By Ben Harris
For the second straight season, Maryland played a 1-0 series finale against Cal State Fullerton. The scenarios couldn’t have been more different.
Last year, the No. 22 ranked Terps hosted the Titans in College Park. Maryland earned a quick series win in 2015 with victories on Friday and Saturday. The Sunday pitcher’s duel featured eight sterling innings from Jake Drossner and ended in a 10-inning 1-0 loss. No matter, it was a series win for a 27-11 Terrapin team against an above .500 Cal State club.
This weekend the Titans (11-8) played the role of ranked host (No. 23), welcoming Maryland to Goodwin Field in Fullerton, California. With the series tied 1-1 heading into Sunday, the Terps (9-10) turned to their flourishing starter Brian Shaffer to earn a much needed series win.
Shaffer tossed a gem of a complete game shutout, spreading out seven hits and walking none. It was the second consecutive complete game for the Terps, after Taylor Bloom’s performance in yesterday’s 8-4 win. Maryland has won three of Shaffer’s last four starts.
“He should be national pitcher of the week, no less Big Ten pitcher of the week,” head coach John Szefc said postgame. “I’d like to see anyone else in America come in and do that. I’m sure someone could but I bet they don’t. You show me the last time these guys were shutout to lose a series at home on a Sunday.”
At your service coach: Cal State hadn’t been shut out at home on a Sunday with a chance to win a series since May 20, 2012. The Titans are 18-8 on Sunday at home since then.
Shaffer has turned it on after two average starts to begin the season and proved a vital anchor to the weekend rotation. His first two starts against Alabama and Rhode Island netted him a 7.36 ERA and 1.36 WHIP through 7.1 innings of work with four walks and just three strikeouts. Since then, his numbers have flipped. The sophomore’s ERA is 1.26 in his last three starts (21.1 innings), averaging 5.33 strikeouts and less than one walk a game with a 0.84 WHIP.
The right-hander made quick work of Cal State tossing just 99 pitches. Locked in a pitcher’s duel with Colton Eastman, each posted nearly identical numbers through five innings. Eastman had allowed no runs on two hits with five strikeouts, Shaffer had allowed no runs on three hits, also striking out five batters. With two outs in the sixth, Madison Nickens broke the deadlock with an RBI double off the top of the right centerfield wall scoring Justin Morris all the way from first.
When Eastman faltered, Shaffer excelled. Both his velocity and efficiency increased late in the game, as he cruised through the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings on 5, 8 and 10 pitches respectively.
“He made quality pitches early in the count and they got themselves out a little bit,” Szefc said of Shaffer’s success early in the count. “But if he’s not making quality pitches early that’s probably not happening.”
Shaffer allowed six singles and a triple, however the three-bagger was a soft liner from Jerrod Bravo that rolled to the wall after falling just under the glove of a sliding Madison Nickens. Had Nickens played it more conservatively, each of Shaffer’s seven allowed hits would have been singles.
A fantastic relay from Nick Dunn cut down Chris Hudgins at the plate as he attempted to score from first. With Bravo on third, the next batter sharply grounded a ball up the middle, glancing off Shaffer’s leg directly to Dunn at second to complete the putout. It was the first of 10 consecutive hitters retired by Shaffer, including four of his five strikeouts.
After consecutive singles in the sixth, Cal State’s biggest threat was nullified by another stout defensive play, this time in the form of a 4-6-3 twin killing started by Dunn in the hole at second. After nine straight games with an error, Maryland’s leather bailed out their lack of offense Sunday for a much needed win.
“Dunn makes two plays that are not routine,” Szefc said, “a great throw off a tandem relay to nail a guy at the plate and a very unnormal 4-6-3 double play. To be honest with you I didn’t think he was going to go back to second base, I thought he’d just take the out at first … but you know, he’s got balls.”
The freshman phenom Dunn’s 13-game hitting streak was snapped Sunday, but a ninth inning hit by pitch extended his streak of reaching base in all 19 Terrapin games this season. Entering Sunday, his .386 batting average was good for 11th highest in the Big Ten. During his hit streak, Dunn hit .431, reached base at a .539 clip and logged 14 RBIs. He currently leads the team in runs, hits, batting average, on base percentage, doubles, extra base hits, and is tied for the lead in RBIs.
Climbing back toward the .500 mark, Maryland is now 9-10. The Terps host Liberty University on Tuesday at home before traveling to Iowa this weekend to kick off conference play against the Iowa Hawkeyes.