By Ben Harris
Despite their series loss last week against visiting Illinois, despite dropping games on Friday and Saturday to Rutgers (25-26, 8-13 Big Ten), and despite the plummeting probability of making the Big Ten Tournament, the Maryland Terrapins (26-24, 11-10 Big Ten) still controlled their own destiny entering Sunday.
And on a Senior Day that saw just two Terps honored during the pregame ceremonies, it was a sophomore who stole the spotlight, a fitting summation of this year’s heavily youth-infused club. Starter Brian Shaffer didn’t surrender a hit through his first three and a third, and allowed just three through eight shutout innings, striking out a career high eight batters.
It was Shaffer’s phenomenal outing that afforded Maryland the ability to be patient at the plate, despite a frustrating two prior games. It wouldn’t have been surprising to see a young team’s inexperience get the better of them, causing them to press. Instead, they methodically battled back, making the most of what they were given and reaching double-digit walks.
“He gave our offense a chance to be patient and work through some at bats,” Szefc said after win number 350 in his head coaching career. “I say it all the time, if your starter gives your offense some time, especially at home, it’s usually going to go your way.”
Attacking early and often, Shaffer jumped ahead of eight of the first nine hitters. His most high-stress situation came in the second inning, when a deep fly ball from John Jennings bounced in and out of Marty Costes’ glove in the left center field gap. Jennings reached third on the play with one out.
Like so many times before, Shaffer buckled down. To begin the inning, he had thrown four straight sliders to Jawuan Harris to get him looking on strikes. After the error, he struck out Mike Martinez swinging, on another sharp, biting slider. Bearing down, he began the next hitter, Milo Freeman, with another. Once down 0-2, Freeman flied out to right, ending the threat.
Beyond the run-saving effort from Shaffer, escaping the jam had larger implications for the Terps’ mental approach.
“Not only does it keep the game even,” said Szefc who, “but it was a really mental thing for our team to not have to come from behind in a day that we really had to win. I hate saying ‘must-win’ but that was kind of a must-win.”
With the win, the Terps maintained control of their own conference destiny.
B1G Baseball Tournament
IN: Minn & Ind
OUT: NW & Pur
4096 possible outcomes next weekend–decide fate of 9 teams
Terps control own destiny
— Matt Present (@matt_present) May 15, 2016
It was just the second time this season Shaffer has thrown to Nick Cieri, but the duo performed brilliantly. Justin Morris, Shaffer’s normal batterymate, came in as a defensive substitute in his eighth and final inning.
“J[ustin] has been my go-to guy all year, but it’s nice having Cieri back there,” Shaffer said. “We have been working really well lately and it doesn’t really matter who’s back there, but it’s nice having both of them to choose from.”
Maryland benefited from a merry-go-round sixth inning in which they knocked Rutgers starter Serafino Brito out of the game and took advantage of reliever Kyle Driscoll.
With senior Anthony Papio on third after a leadoff double and Costes aboard first with a walk, Kevin Smith couldn’t quite push a safety squeeze far enough down the first base line, and Papio was erased at home plate.
Smith stepped to the plate hitting 4-8 with two dingers and five RBIs in the series’ first two games. But in a 0-0 game, Szefc was looking for anything to jumpstart his offense.
“We were trying to get a lead and score first,” said Szefc. “That’s what we’re really trying to do and, the first and third situation, Kevin is one of our better push bunters so it really was a good situation for it, it just didn’t work out. I’d do it again in that situation.”
Before being yanked, Brito walked Madison Nickens to load the bases and plunked Biondic to bring home a run. Maryland’s patient approach worked deep counts against relievers Sunday in ways they hadn’t all series against Rutgers starters.
“Our main objective this game was to get into the bullpen early and see what we could do,” said Smith. They did, and it paid off.
Driscoll, who entered for Brito, walked both batters he faced without recording an out. Campbell, who replaced Driscoll, walked two in one and a third innings. And after recording the first out in the eighth, Ryan Fleming allowed a single to Morris and walked three of the next four, forcing in another run.
None of Maryland’s six runs were brought home with a hit. Four came on bases loaded walks/hit by pitches, another on a wild pitch and the remaining run on a sac fly that scored Papio in the seventh.
The Rutgers relievers walked eight Sunday, exactly half of the 16 batters they faced in their 2.1 innings of relief. For the series, the Terps scored five runs off the Rutgers bullpen, striking out five times and drawing 11 walks in 9.1 innings. Against the starters, headlined by Howie Brey’s complete game Friday, they struck out 16 times, worked eight free passes and scored nine times in 21.2 innings.
Rutgers relievers: 8 BB, 2 Ks, 16 batters faced, 2.1 innings, 80 pitches
Brian Shaffer: 1 BB, 8 Ks, 30 batters faced, 115 pitches
— Ben Harris (@Ben27Harris) May 15, 2016
In respect for senior Rob Galligan – an elder role model the team affectionately refers to as “Dad” – the left-hander once more made the jog from the bullpen to the mound at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, called upon to retire the game’s final out.
“I think that’s just because I’m old,” Galligan jokingly admitted.
On the PA blared Kygo’s “Stole the Show,” and for a moment, the senior had done just that, strolling to the mound to a heartfelt standing ovation. Just one problem, he missed it.
“My mom just told me,” Galligan said laughing after the game. “I didn’t even know that. I don’t even pay attention to that stuff, that’s pretty cool. I had no idea, I was in the zone.”
Notes: Senior Kate Correia, manager and assistant director of baseball operations, and senior manager Phil DePase were both honored before the game. Correia and DePase’s mothers, along with Galligan and Papio’s, all tossed first pitches to their graduating seniors. In the fourth inning, Rutgers’ Harris stole second base, breaking the school’s single season team record of 106 that they tied on Saturday. Maryland wraps up the regular season in East Lansing next weekend against the Michigan State Spartans.