When right-hander Trevor LaBonte exited the game on Sunday after five strong innings in his first-career start, Maryland baseball held a five-run lead over Maine and showed no signs of needing the same late-inning rally it used last Sunday to beat VCU.
But Terps shortstop AJ Lee committed an error to begin the sixth, foreshadowing the freefall that ensued. Maryland watched its 6-0 lead gradually dissipate until, finally, Black Bears left fielder Hernen Sardinas tied the score in the top of the seventh with an RBI single.
But rather than succumbing to the momentum swing, Maryland used a game-winning RBI double from third baseman Taylor Wright to fuel a three-run eighth inning. And this time, it narrowly held onto a 9-6 lead to complete the series sweep and extend its winning streak to four games.
“I think every good team is good at playing from behind,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “We didn’t quite fall behind, but really all the momentum was in that other dugout for about two innings … Playing games like that is really good for us.”
In the second half of Friday’s doubleheader, Maryland jumped out to an early 4-0 lead before Maine stormed back in the middle innings to keep the game competitive. The Black Bears got the tying run on base in that contest, but the Terps staved off the comeback to earn the victory.
The same issues arose again on Sunday with the Terps in search of the sweep — something Maryland only did once in a three-game series last season. This time, though, all the early offensive success became neutralized by the seventh-inning stretch at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium.
Maryland loaded the bases in the first inning, bringing designated hitter Maxwell Costes to the plate with only one out. The freshman, coming off a two-double game earlier in the weekend, ripped another one on the first pitch he saw to plate two runs.
On the very next pitch from Maine starter Sam McCarthy, utility player Michael Pineiro deposited a three-run homer over the right-field wall. It was the first home run of his career after not playing at all last season.
“I was just looking for a first-pitch fastball, got it, got into it and saw it go,” Pineiro said. “I got pretty excited … kind of blacked out between first and third. It was exciting to get my first one out of the way.”
Outfielder Randy Bednar smashed his second home run of the weekend to increase Maryland’s lead to 6-0 after two innings, but Maine designated hitter Colin Ridley’s solo homer in the fifth negated it in LaBonte’s fifth and final frame.
LaBonte exited in prime position to earn his first win, but the five Maryland relievers used in the sixth in seventh innings were not successful in preventing Maine from eventually erasing the lead.
While Maryland’s pitching staff foiled the blowout victory, its offense knew it had more runs left to score.
“We’re always thinking about coming back and getting the job done,” Costes said. “Them tying the game up at 6-6, that didn’t mean anything to us.”
So in the top of the eighth when right-hander Will Glock stranded two inherited runners on base — and preventing Maine for taking its first lead of the series — it was the pivotal moment the offense needed to finally take control again.
With two runners on in the bottom of the eighth, Wright doubled to left-center field to bring in the go-ahead run. After an intentional walk issued to catcher Justin Vought, Costes delivered a two-run single to reach four RBIs on the day and open up a late 9-6 lead that held.
Even though Maine got the game-tying run to the plate in the ninth, closer John Murphy struck out shortstop Jeffrey Omohundro to conclude the weekend with a mere scare that didn’t ultimately spoil the sweep.
“Sweeps are about character,” Vaughn said. “I think that showed a little bit today.”