Maryland beats Rutgers behind Parsons’ masterful first-career Friday start

With right-hander Hunter Parsons over 100 pitches in his first-career Friday night start, pitching coach Corey Muscara visited the mound in the middle of a 2-0 count to tell his starter the next two batters were his regardless of the result.

Parsons threw two more balls to walk the hitter, but with the confidence instilled in him, the junior then induced an inning-ending flyout on his 118th pitch to cap off his two-run, seven-inning performance in Maryland’s 5-2 win against Rutgers.

Center fielder Zach Jancarski perhaps saved the game in the top of the ninth, making a full-extension grab with the tying-run at the plate. After losing eight straight series openers, the Terps have now won their last two as they continue to vigorously hunt down the final spot in the Big Ten Tournament.

“This is the playoffs from here on out. We’re playing for our lives right now and it’s time to step it up,” Jancarski said.  “I think our guys did a great job not letting the pressure get to them, but being ready when their number was called.”

Rutgers scored in the very first frame, taking advantage of multiple Maryland miscues. Parsons allowed a leadoff single after getting ahead 0-2 in the count, and Justin Vought’s throwing error on a steal attempt moved the runner to third. With an RBI groundout following, The Scarlet Knights took a quick 1-0 lead.

From that point on, though, it was all Hunter Parsons and clutch hitting from several Maryland seniors to stay in postseason contention. After retiring 11 straight hitters at one point, Parsons conceded a run in the seventh before loading the bases. But the coaching staff decided to live or die with their ace on the mound.

“That guy’s been so dang good. He deserved a chance to try to finish that inning,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “So just try to give him a deep breath and just reset everything and good execute some pitches and kill some of their momentum.”

In the midst of Parsons’ standout start, all four seniors in Maryland’s starting lineup recorded multi-hit games in clutch situations to pull away from the Scarlet Knights. Kevin Biondic, Will Watson, Justin Morris and Jancarski went a combined 8-for-15 with two runs scored and three RBIs.

“This is the last time we’re going to be putting the Maryland uniform on this field,” Jancarski explained. “The blood, sweat and tears that these guys — especially the seniors — put into this, just so much stuff behind the scenes. There’s nothing else we know.”

Biondic extended the bottom of the first with two outs with a single, granting an opportunity for Watson to deliver the game-tying RBI hit. The following frame, Morris led off with a single before junior shortstop AJ Lee hit a two-out RBI double to give Maryland a 2-1 lead.

The bottom of the sixth belonged to Maryland’s senior hitters, too, doubling, singling and doubling again to spark a two-run inning to extend the Terps’ lead to three heading into the seventh frame. After Parsons allowed a run in the seventh, Jancarski grabbed the run right back with an RBI single in the next half inning.

Kevin Biondic was the designated hitter, unable to play defensively with a bruised foot. Morris, therefore, was given the task of playing first base for the first time this season. He made several great plays, including a foul grab against the wall with a runner in scoring position and two inning-ending picks.

“This was his first week of practice at first base,” Parsons said. “He’s played 50 games either behind the dish or [designated hitter] and just to see him over there … it looks so natural for him.”

Ryan Hill, also a senior, held the score at 5-2 by striking out two hitters in a scoreless eighth inning. He recorded the first two outs of the ninth, but let the tying-run get to the plate. Left-hander Grant Burleson sealed the game, coming on to get the last out.

“We’re going to enjoy this for about 15-20 minutes and then it’s back to the basics. It’s back to square one,” Jancarski said. “We got a 0-0 game and we have to take care of business tomorrow.”