten)

Maryland’s biggest series of the season came last weekend against Iowa, when the Terps played their way into the Big Ten tournament by convincingly sweeping the Hawkeyes.

The Hawkeyes were on the fringe of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament several weeks ago, but their recent performances put them in desperate need of a conference tournament championship. Iowa lost its final five conference games of the season to fall to the last eligible spot in postseason play.

Reliever Grant Leonard earned All-Big Ten second team honors. Maryland, though, was a thorn in the side of Leonard throughout last weekend. Terps shortstop AJ Lee hit the first homer off Leonard all season for a walk-off win on Friday, then outfielder Chris Alleyne hit the game-winning knock off Leonard in the eighth on Sunday.

Leonard earned the loss in two of the three games against the Terps in the final weekend of the regular season.

Six Terrapins earn Big Ten yearly awards

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After powering Maryland’s cleanup spot with 12 homers in the regular season, infielder Maxwell Costes was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year on Tuesday — one of six Terps to earn a yearly award from the conference.

Costes, also named to the All-Big Ten first team as a first baseman, is joined by All-Big Ten second team outfielder Randy Bednar, and All-Big Ten third team recipients in starting pitcher Hunter Parsons, third baseman Taylor Wright, shortstop AJ Lee and designated hitter Michael Pineiro.

Costes and Pineiro were also named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team.

Costes’ first year in College Park rivaled that of his older brother Marty, who the Houston Astros selected last year in the MLB Draft. Costes has been one of the most consistent hitters in the Terps lineup this season, blasting a team-high 12 home runs, a mark that also ranks fifth in the Big Ten.

The Baltimore native started in all 55 regular season games, picking up at least one hit in 37 of them. He collected four hits in the final weekend of the regular season against Iowa, which helped propel Maryland to a sweep and a Big Ten tournament berth.

Costes’ 44 runs batted in and .500 slugging percentage ranked in the top 10 in the conference, while his 19 hit by pitches led all Big Ten hitters. He becomes the second Terrapin to win Big Ten Freshman of the Year in the last three seasons, joining starting pitcher Tyler Blohm.

Senior ace Hunter Parsons has continued the recent trend of dominant Friday night starters for Maryland, going 9-3 with a 3.62 ERA. The Terps won in 10 of his 14 starts and only lost one time with Parsons on the mound during conference play.

The right-hander led the conference with 97 innings pitched, one of the more difficult pitchers to take out of a game. At 120 pitches in his final regular season start, Parsons stayed in the game against Iowa after a mound visit and struck out the final batter of the eighth inning on just three pitches.

Parsons’ best start of his senior season was against Indiana — the Big Ten regular season champions — when he shut out the Hoosiers on two hits over eight innings.

Bednar improved mightily in only his sophomore season, finishing the regular season with a .300 batting average and a team-high 52 RBIs, 47 runs, 69 hits, 29 walks, and a .543 slugging percentage.

The outfielder ranked in the top 10 in slugging, runs, hits, doubles, home runs, and runs batted in. His 19 doubles trailed only Wright, his teammate, for the conference lead. Bednar was one of three Terps to start in all 55 regular season games.

Wright, who transferred into the program last season, led the Big Ten with 20 doubles. In just two seasons, the Canadian already ranks fourth all-time in Maryland history for doubles. The infielder’s 12 steals and 29 walks were tied for the team lead.

Lee, a senior captain, was a key component of Maryland’s push into the postseason in 2019. He missed several games early in the season with an injury but was dominant after returning, and finished the regular season with a team-high .301 batting average.

The shortstop hit .588 in the final week of the season, earning Big Ten Player of the Week honors. Lee had arguably the biggest hit of the Maryland season so far, demolishing a walk-off homer in the series opener against Iowa. He hit three of his six home runs this year in the final four games of the regular season.

Pineiro, who didn’t play at all during his true freshman season in 2018, contributed in a much larger role this year. The outfielder played in 41 games, hitting .250 with three home runs and 23 runs batted in.

No. 6-seeded Maryland begins postseason play Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET against No. 3 Illinois in the Big Ten tournament.

AJ Lee earns Big Ten Player of the Week honors

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Photo Credit: Maryland Athletics

Maryland senior shortstop AJ Lee has been named Big Ten Player of the Week after a dominant four games. It is Lee’s first weekly conference honor of the season.

In one game against James Madison and three games against Iowa this week, Lee hit .588 (10-for-17) with three home runs, two doubles and six RBI. He also worked two walks, stole two bases and came in to score eight times in the four Maryland victories.

Lee homered in each of the first three games of the weekend, including the biggest home run of his career — a walk-off bomb against Iowa Thursday night.

The senior started his great week by snapping an 0-for-25 slump in Tuesday’s 6-5 win over James Madison, recording a hit in his final three at-bats. He singled in the sixth and seventh, and then hit what turned out to be a game-winning solo home run in the top of the ninth.

He followed that up with a 3-for-4 day in Thursday’s opener against the Hawkeyes. Before the walk-off long ball, he singled twice and put down an RBI sacrifice bunt.

On Friday against Iowa, Lee put together a 2-for-4 day. He singled in the fifth and then hit his third home run in as many games with a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth.

