Maryland bullpen struggles, comes out on top in 8-4 win over Stetson

Freshman reliever Andrew Vail entered the Terps’ series finale against the Hatters in an unusual spot. One of Maryland’s left-handed relievers, head coach Rob Vaughn usually brought in Vail to utilize the lefty-lefty matchup.

In Maryland’s 8-4 win over Stetson (6-9) in DeLand, Florida, on Sunday, however, the freshman took the mound in the seventh against a right-handed batter with a 2-0 count, two outs and bases loaded. In four pitches, Vail induced a groundout to shortstop Benjamin Cowles that stranded the bases loaded and minimized Stetson’s damage to Maryland’s 6-4 lead.

“Something this team does so well is turn negatives into positives,” Maryland closer John Murphy said after the game, discussing the bullpen’s rocky outings Saturday and Sunday.

Maryland’s bullpen struggled to keep Stetson off the bases on Sunday, a problem  which compounded the Terps’ issues in their 12-7 loss on Saturday.

Part of the issue, Vaughn explained, is the youth of the bullpen. Maryland has a handful of freshman relievers who will come out strong, then something changes between innings and they aren’t the same their second time on the mound.

“They’re getting a little bit tired,” Vaughn said. “It’s something we’ve got to make an adjustment on, because those guys are way too good to get two outs and be done for the day.”

After relieving Maryland starter Trevor LaBonte in the sixth inning, freshman righty Will Glock faced the bottom half of Stetson’s lineup with runners on the corners and no outs. He struck out lefty Noah Dickerson before inducing two fly outs to end the half.

But just as quickly as he had found his groove, Glock lost it, walking the bases loaded with one out in the seventh. Only one of those walks resulted in a run, however, as Jacob Koos crossed the plate on a passed ball after Glock had exited the game. Terrapin reliever Nick Turnbull had the same issue, striking out the first Hatter he faced, but walking the next to keep the bases loaded. Then, it was Vail’s turn.

After Vail got Maryland safely out of the seventh, he remained on the mound for the eighth. But, after Vail gave up a leadoff double, closer John Murphy took over. The right-hander recorded six outs against eight batters-faced, including three strikeouts, ensuring Maryland’s series win.

“They’re all dudes,” Murphy said, referring to his fellow relievers. “They’ve succeeded already, especially the young guys, so I’m not too worried about them. They’ll get right back on track this week.”

On Saturday, defensive miscues added to the bullpen’s struggles to led to Maryland’s 12-7 loss. For Sunday’s rubber game, head coach Rob Vaughn returned to an earlier version of the Terps’ lineup––one with Michael Pineiro at first base, Caleb Walls in left field, and Maxwell Costes as designated hitter.

Those shifts provided LaBonte with a solid defense early, in front of which the righty recorded three strikeouts and four scoreless innings, with 12 of 15 Stetson outs coming from fly-outs. LaBonte started losing steam in the fifth and sixth, however, and Stetson cut into Maryland’s 6-run lead with one run in the fifth and two in the sixth.

Though the Terps struggled on the mound in later innings, the tighter defense gave Maryland’s offense breathing room early in the game.  The Terps put up six runs in five innings, scoring at least a run apiece in each inning to take a 6-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth. Then, a two-run eighth inning provided cushion for the struggling Terrapin bullpen, extending Maryland’s lead to 8-4.

All but two of the Terps’ RBIs came from the top of the order––the others came from sophomore catcher Justin Vought, who sent a solo shot to left-center field in the fifth inning, marking his second career home run.

As a freshman, Vought recorded two hits and seven RBIs in 69 at-bats. Now, taking over as the Terps’ main catcher, Vought has put up as many RBIs in just 44 at-bats.

“We wanted to shift some stuff up a bit,” Vaughn said, referring to various move sin the Terps’ lineup over the weekend. “We thought [Chris Alleyne] was giving us good at-bats…I didn’t think [two] homer were going to come out of it but man, he was huge.”

In his second game batting leadoff for the Terps, center-fielder Alleyne crossed the plate three times for Maryland, including two two-run blasts, the first over the left-field wall in the fourth, the second to right field in the eighth.

“[He] didn’t even start the first two games of the year,” Vaughn said. “So that shows you how dumb I am sometimes.”

Over the past year, Alleyne made a lot of smaller adjustments at the plate, the center-fielder said after the game, explaining that one minute change can make the biggest difference.

Those adjustments worked, evidently, and his two home runs Sunday marked Alleyne’s first as a Terp. Last year, in his first season with Maryland, Alleyne batted .080 in 14 games, seven of which he started. After Sunday’s game, Alleyne is hitting .275 in 13 games this season. In addition, the sophomore has as many home runs (2) in 2019 as he did hits in 2018.

“Everybody’s going to struggle,” Alleyne said. “But you’re going to see success if you just stick with it. I think I’m finally starting to see some success after struggling for a while.”

With their win Sunday, the Terps improve to 9-5 on the season, claiming Maryland’s first series win on the road since it took 2-of-3 at Michigan State in late April last year.

“We talk all the time that the next step for this team is taking care of business on the road,” Vaughn said. “We hadn’t really been great at that in the early season, [but] it feels good to get out of here with a good win.”