Maryland holds No. 17 ECU two runs but struggles to score in 2-1 loss

When Caleb Walls stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, the Terps trailed the Pirates 2-1 with two outs. Walls was Maryland’s last chance for a comeback. But the left-handed batter grounded out to second base, for the Terps’ second loss of the weekend.

After dropping the series opener 9-0 to the No. 17 East Carolina Pirates on Friday, Maryland came out strong on Saturday and held East Carolina to a one- run lead through eight innings. The Terps were unable to rally in the ninth, however, and lost 2-1 to the Pirates in College Park.

The Terps plated their first run of the series in the fourth inning Saturday, thanks to a combination of free bases from the Pirates and a one-out double from Taylor Wright. The third baseman Wright stole third, then stole home on a passed ball from Smith, cutting East Carolina’s lead to 2-1.

“I was just looking for something kind of out over the plate,” Wright said. “Luckily I found my way to second base, and when I got there it was one out so I was looking to just get to third, with one out  I can score on a ground ball or sac fly…I got a pretty good jump there [and stole], and luckily the ball got past the catcher and we were able to score.”

Maryland seemed to carry its momentum into the fifth, when Terrapin starter Zach Thompson took down the East Carolina lineup in order to start the inning. Then Benjamin Cowles singled through the right side with one out, then took second on a ground out from Caleb Walls. But the Terps could not drive Cowles home, and a fly out ended the inning, stranding the freshman on second.

“You sense some frustration today,” Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn said after the loss. “[East Carolina starter Jake Smith] was really sinking the baseball today, so we got a lot of ground balls and it was really hard to elevate him today…I think we made it a little more complicated than it needed to be…when you have these opportunities that’s the difference.”

After stranding runners on first and second in the sixth inning, the Terps continued gaining momentum in the seventh, loading the bases with one out after the Pirates’ two-way player Alec Burleson walked two and hit one. But again, Maryland struggled to drive in its runners and stranded the bases loaded, still trailing by one run.

East Carolina jumped on Maryland early, taking the two-run lead in the second, after a single from Burleson, who started the game at first base, and a Turner Brown walk gave the Pirates two on and no outs. The Terps turned a 6-4-3 double play, giving the Pirates a runner on third with two outs.

But Maryland struggled to secure the elusive third out, and back-to-back singles from Brady Lloyd and Dusty Baker plated two runs before the Terps got out of the inning.

After East Carolina’s two-run second inning, the junior Thompson went eight innings for Maryland, including seven scoreless innings and six innings facing the minimum three batters. The righty struck out two while walking one and hitting two.

“I just wanted to get ahead and throw strikes,” Thompson said after the game. “They’ve got some special hitters on their team, so I just wanted to have 100 percent belief in what I was doing and let them hit the ball.”

Left-hander Andrew Vail relieved Thompson to start the ninth. The freshmen went one inning, striking out two and giving up one hit, and providing Maryland with the chance for a walk-off that never came.

“I thought Thompson was unbelievable,” Vaughn said. “You saw what [East Carolina] can do offensively last night off one of the bast arms in the country, and Thompson was flat out dominant today…I’m really proud of the way Zach threw the ball today.”

Vaughn also acknowledge that because Thompson lasted almost the full game, Vail only threw one inning, meaning the entire Terrapin bullpen would be available on Sunday, if needed.