In Saturday’s regular season finale, Lee posted another 2-for-4. After reaching on errors in his first two at-bats, he doubled in the fourth and fifth innings. Then, in his final career plate appearance at Bob ‘Turtle’ Smith Stadium, Iowa showed Lee the ultimate form of respect, and sent him to first base on an intentional walk.

Lee and the Terps will now head to Omaha, Nebraska for the 2019 Big Ten Tournament, where they will play their opening game against Illinois at 10:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday. Pregame coverage will start at 9:30 a.m. with Zach Solon on the call live from TD Ameritrade Trade Park on the Maryland Baseball Network.

Maryland sweeps Iowa, clinches postseason berth

Maryland players sprinted out of the dugout, engulfing closer John Murphy in the infield Saturday evening. The Terps had just clinched their first appearance in the Big Ten Tournament under second-year head coach Rob Vaughn.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Murphy said. “Especially because this is the same weekend I got ejected last year, so I’m pretty happy I didn’t get ejected this weekend and get to be there for all three games with my team.”

Murphy, who entered in the ninth, recorded three straight outs to ensure Maryland’s 10-8 win over Iowa (30-22, 12-12), earning his 11th save of the year in the Terps’ final game of the regular season in College Park.

“What John Murphy did at the end was awesome,” Vaughn said. “That game was kind of a culmination of our season. We get up, have moments that are really good, we have moments were we give it up, then have moments that are really good again.”

Until the top of the eighth, when Iowa tied the game for the third time on the day, it seemed Maryland (28-27, 12-12) had already won the back-and-forth battle. Though Iowa got on the board first, on a Tanner Padgett solo homer to start the second inning, Maryland quickly clawed its way back on top.

After starter Tyler Blohm worked out of the top of the inning, Maryland sophomores Michael Pineiro and Justin Vought sent back-to-back solo shots deep to left-center field to start the bottom half.

“When Pineiro’s going oppo-jack, that gets people going a little bit,” Vaughn said. “Those [homers] were huge…[they] kind of captured the momentum back and let us play with the lead.”

Two more runs crossed in the third for the Terps, giving Blohm a 4-1 lead off a Hawkeyes error and a handful of Iowa defensive miscues. Senior A.J. Lee, who reached first on an error for the second time on the day,  scored on a wild pitch from left-hander Grant Judkins, who walked three Terps in the half. Maryland’s second run came on an RBI sacrifice bunt from Pineiro.

“We talk about how you respond in the midst of adversity,” Vaughn said, “That’s one of our pillars…and every inning that [Iowa] scored, we answered. I mean, the offensive effort today was unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable.”

But the Hawkeyes came back, and a Wetrich three-run homer tied the game at four runs apiece in the fourth. With that, the Terps brought in right-hander Trevor LaBonte, who hit the first batter he faced but worked out of the jam with his first strikeout of the game.

Blohm finished his 3.2 innings of work allowing four runs on four walks and four hits, including the two homers. Behind a solid Maryland offense, LaBonte threw three scoreless innings of relief, before faltering in the eighth.

“If we call it what it is,” Vaughn said, “Blohm’s stuff was terrible today…and he still [went] out and gave us three or four innings. I mean, that’s Tyler Blohm..that’s just who he is.”

After Iowa tied the game in the top of the fourth, Maryland regained the lead on two runs in the bottom of the inning, after Benjamin Cowles and Randy Bednar singled around an A.J. Lee double. Bednar’s hit scored Cowles, and a sacrifice fly from senior Taylor Wright plated Lee, putting the Terps up 6-4 heading to the fifth.

Then, Maryland designated hitter Josh Maguire doubled to start the bottom half for the Terps. The freshman cruised home two outs later on a sac fly from Cowles for the Terps seventh run on the night. Two innings later, Maguire scored again on Cowles sacrifice fly, putting Maryland ahead 8-4.

But LaBonte started to tire in the eighth, loading the bases on a walk and two singles after striking out the first batter he faced in the inning. Then, Andrew Vail relieved his fellow freshman, but gave up a game-tying grand slam to Wetrich before working his way out of the inning.

“I told them,” Vaughn said, “When [Iowa] did hit that grand slam, I said, ‘We’re going to see what kind of character we’ve got.'”

Chris Alleyne stepped into the box in the eighth, runners on first and second with two outs. Then, Alleyne roped a double into the right field corner, clearing the bases and putting Maryland ahead 10-8 heading to the ninth.

“It really just shows what kind of offense we can have,” Lee said. “When all cylinders are firing, we’re pretty good. When we’re moving barrels and we’re swinging at good pitched and we’re getting our swing off, we’re pretty good.”

Iowa put up a fight against senior closer John Murphy in the ninth. But Murphy was not having it, and after the Hawkeyes got a double to start the inning, Murphy struck out one and induced a pop fly to first base. Then, a fly out to Bednar in right field, which ended the game with the Terps on top.

“It was pretty tough [Friday] night,” Murphy said. “It made it easier that we still came back and won, but to do that today and to send us to Omaha, that was pretty awesome, especially on Senior Day.”

