By Ben Harris
As the weather warmed up in College Park, Maryland, so too did the Terrapin bats. Maryland doubled their 2016 season run total Sunday in a 13-run explosion, clinching a home opening series victory over Rhode Island.
Prior to today, four of Maryland’s five games yielded only one offensive run. The lone outlier was a nine-run outburst – powered by three homers – in Alabama last Saturday.
Falling behind 4-0 in the third inning, Justin Morris launched the first pitch he saw on the afternoon over the batter’s eye in center field. The two-run dinger cut the Rhode Island lead in half. The Rams scratched across three more runs in the fifth to take a 7-2 lead. However, Maryland’s offense responded emphatically, posting a crooked eight-run inning in the bottom half of the frame.
First baseman Kevin Biondic got the inning started driving a two-run homer to left. The next six runs in the inning all came with two outs. With the bases loaded, Nick Cieri launched a grand slam to right, erasing a three-run deficit and giving the Terps an 8-7 lead. It was the junior’s second home run on the year.
Unlike most of this season, Maryland was able to string together a series of baserunners and add to the lead. Only the seventh spot in the order went hitless.
However, head coach John Szefc’s decision to swap Peyton Sorrels – debuting and hitting in the seven spot – and fellow freshman Marty Costes in the fifth paid off immensely.
“We flipped [Sorrels] and Marty there when it went left and right,” Szefc said, “and Marty comes off the bench and has a great at-bat and works out a walk against that lefty and kept the inning going.”
Having already homered in the inning, Biondic returned to the plate after the Costes walk and singled home Anthony Papio.
The entire Maryland lineup contributed to the season-high 13-run offensive surge. Thus far, due to the Terps dependence on the home run ball, the offense hadn’t seen a game where the lineup contributed top to bottom. The importance of today’s full-team effort, specifically piling up hits surrounding the homers, stuck out in Szefc’s mind.
“What happened behind the grand slam was huge in that inning to go from a one run lead to a three run lead,” Szefc said. “If that doesn’t happen I don’t know how that game ends.”
Rob Galligan earned his first save of 2016 after being named to the NCWBA Stopper of the Year watch list. The senior entered the game to clean up a no out, bases loaded jam in the eighth. Two softly hit singles and a wild pitch scored three runs, all of which were charged to Tayler Stiles in his season debut. Rhode Island shaved Maryland’s lead to 11-10, threatening to take the lead with runners on second and third. But Galligan shut the door with a huge strikeout and ground ball to Andrew Bechtold at third to end the inning.
Two more insurance runs in the eighth inning, courtesy of Nick Dunn and Cieri back-to-back RBI doubles, held off the Rams who had briefly cut the Maryland lead to one.
“Honestly that’s huge,” said Biondic of the club’s ability to score without the home run. “You cant always rely on the long ball … today was a perfect example of double after double, it was really good to see everyone stringing together hits.”
A clean 1-2-3 top of the ninth – highlighted by two phenomenal defensive plays from Galligan himself – sealed the series win for the Terps.
Of Maryland’s 26 runs on the season, 14 have come directly from the long ball. They hadn’t hit four home runs in a game since their May 22 ACC Tournament win over Virginia in 2014. Szefc has not lost a home opening series in his four years at Maryland. The Terps are 12-1 in those series with six shutouts.
Listen to postgame interviews from head coach John Szefc, first baseman Kevin Biondic and designated hitter Nick Cieri: