Strong performance by Phillips, home runs, guide Maryland to midweek win

With his team in the midst of a six-game losing streak, left-handed pitcher Billy Phillips took the mound for his first career start.

He was an unlikely hero, but just the one the Maryland Terrapins so desperately needed, as they rode his four scoreless innings to a 6-1 win against James Madison. It was Maryland’s first win since April 10, also against the Dukes.

“We just want to go out and play a really excellent brand of baseball,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “Our guys rang the bell today and did a great job.”

Phillips retired 12 of the 14 batters he faced, allowing just two hits and striking out four. Neither of the two baserunners made it past first base, and the southpaw lowered his ERA from 8.49 to 6.32.

After Taylor Bloom missed his last two starts — he was struck in the head by a line drive before a game on April 13 — the Terps had to shuffle their starting rotation. Mark DiLuia, their usual midweek starter, pitched over the weekend against Purdue, leaving a vacancy that Phillips filled admirably.

It was his longest appearance of his collegiate career, which has certainly had its peaks and valleys. The redshirt freshman missed his first two seasons of eligibility while he was battling Leukemia.

“There was a good portion of my life where, during that time, we didn’t know if I was ever going to play again,” he said. “At that point it was just a fight for each day. Baseball wasn’t even a thought in my mind at the time.”

Phillips was given run support instantly on Wednesday. After he retired the Dukes in order in the top of the first, his offense put up two runs in the bottom of the frame. Marty Costes’ return to the lineup — following a series-long suspension for violating team rules – began with an infield hit. Then, Kevin Biondic drove a RBI triple into the right field corner. He later scored on an infield hit by Zach Jancarski.

“From the very first pitch, Billy really set the tone,” Jancarski said. “Our offense consistently through nine were tough outs. Guys came up with some big hits. We just played a really clean game today.”

Maryland added to its lead with a trio of homers. The culprits? Freshman Randy Bednar, who hit one in the fourth, a solo shot by Nick Dunn and a two-run homer by Will Watson in the seventh. Dunn’s deep fly over the right field fence was his team-best eighth of the season.

Once Phillips’ duties on the mound concluded, Vaughn turned to a committee of relievers to close Maryland’s fourth midweek win in 2018. Mike Vasturia worked into some trouble, but navigated through two scoreless innings. Freshman Sean Fisher threw a 1-2-3 seventh, Ryan Hill made his season debut with a scoreless eighth, and John Murphy allowed one run, but closed the door in the ninth.

Maryland will look to carry this momentum and reverse its recent Big Ten struggles. It will look to snap a six-game conference losing streak when it travels to East Lansing over the weekend to face Michigan State.

Game Preview: James Madison Dukes

Two weeks ago, on April 10, the Maryland Terrapins traveled to Harrisonburg, Virginia, where they defeated the James Madison Dukes, 2-1, in a gritty 12-inning contest. The victory was the Terps’ second in three contests, and brought them to within a game of .500, at 16-17 on the season. It’s been all downhill for Maryland since then, however, as they haven’t won since, dropping six straight contests over the past two weeks.

Wednesday, the Terps (16-23, 3-8 Big Ten) look to right the ship when they host James Madison for the second part of their 2018 home-and-home set. They are coming off a rough weekend in which they lost all three contests against Purdue, the first time they were swept at home since losing three straight to Indiana in May 2015.

After losing Friday’s contest, Maryland had a chance to take the final two games of the series. The Terps carried a 3-2 lead into the ninth on Saturday, but surrendered homers in the ninth and 11th to lose. Leading 6-2 after six innings in Sunday’s contest, Maryland surrendered five runs in the seventh en route to Purdue’s sweep.

Even after breaking out for six runs Sunday, the Terps are still struggling at the plate, with a team batting average of .232 while averaging 4.4 runs per game. Nick Dunn leads the team in most offensive categories, including hitting (.344), on-base percentage (.433), slugging (.556), homers (7), RBIs (28) and runs scored (27). Zach Jancarski started to heat up over the weekend, notching an RBI double Saturday and a three-run homer Sunday. He and Dunn are tied for the team lead with 11 doubles. Kevin Biondic continues to rank second behind Dunn in average (.273), RBIs (21) and slugging (.473). This week, Maryland will benefit from the return of outfielder Marty Costes, who was suspended for the Purdue series.

In addition to his success at the plate, Biondic has been the Terps’ best reliever this season. Despite not throwing a collegiate pitch until February, the senior right-hander leads the team with an 0.87 ERA in 20.2 innings, while holding opponents to a .118 ERA. Other than Biondic, the bullpen has been shaky at best. John Murphy ranks second with a 4.29 ERA in a team-high 17 appearances.

