After Maryland third baseman AJ Lee hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning Sunday against Penn State, his teammates joked about his power in the dugout.
According to the sophomore, his teammates poked fun at him saying, “You won’t hit another one,” to which Lee responded with, “We’ll just see what happens.”
Two innings later with Maryland up 13-2, Nittany Lions right-hander Eric Mock delivered a 2-0 fastball to Lee, who put another good swing on the ball. In almost exactly the same spot as the first — just to the left of the towering center field batter’s eye — Lee hit his second home run of the day to extend the Terps’ already huge lead.
“When I got back in the dugout, they were all shocked,” Lee said. “They couldn’t believe it.”
They were so surprised, in fact, they decided to give Lee the silent treatment, pretending like nothing had happened, as if the infielder hadn’t just hit his second homer of the day and fourth of the year.
“Well they like to say I don’t have a lot of power, that I’m more of a speed guy just to get on base and use my legs,” Lee said, smiling. “So when I hit a couple they like to say it was a fluke or it was wind-aided or something like that. I tried to play it off like people weren’t giving it to me, but it was fun.”
Lee, who hit in the nine-spot all weekend, led a bottom of the order that helped the Terps to a 4-1 record last week, including a win over West Virginia and a three-game sweep of Penn State.
With Maryland down 4-0 in the sixth inning against West Virginia in College Park on Tuesday, the bottom of the order stepped up to lead the Terps’ rally. Hitting in the seven-hole, left fielder Madison Nickens hit a two-run shot far over the wall in right field to cut the deficit in half.
The Mountaineers answered back with a run in the top of the seventh, but Danny Maynard — who entered the game in the fifth inning in the last spot in the lineup — homered off the light pole in left-center to leadoff the bottom half of the frame, again cutting the deficit to two. After the middle of the order tied the game, Nickens lined a bases-loaded single through the left side of the infield, driving in two to give the Terps a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
In the win, Maryland’s bottom of the order — the seven through nine spots — drove in four of the team’s seven runs, including the winning tally. This offensive production carried over into the weekend against Penn State, predominantly in the series finale.
Nickens, Nick Cieri and Lee started Sunday in the seven, eight and nine spots, respectively, to round out the Terps lineup, which looked to complete the sweep.
The trio at the bottom of the order went 8-for-12, leading the team with six RBIs and nine runs scored in Maryland’s season-high 19-hit performance.
“[That’s] what drives our offense,” said right fielder Marty Costes, who recorded four hits and five RBIs Sunday in his usual three-spot. “We’ve been an offense that predicates ourselves on being deep one through nine and if our bottom of the order can do that then it’ll force a lot of teams to rethink their strategy.”
Rounding out the bottom of the lineup was Lee, who like Costes, recorded four hits and five RBIs. While he hit two home runs to double his season total, head coach John Szefc was more impressed by another at-bat.
Maryland led 5-1 in the third inning when right-hander Dakota Forsyth recorded the first two outs of the inning. After giving up runs in each of the first two frames, the Nittany Lions looked to have a shutdown 1-2-3 inning.
But with two outs, the bottom of the order came up starting with Nickens, who drew a 3-2 walk. Cieri singled on the very next pitch, drawing Lee into the box. After battling and working the count to 2-2, the sophomore third baseman singled up the middle on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, collecting the two-out RBI.
“That’s a dagger — a mental dagger to them,” Szefc said. “They think they’re getting out of that inning and then all of a sudden the bottom of our lineup is forcing them to struggle more.”
After his 4-for-4 day, Lee’s batting average climbed above .300 through 35 games this season, much to the pleasure of Szefc.
“I hope it’s a really good step in the right direction,” Szefc said. “Sometimes it takes a while for guys to get comfortable and he’s playing a new position. There’s a lot of [work with the coaches] that goes into that.”
With strong production coming from so far deep in the Terps lineup, Costes has high expectations for the rest of the season.
“If we can get that performance out of him consistently throughout the rest of the year,” he said, “I don’t see a team that can beat us.”