Madison Nickens stood in the box with the bases loaded and the game tied in the bottom of the seventh inning against West Virginia Tuesday evening at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium.
The Terrapins had just evened the score at five with a safety squeeze by third baseman AJ Lee, erasing an early 4-0 deficit. Nickens lined a fastball through the left side of the infield scoring two, capping off a five-run inning and helping the Terrapins beat the Mountaineers, 7-6.
This time it was Nickens completing a rally, but in the inning prior, it was the left fielder who sparked the comeback.
In the bottom of the sixth and Maryland trailing by four, Nick Dunn led off with a double off the wall, the team’s first hit since the first inning. Nickens, the next batter, turned on a fastball, sending it over the right field wall for the first two runs of the game for the Terps, cutting the West Virginia lead in half.
“[That] was really crucial,” head coach John Szefc said. “It cut the lead in half and it’s a mental dagger for [West Virginia] because they’re feeling good about a 4-0 lead and then it’s cut in half.”
Before the inning began, the Maryland offense had generated just one hit off West Virginia right-handed starter Alek Manoah. Nickens’ homer was the spark plug the team was looking for.
“It felt awesome,” Nickens said about hitting his fourth homer of the year. “It felt better because it was what the team needed at the moment. It was what we needed to get going.”
Junior centerfielder Zach Jancarski led off in the bottom of the first with an infield single, barely beating out the throw from a charging Jimmy Galusky. But the Terrapin offense ceased thereafter.
While Maryland had runners on base early in the game, it struggled to generate big hits in big moments. Through five innings, the Terrapins were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-13 with runners on the base paths.
“[Manoah’s] what you call effectively wild,” Nickens said. “He was around [90 to 94 mph] so he had velocity going for him. We were getting out of swinging at strikes and we were chasing his pitches.”
In addition to the slow offensive start, Maryland’s pitching struggled early, too.
The Terrapins fell behind in the first inning on a 3-run homer from Cole Austin. Taylor Bloom, making his first midweek start of the season after throwing 39 pitches in his start Saturday against Nebraska, lasted just 2.2 innings. The junior allowed three earned runs on three hits with two walks.
“In the past when we’ve been good, [Bloom’s] been in the middle of it,” Szefc said. “It was a good opportunity for him make a short start against a really good team at home so hopefully we get him right for the weekend.”
The Mountaineers added another run in the third inning on Jackson Cramer’s team-leading seventh home run of the season. After coming back from a 9-4 deficit in the second inning of last week’s game against Richmond, the Terps were in familiar territory.
Danny Maynard, who entered the game for Justin Morris in the fifth inning, led off the bottom of the seventh by hitting a ball off the left-center field light pole, his second homer of the season.
“If you went back and looked at stuff you would probably see more success from him coming off the bench than starting a game, ” Szefc said. “It’s very rare to see that in college baseball.”
Six batters later, with the Terps now trailing by just one, Lee stood in the box with the bases loaded and one out. The sophomore not only laid down a successful safety squeeze to tie the game at five, but he, too, reached safely.
“If you’re going to be good you’re going to have to win using different types of weapons,” Szefc said. “That’s why we feed the bunt machine 3,000 times since August.”
With the Maryland dugout already in a frenzy, Nickens scorched his hit into the outfield, driving home his third and fourth RBIs of the day, the eventual winning runs.
After throwing two scoreless frames, junior right-hander Ryan Selmer loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth. A sacrifice fly cut the lead to one, ending Selmer’s outing. The team-leader in saves handed the ball off the right-hander Ryan Hill to try to clinch the victory.
With the Terps up one and runners on the corners with two outs, the Frisco, Texas, native struck out Darius Hill for his first save of the season, sealing the victory.
“After [I got taken out] I was fine. I knew Hill could go in and get the job done and he did,” Selmer said. “I was there with him and obviously I was hoping he gets [the out] and cheering him on. He went out there and he did his thing.”
Maryland (21-10, 6-3 Big Ten) travels to play George Mason tomorrow before opening a three-game home series with Penn State on Friday.