Maryland has battled through delayed games, 10 p.m. starts and three elimination contests, but their hopes for a Big Ten Tournament title remain alive for at least a few more hours.
The Terps hit three home runs in the first two innings and plated four runs in the seventh to break a 5-5 tie en route to a 9-5 win in the Big Ten Tournament Saturday at Bart Kaufman Field in Bloomington, Ind.
Maryland rallied in the seventh without a hard-hit ball. Brandon Gum started the inning with an infield single in the 5.5 hole and right-fielder Marty Costes followed with a four-pitch walk. Second baseman Nick Dunn tried to sacrifice the runners to second and third, but his bunt was perfectly placed in no-man’s land between the third baseman and the pitcher for a base hit.
AJ Lee batted with nobody out and the bases loaded and Northwestern reliever Josh Levy nailed him in the shoulder to bring in the go-ahead run. Levy exited after that, but the story was the same for the next Wildcat reliever, JR Reimer. He walked Will Watson to force in another run and extend Maryland’s lead to 7-5. The Terps also scored on a Kevin Smith sacrifice fly and Justin Morris ground ball to take a commanding lead.
Maryland reliever John Murphy shut down any thoughts of a late comeback with his second superb performance of the tournament. He threw the final three innings, striking out two without allowing a run. Overall in the tournament, he’s pitched six scoreless innings and allowed just two hits while punching out eight. Maryland’s seventh-inning explosion made Murphy the winner, his first decision of the season.
Levy took the loss to drop to 4-2 in 15 appearances.
Maryland came out hitting like a team that planned on winning a third consecutive elimination game. Costes gave the Terps an early lead with a solo home run over the short porch in left in the first inning. The homer was Costes’ 11th of the season, giving him (temporarily, it turned out), the team lead in long balls.
In the second inning, Will Watson doubled the Terps advantage to 2-0 with a home run of his own. It was Watson’s fifth homer of the season and the next hitter, Kevin Smith, followed it up with a third homer of the first two innings to extend the lead to 3-0. Smith’s homer was his 11th of the season, as well, equaling Costes’ total.
Maryland pounded five extra-base hits in the first two innings off Northwestern starter Josh Davis. Davis settled in after the second, however, and retired seven Terps in a row during one stretch.
In the fourth, the Wildcats got even. Joe Hoscheit got the rally started with a one-out base hit, but the rest of the uprising happened with two outs. With two away, catcher Jack Claeys walked against Maryland starter Tayler Stiles. Third baseman Connor Lind followed with a ground-rule double to left that hopped over the fence to bring one run home. Leo Kaplan hit next and completed the comeback with a single over Smith’s head into left to knot the score at 3-3.
The three earned runs he surrendered in the fourth were the first he had given up in 12.1 innings for Stiles, who was making his third start of the year. Kaplan’s hit ended his day after 3.2 frames.
The fifth inning was a long, strange frame that took over an hour to play, but ended with the teams still tied. With two outs in the top of the inning, Hoscheit parked his seventh home run of the season over the left field wall off reliever Ryan Hill to give his team a 5-3 lead. Hoscheit went 2-for-4 and continues to be one of the hottest hitters in the country. His .468 average in Big Ten play was the highest in the league since 1998.
Later in the inning, a Hill fastball clipped home plate umpire Daniel Jimenez and Jimenez was forced to exit the game. A lengthy delay followed as the teams waited for a fourth umpire to reach the field.
When play resumed, Davis seemed to have lost his rhythm. He surrendered a single and a double to the first two Maryland hitters he faced in the fifth, ending his day. Reliever Tommy Bordignon threw a wild pitch to score Justin Morris from third and allowed a Brandon Gum single that plated Zach Jancarski with the tying run. Maryland loaded the bases again later in the frame, but Levy fanned Smith to end the inning and keep the score at 5-5.
Northwestern’s bullpen struggled finding the strike all afternoon. In all, the Wildcat relievers threw 72 pitches and just 33 of them were strikes.
Three Maryland hitters collected multiple hits, including Jancarski, who doubled twice. Lee did not get a hit, stopping his 14-game hit streak, but he did get hit by pitches twice.
Maryland will play Northwestern again tonight, with a scheduled start of 8:30 p.m. that is likely to be pushed back significantly. The winner of that game will earn a spot in the Big Ten Tournament final tomorrow.