Preseason Countdown #24: 2018 Pitching MVP

Right-hander Hunter Parsons allowed eight runs in his first inning of the 2018 season, but that ugly outing quickly became a distant memory.

The first start of Parsons’ junior campaign was shortened to three outs when Tennessee tagged him for six hits on the first Sunday of the season. But after that game, he worked a 2.66 ERA the remainder of the year to become Maryland baseball’s most consistent and dominant pitcher.

Each subsequent appearance from Parsons seemed to improve after that disastrous inning against the Volunteers. The rapid growth under first-year Terps pitching coach Corey Muscara culminated into a season polar opposite from Parsons’ sophomore year, one that yielded a 12.05 ERA in only 21.2 innings.

DSC_0124All it took was self-confidence and a new grip on his two-seam fastball. For the rest of the year, no opponent touched Parsons the way Tennessee did. He finished with a 3.44 ERA, inflated by the lone ugly outing.

Parsons didn’t miss a start while Maryland struggled to keep its entire weekend rotation healthy in 2018. He led the team with five wins, 89 innings pitched, 62 strikeouts and a .225 batting average against.

His newfound ability to pitch deep into games reduced extra work from a short-staffed pitching arsenal. He tossed two complete games, the first coming against Bryant in a game that demonstrated Parsons’ trust in his ability.

When coach Rob Vaughn asked Parsons if he wanted to stay in the game with the go-ahead run at the plate in the ninth inning, the righty was eager to record the 27th out instead of handing the ball over to closer John Murphy. He got the next batter to weakly ground out to earn the 5-3 win over Bryant and clinch the series victory. 

Two weeks later, Parsons outdid himself. This time it was a complete game shutout in a 2-0 win over Stetson, a team that found itself playing into June in an NCAA Super Regional. Parsons allowed only two hits while striking out a career-high nine batters, again clinching a series win for the Terps. The performance garnered Big Ten co-pitcher of the week honors.

Parsons turned into the team’s ace, taking the hill in the last two series-openers. Maryland’s late postseason push, however, fell short on the final day of conference play. The right-hander wasn’t selected in the MLB draft, so he’ll look to build off his breakout season in his final year in College Park this spring.

Preseason Countdown #25: 2018 Offensive MVP

Before former Maryland second baseman Nick Dunn was drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB Draft, he led Maryland baseball in seven offensive categories during his third and final season with the Terps.

The only player on the team to hit above .300, Dunn posted a career-high .330 average and was the Terps’ most valuable hitter in 2018.  During the final weekend series of the season, Dunn became the 13th player in program history to record 200-career hits. 

The infielder also finished the season with a team-high .419 on-base percentage, 10 home runs, 70 hits and 39 RBIs as the most consistent bat regularly placed in the middle of coach Rob Vaughn’s lineup.

Not known for power early in his Maryland career, Dunn’s double-digit homer surge became a pleasant surprise after hitting six combined long balls in his first two seasons. While his strength steadily grew, his ability to draw walks never changed throughout his three years. He left College Park with 85 walks to just 67 strikeouts.

But while Dunn delivered many vital hits and got on base often, arguably the most memorable hit of his last collegiate season was the one that brought out the most emotion from the typically stoic infielder. 

After Dunn’s walk-off double in the 10th inning secured a comeback win over in-state foe Towson, the Terps stormed the field and mobbed Dunn as he rounded the bases. Former two-way player Kevin Biondic recalled Dunn cracking a slight and uncommon smile as his teammates swarmed around him. 

Prior to his breakout junior season, Dunn hit over .300 and was named the playoff co-MVP of the Cape Cod Baseball League champion Brewster Whitecaps, whom he spent two seasons with.

After showcasing himself through his stellar summer performances and team-leading offensive power with the Terps last spring, the St. Louis Cardinals drafted Dunn with the 153rd overall pick. His selection marked the fifth straight year the Terps had a top-five round pick in the MLB draft.

Aggies come from behind again to clinch Fall World Series

In two consecutive games, the Old Liners were only three outs away from clinching the Fall World Series. Both times, the Aggies battled back from three runs down in the final inning.

One day after scoring four runs in their final at-bats to tie the series, 1-1, the Aggies scored three runs on three hits in the top of the seventh after being held scoreless the entire game.

After forcing extras, Aggies first baseman Michael Pineiro came up with the bases loaded and delivered a two-run single to give his team a 5-3 lead. One pitch later, third baseman Max Costes boomed a double to deep left field, scoring yet another run for the Aggies in the eighth.

The late-inning onslaught not only gave the Aggies a comeback 6-4 win, but also a Fall World Series victory after losing the first game last Wednesday. The Aggies scored six runs in the final two innings, with right-hander Will Glock holding on for the save.

For much of the afternoon, though, the Old Liners pitchers were able to strand the tying runs on base with a two-run lead.

Left-hander Billy Phillips made his second start of the series for the Old Liners, going three strong scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and striking out three. He stranded the bases loaded in the first inning and cruised through the next two.