“I don’t know if I’ve been more proud of a group of guys than that group of dudes standing out there,” Vaughn said. “That was a gutty, character win for a team that’s [still] learning. Everything they’ve been through in the last six months…everything they withstood, I am so incredible proud of that group.”

Maryland clinches series victory with Friday win over Iowa

For only the second time in 2019, Maryland (27-27, 11-12) clinched a Big Ten series win, pulling ahead early and staying ahead in the Terps’ 8-4 win Friday night over the Iowa Hawkeyes (30-21, 12-11) in College Park.

With the victory, the Terps head into Saturday’s game controlling their own destiny with regards to a Big Ten Tournament appearance. A Maryland win or a Northwestern loss against Minnesota would clinch the Terps a postseason berth.

“We’re playing our best baseball right now, in my opinion,” Thompson said. “Everybody wants to play another week with each other, so if we win tomorrow we can do that.”

Maryland’s offense stayed hot on Friday, powered by big hits from throughout the Terps’ lineup that backed an at-times faltering defense, giving early run support to starter Zach Thompson.

“I’ve told these guys from the get-go, moving barrels are dangerous,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “When we’re moving barrels and hunting stuff elevated out over the plate, usually we have some success offensively.”

Freshman Maxwell Costes put the Terps on the board first, with a two-out, two-run blast that soared over the wall in right center for his 12th homer of the season. The first baseman leads all Big Ten freshmen in home runs.

After Thompson worked out of a one-on jam in the second with back-to-back strikeouts, Iowa eventually got its first run on in the third inning. Tanner Wetrich doubled to left field, the ball falling between Michael Pineiro and the wall, as the left climbed and reached for the hit but failed to snag it for an out.

Though the missed out didn’t have a huge impact on the outcome of the game, Wetrich scored Iowa’s first run later in the third, on a two-out single from Izaya Fullard that bounced into center field, just past a reaching A.J. Lee.

Maryland responded quickly, however, tacking on three runs in the bottom of the inning after a pair of singles and a walk left the bases loaded with two outs for Maguire.

“When a good team like that gives you opportunities you have to cash in,” Vaughn said.

With a 1-1 count, Maguire send the third pitch of his at-bat flying to right field, where the ball fell in front of Zeb Adreon, bouncing over the right fielder before rolling to the wall. Maguire flew around the bases, landing on third with a bases-clearing triple, his second three-base hit of the year. 

Two more Maryland runs crossed the the fourth. The first, a solo shot to left-center from sophomore Randy Bednar, his first hit of the three-game series after the outfielder went 0-for-4 in the Terps’ Thursday victory.

Senior Taylor Wright crossed the plate later in the half, after he walked, made it to second on a wild pitch then came around to score on a throwing error from Iowa second baseman Mitchell Boe, prompting the Hawkeyes to pull Boe from the game between innings. Wright’s run put Maryland ahead 7-1 heading to the fifth.

But the Terps’ offense slowed, as the Hawkeyes slowly began adding on runs, though Maryland held Iowa to one run an inning in both the fifth and seventh, pulling out solid plays to negate defensive struggles in each of the innings.

When Izaya Fullard doubled into the left field corner, it seemed the Hawkeyes were about to add their second run of the inning, after Chris Whelan hit an RBI sacrifice fly the previous at-bat to cut the Terps to a 7-2 lead.

But Maryland left-fielder Michael Pineiro fielded the hit and threw down the line to shortstop A.J. Lee, whose throw to catcher Justin Vought made it just in time to catch Tanner Wetrich at the plate, leaving the Iowa senior sitting in the batter’s box in shock, helmet in hand.

Then, Thompson walked Sher with one out, who made it to second when the right-hander included a groundout. With that, junior Elliot Zoellner relieved the starter, who went 6.2 innings and struck out seven, allowing only two earned runs on six hits.

“To me,” Vaughn said, “That’s maybe the most complete game, against a really good team, [Thompson] has put together.”

“We’re a dangerous team,” Maguire said. “We gave [Zach Thompson] a 5-1 lead…if he has that comfort, you saw what he did tonight, he just goes out and attacks and gives a great performance.”

Zoellner, however, struggled against the Hawkeyes offense, walking the first batter he faced then committing a fielding error, which allowed Sher to cross for Iowa’s third run, putting Maryland ahead 7-3.

But Maryland wasn’t done yet. Right-hander Mark DiLuia relieved Zoellner after his error, inducing a fly out to end the seventh before retiring the Hawkeyes with three strikeouts in the top of the eighth.

A solo homer from Lee put the Terps up 8-3, his second in as many games, after sending a walk-off bomb deep over the left-field wall Thursday.

Iowa responded with a run in the ninth, but DiLuia got the game-ending strikeout to secure Maryland’s 8-4 win. The righty threw 2.1 innings, allowing one run on one hit, walking one and striking out five.

Maryland and Iowa face off in the series finale Saturday at 2 p.m.

“We’re coming out, we’re focused,” Maguire said. “We’re going to try to get a sweep and then the Big Ten. [It’s] Senior Day so we’re going to play our hearts out for those guys because they’ve been nothing but great to us.”