The Terps’ offense is on fire.
After averaging 4.1 runs per game in their first seven games, Maryland has totaled 20 over the the last two games, both blowout victories.
The Terrapins racked up season highs with 11 runs and 15 hits, including seven combined from Nick Dunn and Kevin Smith, in a dominant 11-2 win over the Dayton Flyers for their third straight triumph Sunday in Cary, North Carolina at the USA Baseball-Irish Classic.
“Once you get hot and the team gets rolling we can become unstoppable,” said sophomore Marty Costes, who is hitting .324 this season. “I really think that people looked at the past two weekends [when Maryland was 1-5] and judged us on it, but they didn’t realize the competition we played is preparing us for the season ahead of us. I’m really confident going from here on out. I think this is just the start we needed.”
Maryland (4-5) jumped on Dayton starter Tyler Jones right away, much like it did against NC State’s Cory Wilder on Saturday. Zach Jancarski led off with a single for the second straight game and Dunn followed with a single of his own. Later in the inning, Madison Nickens, Kevin Biondic and Smith had three RBI singles in a row to give the Terps a 3-0 lead before starting pitcher Tyler Blohm ever took the mound.
Blohm made that lead stand up and then some, turning in the best start of his young career against a Dayton (3-6) squad that had already scored 10 runs in a game three times this season coming in. The freshman left-hander pitched five innings, allowing one earned run and striking out a career-best six hitters in his third start as a Terp.
While Blohm was shutting down the Flyers’ powerful offense, the Maryland offense kept adding on to the lead. The Terps scored one in the fourth and four more in the fifth to break the game wide open. In those two innings, Dunn and Smith combined to drive in four of the runs, including a two-run double to the right-center gap for Smith.
Smith came in hitting just .167 with two RBIs on the season, but he went 3-for-5 with two doubles, three RBIs and two runs scored in his best game of the year.
“Same approach that I’ve been having, just trying to stick to the plan, trust in the process and really just letting the game come to me,” Smith said. “When you start pushing, it starts to get a little harder. Everyone’s been hitting really well so just feed off the energy of the team and we got it rolling today.”
Smith’s three hits were outdone only by four from Dunn. The sophomore second baseman went 4-for-6 with two doubles, three RBI and a run scored. He leads the team with five extra-base hits and is tied for team-highs in hits (12), RBIs (seven) and runs scored (nine).
Maryland’s running game was a big part of its offensive attack, as well. The Terrapins stole six bases and were only caught one time, putting pressure on the Flyer pitchers all afternoon. It was the most steals in a game for the Terps since March of 2014.
Once Blohm left the game, the Terrapin bullpen closed the door on any thoughts of a Flyer comeback, continuing an impressive streak of 13 2/3 straight scoreless innings.
Relievers Jared Price, Tayler Stiles and Mike Rescigno combined to pitch four scoreless frames, striking out four and walking one. Price has been particularly effective this season, throwing 4 1/3 scoreless frames over three appearances after pitching in just two games last season.The bullpen’s lockdown performance allowed Blohm to pick up his second win of the year; he’s 2-1.
“We’ve got experienced guys who throw strikes and get ahead,” Szefc said of his relievers. “We’re lucky enough to have six to eight guys out of that pen we can use. A lot of teams don’t have that.”
The Maryland defense has also been very good in the last few games, committing just one error combined one Saturday and Sunday. Smith said the team was calmer this weekend.
“We have more energy, guys are more locked in, having some fun,” Smith said of the team’s performance the last two games. “I think we were kind of tight the first few weekends, guys were kind of afraid to make a mistake.
“But now that we’re loose and guys are having good at-bats and we’re putting some runs on the board and guys are having fun, everyone’s kind of relaxed and just playing the game as it comes to them. I think that’s a lot of what you’re going to see the rest of the year.”
Szefc said it was important for the team that Smith gets hot at the plate.
“He’s one of our best players,” he said. “To be special, your best players have to play best.”
The Terps picked up two more runs in the seventh inning after back-to-back doubles from Smith and catcher Danny Maynard and single from Jancarski to score Maynard. The Maryland leadoff hitter went 2-for-5 with a walk, a RBI and a run scored, the eighth time he’s crossed the plate this season.
“He’s grown from his freshman year as much as anyone in our program,” Szefc said of his center fielder. “Even when he’s not having the best day he gives you very hard at-bats, tough at-bats, sees a lot of pitches. So he’s a tough out and he defines a lot of things in our program offensively.”
Jancarski scored again in the ninth, when Dunn doubled him home to complete the scoring for the Terps.
Coach John Szefc was impressed with the improvements the team has made on offense this weekend.
“It’s not just one guys, it’s several guys,” Szefc said. “Our coaches really work hard with these guys, and it’s good to see the fruits of their labor starting to pay off a little bit. It just doesn’t happen, it takes a lot of preparation to do that. And they’re doing it against a lot of different looks, a lot of different arms.”