By Ben Harris
With the Terrapin pitching rotation experiencing unexpected turmoil after Taylor Bloom’s hamstring injury, head coach John Szefc called on freshman Hunter Parsons to start a pivotal rubber match for Maryland against the woeful Purdue Boilermakers (7-30, 2-13 Big Ten).
Despite one of their worst efforts in a 7-1 loss Friday, Maryland (21-18, 7-5 Big Ten) bounced back Saturday with a 6-0 shutout and clinched the series win Sunday behind a strong outing from Parsons in just his third collegiate start.
Parsons (2-0) worked efficiently in his first career Big Ten start, an 11-3 win over the visiting Boilermakers, retiring the first two batters in each of his first five innings on the bump. Starting each inning strong afforded Parsons some leeway – despite Purdue hitting 5-9 through the first five innings with two outs, the young right-hander stood strong, only allowing one run through five.
“Even though the team we played today doesn’t have a good record, they’re battling to win a conference series on a Sunday just like we are,” said Szefc. “All the numbers go out the window on a Sunday like this and without a good start, you don’t know where it’s going to go and he gave us a really quality start and minimized damage.”
A pair of doubles scored another run for Purdue in the sixth, elevating Parsons’ pitch count to 98. He was replaced in the seventh by senior Rob Galligan. His final line read six innings, seven hits and two earned runs with no walks and five strikeouts.
The Terps have won each of his first three collegiate starts.
Although he has been called upon out of the bullpen six times, Parsons has shined when granted starting privileges.
“Coming in as a starter you get a chance to get comfortable,” Parsons said after the game. “If you don’t have it for a batter or two you can always come back and you know you’re going multiple innings so you got time to get into a groove. I think that’s the tough part of coming out of the bullpen and some people struggle with it because you got to have it immediately when you come out of the pen.”
That familiarity has allowed Parsons to lock into gear only three starts into his college career. In his three starts, the freshman has thrown 17.2 innings with an impressive 2.03 ERA, 13 strikeouts to just two walks. He’s allowed less than one walk/hit per inning pitched as a starter (0.85 WHIP).
It’s no surprise he has excelled in the starting role just one year out of high school.
Two weeks ago, Parsons was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after tossing seven innings of two-hit, one run ball against James Madison.
After retiring the game’s first five batters, Parson surrendered back-to-back two-out hits to Purdue. Alec Olund flipped a single into center field after a Brett Carlson double to the wall in left, putting the Boilermakers up 1-0 in the second.
Maryland would respond emphatically in the third inning. The merry-go-round on the base paths began with Anthony Papio’s double to right, the Terps’ first hit of the afternoon.
Purdue starter Shane Bryant (0-3) struggled to find the zone, walking consecutive hitters including Zach Jancarski who was looking to sacrifice two runners into scoring position.
Madison Nickens chased Bryant with no outs in the second, slapping a bases loaded single through the left side of the infield to put Maryland on the board and tie the game at one.
After striking out his first batter, Bryant’s replacement Tanner Andrews suffered the same fate, allowing runs to score in each of the next three at bats. Nick Dunn plated two with a double grounded down the right field line and Nick Cieri reached on an infield error by Cody Strong at second.
To cap off the inning, with runners in scoring position, Kevin Biondic laid down a pristine safety squeeze, scoring the fifth and final run of Maryland’s crooked bottom of the third.
In the seventh, the Terps posted another five-run inning after RBI singles from Kevin Smith, Nick Dunn, Kevin Biondic and Marty Costes.
“It’s so much easier,” Parsons said when asked how helpful an offensive explosion can be behind a pitcher. “Being able to pitch comfortably, knowing that if you make a mistake it’s not going to bury you guys in the game. Really credit the offense for doing that it makes it a lot easier on the pitchers.
Notes: Maryland hit .545 (6-11) with runners in scoring position on the day. With a runner on third and less than two outs, that number jumped to .800 (4-5). Anthony Papio homered for the second straight game Sunday. The senior now has three long balls on the year. Maryland has won two of three Big Ten series after taking two of three games from Purdue. The Terps travel to University Park, Pennsylvania, to square off with the Penn State Nittany Lions next weekend. They will play their second midweek game against James Madison on Tuesday in Harrisonburg, Virginia.