After two walks to start the fourth, right-hander Nick Turnbull came in looking to strand the two potential tying runs on base. He did just that, retiring the next three batters to get out of a jam unscathed.

An inning later, Old Liners reliever Sean Fisher did the same once Turnbull got into similar trouble. Coming in with two runner in scoring position and nobody out. The southpaw preserved the two-run lead as well to get out of his first inning of work.

Right fielder Randy Bednar went 3-for-4 and stole four bases for the Old Liners, playing a part in all three of the team’s runs. After driving in left fielder Caleb Walls with an RBI single in the first, Bednar swiped second before also coming around to score in the two-run frame.

The sophomore looked confident at the plate as one of Maryland’s returning bats from a season ago. In addition to driving in a run and scoring in the first, he doubled and singled again before touching home for the Old Liners’ third run in the sixth inning.

Despite Bednar’s production, the Aggies bats outmatched him late in the game.

From top to bottom, the Aggies lineup delivered in the late crucial moments of the game in order to give them the victory in the series finale. Although they struggled to score runs early — stranding eight base runners through the first six innings — they didn’t leave anyone hanging with the game on the line.

 

 

 

 

 

Aggies walk off in thrilling Game 2 of Fall World Series

Zach Doss was mobbed by his Aggies teammates as he made his way down to first base, moments after he was plunked to bring in the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh.

Down 5-2 with only one out remaining, the Aggies loaded the bases before using four free passes — capped off by Doss’ hit by pitch — to give the Aggies a series-tying win over the Old Liners in the Fall World Series.

After the Old Liners got off to a hot start, with redshirt-junior Caleb Walls having a big night, going 2-for-3 with a walk, a single and a solo homer, the win seemed in the bag for the team. With Walls as leadoff hitter, the Old Liners put up three runs in the first two innings.

But the Old Liners offense, which held a three-run lead heading into the bottom of the seventh, wasn’t enough in the end.

The Aggies started their comeback in the fourth, putting up two runs off two wild pitches and an RBI-groundout from Doss that combined to score Max Costes and Kody Milton, respectively.

With an offense that lagged behind that of the Old Liners, it was the Aggies’ relief pitching that allowed for the late-inning comeback.

After relieving Zach Thompson in the second, left-hander Tuck Tucker went 2.2 innings, recording eight straight outs including four strikeouts.

Then, after a solid fifth inning from Tyler Blohm, redshirt sophomore Mike Vasturia threw a solid sixth inning and worked out of a jam in the top of the seventh to strand a runner at third after recording two strikeouts in a row. With that, the Aggies had a newfound momentum for a late-inning rally.

A walk from pinch-hitter Bryce Cunningham followed by a double down the third-base line from Ben Irvine and a walk to Michael Pineiro gave Costes the chance to give the Aggies the walk-off with two outs.

It took two more three more batters for the walk-off to come, after the Aggies worked four walks in a row and a final hit-by-pitch to seal the deal, making the late-inning comeback possible.

With the series tied at one game apiece, both teams will look claim the fall classic on Monday, with a Game 3 start time of 3:30 p.m.

 

Old Liners hold on against Aggies for Game 1 win in Fall World Series

Entering the fifth inning, the Old Liners were hitless in Game 1 of the Fall World Series but only trailed the Aggies by one run.

Once that hit came, an RBI-double from sophomore Randy Bednar, the Old Liners’ offense kept coming, and a two-run bottom of the fifth led them to their 3-2 win in the seven-inning contest.

“After something like that, you’re kind of more amped up, kind of more into it,” Bednar said.

The sophomore outfielder also scored the Old Liners’ first run, after a missed throw to first from Aggies freshman reliever Andrew Vail put him on second with no outs in the third inning.

A sacrifice fly from catcher Justin Vought drove home the run to tie the Aggies at one run apiece. The sophomore also pulled through for the Old Liners behind the plate, catching two runners stealing.

Bednar was just one of many underclassmen whose offensive production helped their respective team. For the Aggies, both runs came from freshman. Outfielder Max Costes knocked an RBI-double to right-center in the first frame, scoring first baseman Michael Pineiro from first with one out, giving the Aggies the early lead.

“The young guys have done a really good job this fall of buying in and really getting into what we’re doing here,” said senior A.J. Lee. “We had some big swings from young guys today… [they’re] really stepping into their own and they’re not feeling like freshmen anymore.”

Then, in his second at-bat of the night, freshman Kody Milton singled to second. He crossed the plate two wild pitches and a sacrifice squeeze later, scoring the Aggies’ temporary tie-breaking run in the fourth inning.

The Aggies also relied on freshman power on the mound. Right-hander Trevor LaBonte delivered two hitless innings to start, followed by a solid 2.1 innings from Vail.

“I think [LaBonte’s] going to be really good,” Head Coach Rob Vaughn said. “A little bit of our success this season is going to be dictated on how fast some of our young pups grow up.”

A shutdown bottom of the sixth from redshirt-sophomore Mike Vasturia maintained the Old Liners’ one-run lead, giving the Aggies the chance for a comeback in the seventh and final inning.

