Terps drop season opener to Ball State after Cardinals five-run inning

By Dylan Sinn

Brian Shaffer delivered in his first start as the ace of the Maryland rotation. It was the rest of the Maryland pitching staff that struggled against Ball State.

The No. 22 Terps’ bullpen gave up seven runs on seven hits in four innings of work as Ball State used a five-run sixth to take the lead and win 8-3 Friday night on Opening Day at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida.

Shaffer took a no-hitter into the fifth, having faced the minimum 12 hitters through four innings, but it took him 31 pitches to get through that inning and that was enough to end his day. He finished his inaugural start in 2017 having allowed one run on three hits with six strikeouts. He also walked two hitters, equaling a season-high from 2016.

Shaffer left the game in position to get a win after Maryland scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a 3-1 lead. In the top of the sixth, though, Ball State’s offense exploded. Three Terp pitchers combined to allow five runs on four hits and two walks in the inning, giving the Cardinals (1-0) a lead they would not relinquish.

One of the key plays in the inning came with runners on first and third and one out. Ball State second baseman Seth Freed blooped a ball into short left field where it fell in between shortstop Kevin Smith and left fielder Madison Nickens. The softly-hit ball evened the score at 3 and, three hitters later, center fielder Matt Eppers drilled a double down the left-field line off junior Ryan Hill to plate a pair of runs and give Ball State the lead.

Hill, in his Maryland debut after transferring from Grayson College in Texas, threw one-third of an inning and allowed two runs on two hits with a walk. Senior left-hander Tayler Stiles allowed three runs in the inning on two hits and took the loss.

After Maryland plated those three runs off Cardinal starter BJ Butler, reliever Colin Brockhouse shut down the Terrapin attack for the rest of the night, striking out a career-high-equaling eight over 4.1 innings, including one streak of four in a row, without allowing a run, to pick up the win.

Eppers was the offensive star for the Cardinals, going 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. Freed also stood out in the Ball State lineup, scoring three times and driving in a run. In the eighth, third baseman Sean Kennedy put the game on ice with a home run to left field, the sixth of the senior’s career.

Maryland (0-1) struggled offensively outside of the fifth, collecting just four hits and going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. The Terps got runners on in the first eight innings but only scored in one. With runners on base, Maryland was 1-for-15. AJ Lee was the only Terrapin to collect multiple hits, finishing 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored.

Maryland will play in Clearwater again tomorrow against the No. 12 Louisville Cardinals. Taylor Bloom (6-5, 2.46 ERA in 2016) will be on the mound for Maryland and Louisville will counter with Kade McClure (12-0, 2.54).