After losing to Maryland two weeks ago, the Dukes (21-19, 6-9 CAA) won five straight contests, but since then have lost three of their last four. Over the weekend, they dropped the first two at Delaware before salvaging the third game with a 6-0 victory Sunday.

Infielder Fox Semones has been hot since the Terps and Dukes met, hitting three homers in the past nine games while raising his average to .304. He paces the team with seven home runs and a .514 slugging percentage, while tying for the team lead in doubles (8) and RBIs (17). Adam Sisk, who has kept pace with Semones in doubles and RBIs, also leads the team with a .397 on-base percentage and 28 runs scored. Josh Jones leads the team with a .316 batting average, but has four hits in his last six games, and did not play in one of the contests against Delaware over the weekend.

On the mound, James Madison carries a 3.59 ERA as a team. Five of the regular Dukes relievers – not including Wednesday’s starter Michael Bechtold – have ERAs under 3.00. Brett Ayer owns a minuscule 0.71 ERA despite getting tagged with the loss against the Terps two weeks ago. Nick Robertson leads the team with three saves, while posting a 1.83 ERA in 19.2 innings of work. Matt Colon, Matt Marsili and Garrett Richards have also impressed in relief.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Wednesday, 4:00 p.m. EST

R-Fr. RHP Michael Bechtold (1-0, 2.45 ERA) vs. R-Fr. LHP Billy Phillips (0-0, 8.49 ERA)

James_Madison_University_Athletics_logo.svg.png vs.  1Maryland_M_Bar_Primary_Athletic_Logo 

The brother of former Terps infielder Andrew Bechtold, right-hander Michael Bechtold gets the ball for James Madison on Wednesday, making his fourth start of the season (and ninth overall appearance). His last time out, last week against Longwood, he threw a season-high 4.2 innings, allowing just one run on five hits while striking out three. He has pitched well in his 18.1 innings of work this year, as seen by his 2.45 ERA, but he does allow baserunners, with a .260 opponent’s average.

After sitting out two years while battling cancer, left-hander Billy Phillips finally took the mound this season. In his first career appearance against Tennessee, he struck out the first hitter he faced before inducing a double play. Now, on Wednesday, he will make his first collegiate start, after making his first nine appearances of the season out of the bullpen. In 11.2 innings this year, he’s allowed 11 runs, all earned, while walking six and striking out six.

Game Preview: George Mason Patriots

Maryland’s postseason hopes took a hit over the weekend after losing all three games at home against Purdue, extending a current six-game losing streak. The Terps (16-23, 3-8 Big Ten) fell to 11th place of 13 teams in the Big Ten with three teams in between them and the last spot in the conference tournament. Now, Maryland hosts George Mason and James Madison in back-to-back midweek games on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

In right-hander Mark DiLuia’s first Friday night start of his career against Purdue, he pitched well enough to give his team the opportunity to win. Despite recording 12 hits, though, the Terps only generated one run before the Boilermakers pulled away late.

Another great start from Hunter Parsons on Saturday appeared to be enough to even the series but with a one-run lead in the ninth inning, Purdue hit a game-tying homer to force extras. In the 11th, another solo homer proved to be the difference as the Boilermakers clinched the series victory.

The Terps were well on their way to salvage a game in the series Sunday before a five-run seventh inning for Purdue earned the weekend sweep. Center fielder Zach Jancarski put Maryland up 4-0 early after a three-run homer, and a two-run double from second baseman Nick Dunn gave Maryland a 6-2 lead through six innings.

With an opportunity for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament now minimal, as well, Maryland’s two midweek contests this week will serve as chances to boost confidence before getting back into conference play next weekend at Michigan State.

Tuesday, Maryland hosts George Mason (16-22, 7-5 A10) at 4 p.m. in the first and only meeting this season between the two local foes. The Patriots are 7-5 in conference games this season, but are losers of five of their last seven games. While they’re 11-5 at home, they’ve struggled with a 4-11 record on the road.

Maryland and George Mason met once last season in Fairfax, Virginia, where the Patriots beat the Terps, 8-5. George Mason jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but Maryland fought back within three heading into the final frame. After loading the bases with one out in the ninth, Nick Dunn grounded into a controversial double play to end the game.

George Mason witnessed right-hander Jared DiCesare pitch a game for the ages on Sunday despite a 1-0 loss in 12 innings. The sophomore pitched 10 scoreless innings, allowing three hits, walking nobody and striking out seven hitters. He only threw 99 pitches. The Patriots went on to lose, 1-0, on a walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th to VCU.

