Terps clinch series win over Michigan behind strong effort from bullpen

Ryan Hill and Andrew Miller have been the usual suspects for Maryland out of the bullpen this season.

The pair has combined for 23 appearances this season, pitching effectively in any and all situations for the Terps.

In the middle game of a three-game series with No. 18 Michigan, the two relievers combined for three scoreless innings in a 5-4 victory Saturday night at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium in College Park, Maryland, the Terrapins’ second straight win over the Wolverines.

Hill entered in the sixth with Maryland (15-7, 2-0 Big Ten) behind 4-3 and kept Michigan off the board for two innings as the Terps evened the score. The junior transfer from Grayson College continued to impress in first season in a Maryland uniform, striking out three without allowing a hit. He also walked four Wolverines.

In the eighth, it was Miller’s turn. The left-hander gave up a single and tallied one strikeout, lowering his ERA to 1.46 in his team-leading 12th appearance. In the bottom of the inning, Maryland made him a winner when Madison Nickens flied to right and Nick Dunn scored from third after a collision at the plate with Michigan catcher Harrison Wenson. It was the first win of Miller’s Maryland career.

Redshirt-junior Ryan Selmer pitched the fourth straight scoreless inning for the bullpen in the ninth, earning his third save of the season. The game ended on a 3-6 double play, with shortstop Kevin Smith tagging Miles Lewis out at second base to seal the win.

“It’s really important for us,” Coach John Szefc said of Maryland’s consecutive victories to open Big Ten play. “My guess is [Michigan] will be as good as any team in the Big Ten. They’re pretty much as good as any team we’ve played all year.”

That win was a matter of perseverance for the Terps, who fell behind three times and knotted the score each time before Nickens gave them their only lead in the eighth.

“We have a lot of fight in this team,” designated hitter Will Watson said. “We’re going to pick each other up, no matter if the guy before us has a bad at-bat, the next guy up is willing to put it on his shoulders and get the job done.”

Michigan (16-6, 0-2) struck first with a pair of two-out hits in the opening inning off starter Taylor Bloom, including a triple off the right field wall from third baseman Drew Lugbauer to score shortstop Michael Brdar from first and give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead.

Maryland struck back immediately against Michigan starter Ryan Nutof in the first, as Zach Jancarski and Nick Dunn each walked to lead off the inning. Marty Costes followed with a single to load the bases with nobody out. After that, though, Nutof settled in. He allowed one run on a Will Watson sacrifice fly to left, but he retired the next 10 hitters in a row, including five strikeouts, after those three hitters got on to begin the game.

While Nutof was mowing down Maryland hitters, Michigan was piling up hits. The Wolverines tallied four hits over the next three innings and eight overall against Bloom. They scored once in the second and again in the third, on a sacrifice fly and a ground ball, respectively, to take a 3-1 lead.

In the fourth, Maryland’s offense got going again, using its own special brand of go-go baseball to manufacture a rally. Nickens singled to center with one out to get things started and went to second a wild pitch. After a Kevin Biondic walk, Nickens and Biondic perfectly executed a double steal to get two runners into scoring position.

With two outs, AJ Lee bounced a ball up the middle that second baseman Ako Thomas reached, but couldn’t turn into an out. Both runs scored on the play and the rare 2-RBI infield hit for Lee knotted the score at 3.

Michigan used some small ball of its own to retake the lead in the top of the fifth. A pair of singles from Lugbauer and Brdar, who had five hits combined, put runners on the corners. Then, with one out, center fielder Johnny Slater dropped a bunt down the first base line. Bloom’s only play was to first and Michigan led 4-3.

That lead lasted less than two innings, as in the sixth, Watson launched a long home run down the left field line.

“Mainly I was just trying to look for a pitch to hit,” said Watson of the at-bat in which he homered. “The last at-bat before, I got back-t0-back breaking balls to start off the at-bat, so right after I chased the first one, I figured he’d go back to it. He just left it a little down and it kind of came right over the heart of the plate and I just got the barrel on it.”

Watson pumped his fist and looked back at the Maryland dugout as he rounded the bases, taking some time to enjoy what he called a “fun day” for the Terps.

“I’ve kind of been waiting to have a big game and really get myself rolling offensively and just get those clutch hits,” said Watson, who is hitting .290 this season. “That’s what I came here for. It was big time for me and the team, it was a big win for us and we’re looking tomorrow to get the sweep.”

It was his second homer of the season and evened the score at 4, setting up Nickens’ heroics in the eighth.

Neither starter figured in the decision, with Bloom going five innings and allowing three earned runs and Nutof allowing four runs in six innings. The Michigan right-hander tied a career-high with eight strikeouts.

Watson was the hitting star for Maryland, going 2-for-3 with two RBIs. He’s driven in 12 this season. On the Wolverine side, Lugbauer had one of his best games of the season, going 3-for-5 with a triple and an RBI.