When Maryland starting pitcher Hunter Parsons entered the dugout after escaping a jam against Maine, he exchanged handshakes with his Terps teammates, who had just witnessed the right-hander toss eight scoreless innings in only 99 pitches.
Maryland’s first two hits of the game each drove in a run, while the Black Bears — one week after getting no-hit to open the season — didn’t record their first hit off Parsons until there were two outs in the fifth.
Right fielder Randy Bednar launched his first homer of the season over the batter’s eye in center field to put Maryland up 1-0 in the first — the only offense Parsons needed to secure his first win of the season.
Maryland only finished the front end of Friday’s doubleheader with six hits, but opportunistic offense and a strong start from Parsons powered the team to a 4-0 shutout win in its home opener with ease.
“He was just incredibly dominant,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “The starting pitcher sets the tone for the game and Hunter did a great job of that and really kicked this day off the right way.”
Parsons had a solid start last weekend in his first appearance of the season, but allowing four hits, walking three and hitting two batters wasn’t the standard start for the right-hander’s breakout season in 2018.
The senior’s outing against Maine mirrored starts closer to last year’s than the one from a week ago. Parsons went eight innings, only allowing three hits while striking out five hitters.
Parsons began his performance with three weak ground balls, two of which went to himself. That fast start carried over into the bottom of the first, when Bednar caused the dugout to erupt with a solo blast to earn a quick lead.
“Scoring first is a big thing we talk about in the clubhouse,” third baseman Taylor Wright said. “It’s a good thing to be able to get the momentum right off the jump and come out hot.”
In the bottom of the third, a routine fly ball to right field proved to be an important play when left fielder Caleb Walls tagged up from first to put himself in scoring position with two outs. Wright — the next hitter — perfectly placed a single up the middle to create a multi-run lead still early in the contest.
The Terps emphasized cleaning up the base running during the week, after blunders in the opening weekend ran them out of potential run-scoring innings. But Walls’ heads-up play exemplified the reward of a successful risk.
“Shoot, that was huge,” Vaughn said. “Any time you can get an extra 90 feet, it’s big.”
Shortstop AJ Lee’s sacrifice fly in the fourth and a Black Bears error in the fifth gave the Terps a 4-0 lead, as the Terps plated one run in four of the first five innings. That advantage felt mighty comfortable in the midst of Parsons’ dominant start.
Maine started a rally with two straight singles to begin the eighth inning, but Maryland’s ace finished his home debut strong. Parsons got out of the frame with a sacrifice bunt, a strikeout and a ground out — as he ended his afternoon one inning shy of a complete game shutout.
Despite it not being a save situation, closer John Murphy relieved Parsons in the ninth looking to earn the Terps their eight home-opening win in the last nine years. After missing the first two games, Murphy has now pitched in each of the last two.
The right-hander completed the combined shutout, as Maryland only needed 14 pitches from the veteran Murphy — its only bullpen arm used in the front end of the doubleheader.
He worked around a two-out single to seal the first home win of the season, finishing the masterful pitching performance that Parsons started.
“The first two games without Murph were tough,” Vaughn said. ” When you know you have him sitting back behind there, it just gives you that added level of comfort because he’s been there for four years and done his thing.”