The Patriots don’t have the most impressive pitching arsenal, though, having a 5.11 team ERA so far this season. Only two pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched have an ERA below 4.00. Four of the team’s five starting pitchers this season have ERAs above 4.31.

Senior right-hander Ryan Ricci has been the main reliable pitcher out of the bullpen for the Patriots, throwing 25.1 innings in a team-high 19 relief appearances this season. His 2.49 ERA is easily the best out of the bullpen. Basically every other primary reliever for George Mason has been suspect this season, carrying ERAs north of five runs.

George Mason is led offensively by sophomore Logan Driscoll and senior Trevor Kelly, who both thrived against the Terps last season. The duo went a combined 5-for-8 with four runs and four RBIs. Driscoll was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team last season, while Kelly led the conference with 56 RBIs.

This season, Driscoll and Kelly are the only Patriots who have played and started in all 38 games this season. Driscoll is batting an incredible .377, atop the team lead in hits (57), on-base percentage (.430) and slugging (.523). Kelly is the only other Patriots hitting over .300, batting .322 with team-highs in doubles (14) and home runs (4), and is tied with Driscoll with a team-best 29 runs scored and 30 RBIs.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Tuesday, 4:00 p.m. EST

TBA vs. TBA

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Neither team has announced a starter for Tuesday’s contest.

Maryland’s 8-6 loss to Purdue

Maryland’s 4-3 loss to Purdue

Terps blow lead in wild seventh, get swept by Purdue

Maryland catcher Justin Morris dove for the ball near the Maryland on-deck circle, a desperate attempt to keep it from rolling past him as Purdue’s Nick Dalesandro rounded third and headed for home. Morris couldn’t corral the errant throw, and pitcher Grant Burleson picked it up and threw it home wildly, allowing Dalesandro to score, as Purdue unloaded the bases on a bloop single to tie the game.

One batter later, Skyler Hunter scampered home on a wild pitch, giving the Boilermakers their first lead of the game in a wild seventh inning as Maryland fell to Purdue Sunday, 8-6. The Terps (16-23, 3-8 Big Ten) dropped all three games of an important conference series, getting swept at home for the first time since losing three straight to Indiana in May 2015.

“Coach [Rob] Vaughn kinda said it the best, he said he’s never seen anything like that before, and to be honest, I haven’t in a while either,” Maryland center fielder Zach Jancarski said of the three-run bloop single in the seventh. “The throw was a little bit up the line, communication wasn’t there as far as to cut it off or not, and then it kinda had a negative domino effect from there.”

Desperately needing a victory Sunday to stay relevant in the Big Ten Tournament conversation, everything seemed to be going right for Maryland through six innings. Tyler Blohm, who exited his last start with arm discomfort, was through six innings of two-run ball, and five combined RBIs from Zach Jancarski and Nick Dunn had given Maryland a 6-2 advantage.

But things came apart quickly for the Terrapins in the seventh, as they coughed up five runs on just two hits, highlighted by Hunter’s bases-loaded single and Will Watson’s throwing error. Blohm, who minimized damage through his first six frames, loaded the bases in the inning on a double and two walks with nobody out.

He exited in favor of freshman left-hander Grant Burleson, who induced a ground ball fielder’s choice that scored a run, but set up the potential for an inning-ending double play. But after a walk loaded the bases, Hunter blooped a single into left-center. Two runs crossed, and Will Watson’s throw home skipped past cutoff man Taylor Wright and up the third base line, as Morris sprinted over in an attempt to reign it in. Dalesandro scored on the play, and Hunter crossed later on the wild pitch, completing the Maryland collapse.

“If you don’t play catch, if you let the game get fast, you know it can snowball on you a little bit and that’s what happened right there,” Vaughn said. “One bad throw led to three bad throws and a flail to the outfield ended up being a three-run triple essentially. So yeah, just not taking care of the baseball right there kinda came back to get us.”

This negated a strong outing early on by Tyler Blohm, who allowed just a solo homer and an RBI single while striking out four through his first six frames of work. He was aided by some early run support, as Maryland broke out for four runs in the third, highlighted by Zach Jancarski’s three-run homer.

The Terps took an early lead in the inning when AJ Lee scampered home on a wild pitch to make it 1-0, and Jancarski took Purdue starter Trent Johnson deep over the left-field wall after a missed catch on a pop-up extended the inning. The homer was Jancarski’s fourth homer of the year, setting a new career high for the senior center fielder.

