Kevin Smith was having a tough day.
When he came to the plate in the eighth, he was 1-for-8 in Maryland’s two games with the only hit being an infield single. He changed that with one swing.
The junior shortstop stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and the score tied at 2-2. On a 1-1 count, he roped a double into the left-field corner, scoring three Terps and sending Maryland to a 5-2 victory in the Big Ten Tournament Thursday night at Bart Kaufman Field in Bloomington, Ind.
“I was just trying to get a pitch to drive,” Smith said of the at-bat in the eighth. “That’s what guys are supposed to do on this team. We set up a good inning and you’re supposed to come through with a big hit.”
Smith said it didn’t cross his mind that he’d only had one hit up to that point.
“No if you start switching up your mindset that’s when you get into trouble,” the shortstop said. “You have to trust your preparation and trust what you’re doing at the plate and ultimately that you’re going to come through. Just kind of sticking to the plan.”
Associate head coach Rob Vaughn wasn’t surprised Smith came through.
“It’s what we expect out of him and it was huge,” Vaughn said.
Smith’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible without the lights-out pitching of right-hander John Murphy. Murphy entered a tie game in the sixth with runners on first and second with nobody out and struck out the side to escape with no damage. He also struck out Purdue’s No. 3 hitter Jacson McGowan with runners on second and third and two outs in the seventh, setting up Smith’s big hit.
The sophomore reliever eventually pitched three scoreless innings, striking out six hitters and lowering his team-best ERA to 1.40. He picked up the win, his first decision of the season. Dalton Parker took the loss, dropping his record to 2-3.
Unlike their first game of the day, in which the Terps (35-20) fell behind 6-1 in the third, they got on the board first and held a lead in the early innings. In the second, AJ Lee led off with a single, extending his career-long hit streak to 13 games. He stole second and later came around to score the game’s opening run on a two-out single from Madison Nickens. Catcher Justin Morris followed Nickens with a ringing double to the gap in right-center and the left-fielder scored from first to make it 2-0.
Maryland starter Taylor Bloom made that lead stand up over the first four innings. He wasn’t missing many bats, but it was a clinic of soft contact from the junior right-hander. He only gave up two hits in those four innings and held Purdue to just a single in the fifth, as well.
In that fifth, though, the Boilermakers (29-27) rallied with only that one hit. Mike Madej reached on an error from second baseman Nick Dunn, who bobbled a ground ball. Alec Olund hit next and bounced softly to third. Lee fielded the ball and threw off-balance to first, but the throw went up the right field line, allowing Madej to score from first. The throw from right came home and went into the Terps dugout, putting Olund on third. Hayden Grant promptly drove him in with a sacrifice fly to even the score at 2.
Bloom threw five innings without allowing an earned run, while striking out two and not walking anyone before ceding the mound to Murphy.
Vaughn said it was important for his team to have a proven big-game pitcher like Bloom on the mound to start the game.
“That guy [Bloom] pitched at UCLA and won a regional and there’s a lot of trust when that guy’s on the mound,” Vaughn said. “It gives us something knowing that there’s not one of these things where you’re feeling like you have to go out and punch 10 runs across. There’s an element of knowing that you have one of your horses on the mound and he’s going to give you his best effort and that’s exactly what he did tonight.”
Murphy’s Houdini acts kept the score at 2-2 until the eighth.
Brandon Gum led off the inning with a walk and Marty Costes followed with a walk of his own against Parker to put two runners on. Costes first got hit by a pitch, but the umpire ruled he had not made an attempt to get out of the way and ordered him back to the batter’s box. Head coach John Szefc vigorously disagreed with the call and was ejected, but Costes reached anyway.
A sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Lee loaded the bases for Smith and he cleared them, as Gum, Costes and Lee all came around to score and give the Terps a lead they would not relinquish.
“We’ve done a pretty good job this year of battling back and it’d just been a long day,” Vaughn said of his team’s second game in eight hours. “When you mix a little bit of tired bat speed with a long day, you can get some bad results like we were getting there for a couple of innings. I give them [the players] credit. It takes a spark. That’s what I tell these guys all the time, it takes one guy to spark it and Gum did that for us [with the walk].
“It’s hard to come back and ring the bell in game two. I told our guys 99 percent of people can’t do it. That’s why you guys are different. They came out, it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t sexy, but they found a way to get it done in the end.”
It was not surprising Lee was intentionally walked in a big situation, as he was a star for Maryland at the plate. He went 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored, raising his batting average to a robust .325.
Ryan Selmer pitched a scoreless ninth, allowing a couple of hits, but surviving to pick up his eighth save of the season.
Maryland will face the loser of tomorrow’s game between Nebraska and Iowa at 8:30 p.m. ET in another elimination game.