Gilbert, Stetson stymies Maryland’s bats in series-opener

With Maryland baseball struggling to generate offense—scoring 22 total runs in a recent 1-5 stretch—hitting became a much tougher task when one of the most dominant pitchers in the country took the mound to face the Terps Friday afternoon.

It took until the fifth inning for Maryland to get a hit off Stetson’s Logan Gilbert—a projected first-rounder who features a mid-90s fastball and a pair off knee-buckling off-speed pitches.

Stetson scored five times in its first five trips to the plate, more than ample run support for the 2017 ASUN Pitcher of the Year and All-American. Behind Gilbert’s one-run outing in 8.1 innings, the Hatters offense broke the game open en route to a 12-3 win.

“There’s a reason somebody’s going to pay [Gilbert] in a couple of months,” Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn said referencing the 2018 MLB Draft. “We just had to play a little bit cleaner game to beat a guy like that. We’re at home, we play a little cleaner game it could be a different story. We just didn’t quite get it done.”

Gilbert cruised through his first four frames, which included three 1-2-3 innings and five strikeouts. To that point, only third baseman Tommy Gardiner had reached base off the right-hander, earning a 12-pitch walk with one out in the fourth.

But after 14 straight failed attempts at a hit, shortstop AJ Lee and left fielder Marty Costes recorded back-to-back singles to lead off the bottom of the fifth. After striking out looking three times in the first nine batters, the Terps started to make adjustments while trailing, 5-0.

“I was just trying to hit fastballs,” Lee, who went 2-for-4, said. “If you get behind [Gilbert], he’s got good off-speed stuff so if you can get out and hit the fastball early in the count then it kind of led to success for me and put me in good shape.”

Maryland managed just one run, though, after loading the bases, accomplishing little on one of their only chances to execute against Gilbert.

“You have to be able to score different ways,” Vaughn said. “When you’re facing an arm like [Gilbert], you aren’t going to line up and go ‘bang, bang, bang’ and get it done, especially on a day where the wind is blowing straight in.”

While the Terps struggled to create chances, Stetson took advantage of nearly every opportunity it earned.

After Terps starting right-hander Taylor Bloom allowed a double to Stetson leadoff hitter Jacob Koos in the top of the first, the Hatters quickly showed the ability to execute with runners on base. First baseman Baylen Sparks laid down a sacrifice bunt, and right fielder Mike Spooner scored Koos on a sacrifice fly to center.

Without much room for mistakes against a pitcher as prominent as Gilbert, the Terps committed two errors in the top of the third to put a pair of Hatters on base with no outs. Stetson showcased its efficiency again, using another sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly to generate a second run. Spooner snuck a soft liner past a diving Nick Dunn with two outs to give Stetson a three-run advantage.

The Hatters continuous ability to get a man on, move him over and drive him in  separated them from the Terps.

“With [Gilbert], it’s hard to get people on base,” Vaughn said. “Sac flies are beautiful, but you have to get a guy to third with less than two outs in order to get that. So that’s what makes Gilbert that effective. You have to earn everything off him.”

The Hatters used a third RBI sacrifice fly in the fifth and a two-RBI single in the seventh to put the final touches on Bloom, who finished his outing with five earned runs on nine hits in 6.2 innings. Gilbert dealt his fifth double-digit strikeout game of the season while allowing just one earned run on three hits in 8.1 innings.

After Stetson added five runs in the top of the ninth, the Terps scored two runs on three hits in the bottom half. Lee and Costes each singled in the inning, finishing the day with four of Maryland’s six hits.

Game 2 between Maryland (10-12) and Stetson (19-3) is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m.