Nick Dunn lined a two-out, two-run double into the right field corner in the sixth, scoring Lee and Brad Barnett, who had both walked earlier in the frame. Dunn’s team-leading 27th and 28th RBIs gave the Terps a commanding 6-2 lead heading into the final three innings of play, before the wild seventh inning turned the game upside down.

Purdue added another in the ninth, when Hunter doubled off Sean Fisher to open the inning, and eventually came around the score on AJ Lee’s error at shortstop. John Murphy came on in relief of Fisher to escape a bases-loaded jam to close out the top of the ninth.

Maryland brought the winning run to the plate in the ninth against Purdue closer Ross Learnard, as Kevin Biondic singled with two out and Watson walked. But Jancarski popped up in foul ground to end the game and ensure the sweep for Purdue. 

“We have to continue to be as consistent as we possibly can, and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Jancarski said. “If you don’t earn those 27 outs and you don’t play as good as you can that day, you’re probably going to lose. That’s just the way [the Big Ten] is, it’s pretty even, and we just gotta do a little bit better job moving forward, but I like our chances.”

With the loss, the Terps drop to 3-8 in conference play, as they drift further from the No.-8 spot in the Big Ten that is necessary for them to make the conference tournament.

“What we can’t control is where we are in the standings, what we can’t control is the last two months of baseball,” Vaughn said. “All we can control is our effort today and what we come out on Tuesday and do. That’s what I’m looking for out of these guys, just come back, bounce back. If we play a clean game of baseball and get beat and we compete our tails off, I can live with that.”

Maryland is back in action Tuesday at home against George Mason at 4 p.m.

Bullpen surrenders late lead as Maryland loses in extras, 4-3

Zach Jancarski stood on the warning track and watched the ball sail over the center field fence as Jacson McGowan began his trot around the bases. McGowan, Purdue’s cleanup hitter, homered in two straight at-bats – in the ninth and the 11th – as the Boilermakers rallied back to defeat the Terps in 11 innings Saturday, 4-3.

Hunter Parsons, who was moved up a day from his typical Sunday role, turned in another magnificent performance, shutting the Boilermakers (18-16, 6-4 Big Ten) down with eight innings of two-run ball. But his shot at his fourth win of the year was erased by Jacson McGowan’s game-tying home run leading off the ninth inning against John Murphy. With the loss, Maryland (16-22, 3-7 Big Ten) has dropped three straight conference series, and five straight games. 

A Maryland offense that struggled mightily with runners on base in the series opener broke out early in Saturday’s contest. An error and a single put two on and one out in the first for Will Watson, who was moved up from the seventh spot to cleanup after a three-hit performance Friday night. Watson singled through the left side to put the Terps on the board first, and Zach Jancarski followed with a double just inside the third base bag to give Maryland a 2-0 advantage.

With the game tied in the seventh, Maryland retook the lead on a heads up play by Tommy Gardiner. With the freshman designated hitter on second, Nick Dunn bounced a ground ball toward the right side. Dunn beat out the throw, and Gardiner never stopped running, sliding across home plate and pumping his fist as the Terps took a 3-2 lead.

This lead held until the ninth, when Murphy surrendered the long ball to McGowan. Murphy has struggled of late, and was later replaced by Kevin Biondic, who entered the contest with a team-best 0.50 ERA. Biondic, who also went 2-for-5 at the plate, shut the door on Purdue in the ninth, and pitched a scoreless tenth, but was handed the loss after McGowan took him deep with one out in the top of the 11th. 

Last week against Michigan, Parsons missed his start due to the weather-shortened series, instead throwing five innings of relief in Sunday’s loss. He didn’t skip a beat in his return to the rotation, dominating in his first career Saturday start. He needed 113 pitches to get through eight innings, allowing just two runs on five hits while whiffing three batters.

His only two blemishes on the day came in the third and fifth. Harry Shipley took him deep for his first homer of the year in the third – his first homer of the year. Two innings later, Parsons had a chance to work out of a first and third, one out jam, but AJ Lee’s relay on a potential double play ball allowed the runner from third to score, tying the game at 2-2.

After giving up the lead in the ninth, the Terps had two chances to walk off, but failed to capitalize. In the bottom of the ninth, Dunn singled with two out, but Biondic flew out to deep center to end the inning. In the tenth, a Watson hit by pitch and a Taylor Wright walk put the winning run in scoring position with one out, but Maryland couldn’t get him the final 180 feet.

The Terps will look to salvage at least one game of the series Sunday at 1 p.m. LHP Tyler Blohm (4-2, 3.99 ERA) will face off against Purdue’s RHP Trent Johnson (1-1, 1.88 ERA).