Infielder Pat Hisle had made just four starts in his first three seasons when the Terrapins left Friday for a three-game series against Rutgers. By the time he returned to College Park, the senior had stepped up to start two games, helping his team complete a weekend sweep of the Scarlet Knights.
Hisle came to Maryland as a preferred walk-on, the coaching staff promising him a roster spot without a scholarship. He made 27 appearances prior to this season, most of them as a pinch runner or defensive replacement.
As a sophomore, Hisle made arguably his most notable appearance when All-American second baseman Brandon Lowe broke his fibula in the 2015 NCAA Super Regionals against Virginia. The eventual third-round MLB draft pick was unable to return, and Hisle entered the game, one in which Maryland ultimately lost to end its second-straight trip to the Super Regionals. But Hisle made a memorable diving play that, at the time, helped preserve a Maryland lead.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 6, 2015
This weekend, a little less than two years later, Hisle again was called upon to replace another preseason All-American—junior shortstop Kevin Smith. But this time, it was for the majority of a weekend series, including two starts at short in Sunday’s double-header.
Smith laid on the turf, grabbing his left shoulder and wincing in pain during the fourth inning of Maryland’s series opener against Rutgers on Saturday. The junior had attempted to dive backward to catch the ball in the wind, but it left his glove once his body hit the ground and he rolled over from the impact. While the potential inning-ending out turned into a double, the immediate concern was more with the star shortstop than the fate of a single play.
After a trainer stretched out his arm and head coach John Szefc walked out to deliberate, Smith initially remained in the game. But this was short-lived, as he exited the following inning and sat out both games of Sunday’s double-header, the first two games he has missed in his Maryland career. Smith is “day-to-day” heading into Tuesday’s game against Richmond, according to Szefc.
Stepping up to replace a nationally recognized MLB draft prospect is no small task, but with the Terrapins leading Rutgers 5-0 in the fifth, Hisle was again called upon to fill in for one of the team leaders.
“When I saw [Kevin] go down I had no doubt in my mind he’d be able to go back in, but the next half inning when things seemed a little more serious than we thought, I was ready to go,” Hisle said. “I always try to stay locked in [on the bench].”
After Smith initially went down, pitching coach Ryan Fecteau told him to get warm and stay loose, but Hisle said nobody ever came over to him to tell him to enter the game.
“When the inning ended and everyone was running back out, I looked over to Szefc to see what was going on and he just pointed at me,” he said. “That was my cue to go in.”
The senior infielder served as more than just a substitute for the rest of the weekend, but offensive production wasn’t what the team needed from him.
“All I wanted from [Pat] was good defense, that’s it,” Szefc said. “He gives us good defense 98 percent of the time.”
He did just that, stepping in and providing errorless defense at Bainton Field, an infield that Szefc says isn’t an easy location to play at. Like Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium in College Park, ground balls play fast on the turf surface.
Nice play in the hole by Hisle gets Maryland out of the first.
— Maryland Baseball (@TerpsBaseball) April 2, 2017
First baseman Brandon Gum was impressed by Hisle’s ability to come in cold off the bench and play so well defensively throughout the weekend.
“[Smith’s] been our guy since day one this year and for [Pat] to come in and really not miss a beat out there defensively, that’s huge,” he said. “It’s tough to do when you take your guy out at short, and have to put somebody else in, those are big shoes to fill. I think he did a heck of a job.”
Hisle wasn’t nervous about coming into the game, saying he understood his role was to provide quality defense in the heart of the infield.
“I wasn’t worried offensively just because our lineup is so dangerous as it is,” he said. “My first thought was to hold it down in the field, just making all the plays.”
The Bethesda, Maryland, native grounded out and struck out in two at-bats Saturday in place of Smith, who hit his team-leading sixth home run of the season before his exit. Hisle felt tight and uncomfortable at the plate, saying it had been a while since his last trip to the batter’s box. But before his fifth and sixth starts of his Maryland career in Sunday’s double-header, Smith approached Hisle to give him advice at the plate.
“Go up there, swing like you do in [batting practice],” Smith told him before the first game began. “Swing freely and good things will happen.”
Hisle went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored at the plate in Sunday’s first game, but made his mark offensively in the weekend finale later that afternoon. With the Terrapins holding a 4-0 lead in the third inning, Hisle stepped into the batter’s box with runners on first and third with two outs.
The 5-foot-9 infielder squared to bunt on the first pitch, but pulled the bat back for a called strike one. Will Watson, a little far off the bag at third, scampered back as Rutgers catcher Tyler McNamara sailed a throw past third base, allowing Watson to score and moving Nick Cieri up to third.
Two pitches later, with Cieri still on third, Hisle got comfortable in the box once more, tapping the end of the bat on the plate twice and wagging it above his shoulder as he awaited an 0-2 pitch from Scarlet Knight left-hander Ryan Fleming. Hisle said his goal of the at-bat was “just to extend the inning.”
“Everyone in the dugout was joking with me, they wanted me to get into one,” Hisle said.
And that’s just what he did. Fleming delivered another off-speed pitch, this one hanging over the heart of the plate. Hisle sat back and unloaded, driving the ball off the outfield wall in left-center for an RBI double, the senior’s first hit and RBI since the 2015 season.
Riddled with excitement, he fell to the ground as he rounded first, but recovered quickly, getting up and sprinting into second with a stand-up double. He wore a slight grin as he walked his batting gloves over to first base coach Anthony Papio.
“All I know is that I’m never going to live that down,” Hisle said, recalling the turn around first. “I guess I was watching the ball hoping it was going to get up and out over the fence, but I guess I took a weird step somewhere and the next thing I know I’m head first in the turf.”
The Terrapin dugout erupted as Hisle settled into second base, excited that the senior cashed in on the opportunity in the team’s eventual 9-1 victory.
“[Pat] comes out to practice every day and he’s got Kevin Smith in front of him, one of the best shortstops in the nation,” said outfielder Madison Nickens. “He stills comes out everyday with a determined forced that he’s going to do his best and when he gets his shot he’s going to make the best of it. And that’s what he did [this weekend].”