Maryland knocks off No. 6 NC State behind pair of home runs, strong start from Taylor Bloom

Taylor Bloom’s first two starts of the season did not go as he planned, but he got back to his usual self tonight against one of the best teams in the country.

The junior right-hander threw seven innings against No. 6 NC State and the Maryland offense supported him, as Madison Nickens and Marty Costes both homered to lead the Terps to a 9-2 victory Saturday at the USA Baseball-Irish Classic in Cary, North Carolina.

“The first two weeks, my stuff wasn’t good, my fastball wasn’t sinking, my changeup wasn’t where it needs to be and I definitely got that back tonight,” Bloom said.

Bloom, who entered the game with a 14.40 ERA over his first two starts, threw 97 pitches in his longest outing of the season, allowing two runs, striking out five and scattering five hits in his seven innings. He more than doubled his innings pitched total for the season.

“If you’re going to beat a really good team, you need a really good start,” head coach John Szefc said. “Seven innings and two runs, that’s what you’d call an efficient start. We played pretty good defense behind him… that was our sharpest game I thought from top to bottom, but it’s always going to mean more when you get a good start.”

The Severna Park, Md. native only made one mistake. He left a change-up up and out over the plate in the seventh against Shane Shepard, the ninth hitter in the Wolfpack lineup. Shepard deposited the ball over the right field wall for a solo homer.

By the time Shepard took Bloom deep, however, Maryland (3-5) had already built up a commanding lead. The Terps got on the board right away in their first time at the plate. Zach Jancarski led off with a single and the next three hitters walked against NC State (5-5) starter Cory Wilder to force in a run.

That was all for Wilder, who only threw 19 pitches and failed to record an out. The Terps added another run in the inning off reliever Austin Staley when Nick Cieri grounded into a fielder’s choice.

Staley hadn’t allowed an earned run in eight innings this season coming into the game, but the Terps got to him in the third. Right fielder Costes got a pitch to his liking on a 3-1 count and hit a long home run over the left field wall.

The next inning, Nickens matched his outfield mate, driving a homer down the right field line with Cieri on to make it 5-0 Maryland. It was the first home run of the season for both Costes and Nickens.

“I was able to see the changeup my first at-bat, so I wasn’t really concerned about it,” Nickens said of the at-bat he homered. “I kind of crowded the plate because they were also throwing me away consistently. I just looked at something above my knee and got the bat head out there.”

Left-hander Kent Klyman relieved Staley in the fourth, but the Maryland offensive onslaught didn’t stop there. Having already shown their power, the Terps demonstrated they could score using small ball, too. In the fifth, Nickens dropped a perfect drag bunt down the first base line, allowing Nick Dunn, who had doubled to lead off the inning, to score from third, increasing the lead to 6-0.

Nickens said he made the decision to drop the bunt down on his own.

“Coach Szefc has ever since I’ve been here he’s talked to me about, I’m a fast guy, I can use the bunt game,” the senior said. “He always tells me, ‘It’s free hits, you might as well take them.’ First baseman’s holding a runner and all I have to do is get it past the pitcher and it’s free hit so that was my mindset.”

Bloom appreciated the run support from his offense.

“[Pitching with a lead] is always a good feeling,” he said. “It takes a little stress off you. Once you get a couple runs on there, that pressure’s kind of lifted off your shoulder. You just have a little cushion there and obviously we broke it open a little bit so that’s just even more cushion, more stress off, just going out there and filling up the zone.”

Shepard’s home run cut the lead to 6-2, but Maryland got those runs right back in the bottom of the seventh. Two walks, a bunt, a throwing error on Klyman, and a wild pitch allowed the Terps to plate two more runs without a hit.

Maryland drew seven walks against the Wolfpack pitching staff, including a pair from Costes, who has been a star for the Terrapins early in the season. The sophomore is hitting .400, slugging .600, and leading the team with 12 hits.

Nickens went 2-for-4 with 3 RBIs and leads the team with six knocked in this season.

“Just a good group of hitters,” Nickens said, describing the Terps lineup. “Just a mature group of hitters who know when their pitch is there and when it’s not. We have a lot of experienced hitters in the lineup and when you can walk more than you strikeout, that’s a good team in the making.”

Second baseman Nick Dunn had his best game of the young season, going 1-for-2 with a pair of walks, a sacrifice fly to score Smith in the eighth, and three runs scored. He leads the Terps with eight runs scored in 2017.

Ryan Selmer relieved Bloom in the eighth and pitched two scoreless frames with four strikeouts to finish off the win. He’s thrown three scoreless innings over the first two games of this tournament for the Terps. The Maryland bullpen has thrown 9.2 consecutive scoreless innings, dating back to Sunday’s game against LSU.

“They’ve just been more consistent and I think they’re pitching a lot more comfortable,” Szefc said. “There’s a lot of experience there and you’re going to have ups and downs from your bullpen and you just got to bear with the them and keep running them out there and keep believing in your guys, which we do.”