“When you can get a 1-2-3 inning there, with us (the Aggies) down one going into the last inning, it’s huge,” said Lee. “The arms we ran out there today are really good. I think [with] the depth of our staff, I think we’re pretty good.”

The Aggies threatened in the top of the seventh, as junior Ben Irvine drew a leadoff walk. He then swiped second and moved to third on a wild pitch with only one out.

But Old Liners right-hander Elliot Zoellner, who came on the for save, kept Irvine 90 feet away. He induced a ground ball with the infield in to record the second out and registered the final out with a strikeout to secure the one-run victory in Game 1.

“That’s the best intersquad game we’ve played (in the two years the current coaching staff has been together)” Vaughn said. “As far as intensity, as far as communication, as far as young guys being involved in executing, that was one of the best we’ve had in two years.”

Game 2 of the Fall World Series will be at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, as the Aggies look to even the series.

5 takeaways from Maryland’s exhibition against Southern New Hampshire

Maryland baseball played in one of its two fall exhibitions Sunday afternoon, hosting Southern New Hampshire for a 19-inning marathon.

The Terps scored twice in the bottom of the eighth to secure a 3-2 lead through nine innings. A scheduled 18-inning exhibition went one more, as Maryland scored three runs in the bottom of the last inning to eventually earn a tie after one extra inning.

Here are five takeaways from the exhibition:

1. Justin Vought made a difference in multiple areas.

Sophomore Justin Vought — the team’s only returning catcher — hit a home run, threw out a would-be base stealer and scored the go-ahead to help the Terps secure a lead through nine innings.

In the second inning, Vought launched a solo shot to left-center field to tie the game at 1-1. He hit three home runs last season in his freshman campaign, now poised for a breakout second year in College Park.

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Vought worked a walk and later came around to score as the go-ahead run in the first nine frames. Vought continued his success in the latter half of the day, doubling before receiving rest in the last six innings of the afternoon.

2. The relievers shut down the Penmen in the first nine innings. 

Senior right-hander Hunter Parsons and junior lefty Tyler Blohm — two of last year’s weekend starters — tossed the first three innings of the afternoon, each conceding a run. From that point on, though, Maryland’s relievers contained the Penmen through nine innings.

Junior right-hander Nick Turnbull relieved Blohm after the third, tossing two scoreless frames. The transfer from Harford Community College faced the minimum in his first inning before working into a jam in the fifth. He stranded two runners in scoring position to escape.

Sophomore left-hander Sean Fisher hit two batters in the sixth but struck out three hitters to go unscathed before working around a two-out double in his second inning of work. Senior John Murphy also tossed a pair of scoreless innings, which would’ve earned himself a win in a normal nine-inning contest.

3. The Terps battled back throughout the afternoon.

Maryland fell behind early against Southern New Hampshire, which stole home to take a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Vought’s homer in the next inning tied the game momentarily, but the Penmen scored again in the third to reclaim an advantage.

After a slow start offensively to the day, Maryland scratched across two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Junior Taylor Wright stretched a single into a double to spark a late rally that gave Maryland a 3-2 advantage through the first nine innings.

In the start of the second half of the 19-inning affair, Maryland fell behind four runs to Southern New Hampshire, but responded with four runs of its own in the next half-inning. The Terps had two walks, two singles a double and a three-run homer to climb back into the game. Maryland scored the following inning for its fifth unanswered run.

Down three in the bottom of the day’s final inning, Maryland used singles from sophomore Bubba Alleyne and freshman Bryce Cunningham to get back within a run. Junior Barrett Smith delivered a game-tying sacrifice fly to force a 19th inning and an eventual tie.

4. Michael Pineiro had a standout day at the plate.

The sophomore didn’t step on the field a season ago for the Terps, but he had more hits than any one of his teammates Sunday afternoon. Pineiro went 4-for-5 at the plate with a walk and a run scored, playing in 15 innings

In the first half of the day, Pineiro picked up two hits and stole a base. He reached scoring position twice but never came around to score. In the second half, though, Pineiro singled and doubled in consecutive plate appearances. He touched home for his only run of the day to cap off Maryland’s five unanswered runs in the second half.

Both an infielder and outfielder, Pineiro was used differently in each half of the afternoon. He played in two positions that were left vacated after last season: first base and left field. He began the first half in the infield but switched to left field for the second half of the day, playing solid defense in both spots.

5. Several new players made an impact. 

Maryland brought in a large freshmen recruiting class and a slew of transfers, many of which played well in their first action against an opponent this fall.

Head coach Rob Vaughn began the second half of the game with three first-year Terps in the lineup: Sebastian Holte-Mancera, Benjamin Cowles and Kody Milton. The trio combined for three hits, three RBIs and a walk.

Holte-Mancera, a junior from Ellsworth Community College, blasted a three-run homer to right-center field in his first at-bat to tie the game at one point. Cowles and Milton, both freshmen, singled in limited action.

Junior right-hander Zach Thompson was on the team last season, but had to sit out a year after transferring from St. Mary’s College. He flourished in 2.2 innings, allowing no runs out of the bullpen. He allowed a double and a single in his last inning of work but stranded both runners on base.