Maryland mounts comeback, but falls short against West Virginia

While Maryland baseball would’ve liked to earn a road win Tuesday evening against West Virginia before returning to crucial conference play, the Mountaineers needed a victory to continue building their resume for a potential at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament next month.

The contrasting sense of urgencies showed early, as the surging Mountaineers took advantage of three first-inning Maryland errors and a successful second inning to jump out to an 8-0 lead. The Terps got the tying run to the plate in the seventh, but eventually lost 9-5.

All three meetings between Maryland and West Virginia held significant meaning last season, one a resume-building opportunity for both teams in the regular season and two in the Winston-Salem Regional of the NCAA Tournament.

But Tuesday’s matchup — the fifth consecutive year the two programs have met — was played in much different circumstances than years prior. While the Terps’ hopes of playing into June likely relies on qualifying and then winning their conference tournament, the Mountaineers could still earn an at-large bid with quality results throughout the remainder of their schedule.

Maryland’s defense gave West Virginia a little help toward that goal in the first inning, committing a trio of errors that immediately led to four runs. Starting pitcher Billy Phillips mishandled a sacrifice bunt, third basemen Taylor Wright booted a ground ball that scored two runs and Justin Vought misfired on a throw to third, which capped off the four-run first.

The Terps entered Tuesday with 45 errors in 43 games, good for sixth-best in the Big Ten. Maryland exited Morgantown with four more, though, including the three in the first frame.

Phillips, who tossed four scoreless innings in his first career start last week against James Madison, was responsible for only one of those runs. But the Mountaineers recorded three hits and worked a walk when he returned to the mound in the second, prompting an early exit as West Virginia doubled its lead through two innings.

Relievers Sean Fisher, Ryan Hill and Grant Burleson stopped the bleeding following Phillips’ departure, holding the Mountaineers scoreless over the next five innings. Maryland’s relievers combined to allow just three hits and one run after the second inning.

The Terps battled back in the sixth, cutting their deficit in half on three hits. With the bases loaded, Zach Jancarski broke an 0-for-14 slump with an RBI single. Wright cleared the bases with a double, making it an 8-4, and then scored on a throwing error to cap off a five-run inning.

Back-to-back walks in the seventh got the tying run to the plate with no outs for the Terps, but a strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play altered the inning completely. Runners on first and second quickly turned into a scoreless inning, a big opportunity wasted.

Burleson allowed a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth to fall behind 9-5, and the Terps went down without a hit in top of the ninth to end the game.

Maryland (19-25) returns to conference play on Friday at 7:35 p.m. when they travel to Lincoln, Nebraska for a pivotal three-game set against the Cornhuskers.