Heavy rainfall and hail sent players searching for cover just an hour before Friday night’s series opener, but even after the storm had subsided, the Terps began to pour double-digit runs on the visiting Michigan State Spartans.
Despite facing the Big Ten’s leader in ERA, Maryland was able to score 11 runs in four innings off the ace to beat the Spartans, 12-2.
Entering the night, junior left-hander Alex Troop allowed just nine earned runs in 54 innings, which ranked 26th in the country. But by the time he exited the game after four innings — tying his shortest outing of the season — Troop allowed a season-high 11 runs (eight earned).
“They really just worked up the middle, they weren’t trying to pull balls,” head coach John Szefc said. “If you try to pull [Troop’s] changeup you’re going to have a lot of failure. That’s the plan that [hitting coach Rob] Vaughn talked about before the game and just about every guy executed it to a tee.”
With two outs in the first inning, right fielder Marty Costes singled and second baseman Nick Dunn doubled down the right field line, bringing Will Watson to the plate. After going down in the count, the designated hitter ripped a two-strike single up the middle to earn an early 2-0 lead.
Run support for right-hander Brian Shaffer has been hard to come by in recent history. Last weekend against Penn State, Maryland scored just one run during Shaffer’s 8.1 innings. The Friday prior, the Terps managed a single run during the junior’s complete game against Nebraska.
To Shaffer’s delight, run support was readily available to him Friday night. Catcher Nick Cieri doubled the lead with his second home run of the season over the right-center field wall the following inning. A pair of of two-RBI doubles by Dunn and shortstop Kevin Smith extended the Maryland lead to 8-0 by the end of the second inning.
“In that six-run second in our left-handed hitters were 3-for-3 with four RBIs inning that inning, which was the biggest inning of the game,” Szefc said. “That’s your ballgame.”
After a season-high 19 hits last Sunday against Penn State and collecting 16 more Wednesday against William & Mary, the Terps continued to spread the ball around the field — five Terps obtained multi-hit games.
“Coach Vaughn must’ve put something in their Wheaties this morning,” Shaffer said. “They came out and I couldn’t have asked for a better performance by the offense.”
While Troop entered the night ranked third in innings pitched, fourth in strikeouts and first in earned runs allowed in the conference, the southpaw allowed three more runs in before his exit. Troop jammed Madison Nickens, but the outfielder fisted a 1-2 pitch into shallow center field to increase Maryland’s lead to 11-0.
For the first time since Feb. 24, Troop left the game before the fifth inning, allowing 11 runs on 10 hits and four walks.
“In the back of everybody’s mind regardless of what Troop’s looking like, you look at his numbers thinking at some point this guy is really going to mow through the lineup,” Szefc said. “And he never did.”
His counterpart, Shaffer, had much opposite production in the first game of the series. The Pylesville native earned his first win in his last three starts, allowing one run on six hits over seven innings to become the new ERA leader in the Big Ten. After recording a career-high 11 strikeouts last weekend against the Nittany Lions, Shaffer struck out seven more against the Spartans.
“Last weekend we sat back and we had to let Shaffer keep us in the game,
Cieri said. “We wanted to come out and get him a good game tonight and make up for last week a little bit.”
Shaffer pitched a 1-2-3 inning in five of his seven frames against a Michigan State team that entered the game hitting a solid .289 collectively. The junior did, however, load the bases with one out in the fifth by conceding two hits and a walk. But he settled in, thereafter, and got out of the inning unscathed.
“That inning I struggled a little bit and kind of left a few balls up,” he said. “[But I came] out in the next inning and attacked hitters better and made all my pitches.
While the run support was an added bonus, Shaffer’s mindset never changed throughout his start.
“[I was] just doing my thing, playing it like a 0-0 ballgame,” he said. “[But] it definitely made it more relaxing.”
Sophomore John Murphy entered the game for Shaffer for the final six outs of the game. He allowed a run in the ninth, but retired third baseman Marty Bechina on a fly ball to center to clinch the win.
With the win, the Terps become the first team to win 10 games in Big Ten play. Maryland and Michigan State return to action tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium.