By the time right-hander Hunter Parsons exited his start against Indiana last season, he had significantly increased Maryland’s chances of reaching the Big Ten tournament. It still wasn’t enough.
He slightly outperformed eventual fifth-round MLB draft selection Jonathan Stiever, leaving the Terps with a crucial one-run lead in the final series of the season. But he handed the ball off to a bullpen that faltered in a four-run eighth, triggering a three-game sweep that eliminated Maryland from postseason contention for the first time in five years.
This season, Maryland’s postseason hopes depend on a positive display throughout conference play, which started on Friday against the same Hoosiers. With the sour taste of last year still lingering, Parsons only allowed two hits over eight scoreless innings before leaving with a two-run lead.
Closer Johny Murphy avenged the three-run, go-ahead homer he allowed in that devastating series opener against Indiana one year ago, and preserved the 2-0 Maryland victory to open Big Ten play.
“Guys understood that our postseason hopes were taken away by them last year,” Parsons said. “So to be able to start our Big Ten play going against them was just a lot of energy coming out of the dugout … just wanting to get after it.”
Parsons retired the first 12 batters he faced, setting the tone for a pitchers’ duel against Indiana senior Pauly Milto, who defeated Maryland in the second game of that crushing final series a season ago.
The Terps defense helped Parsons stay locked in, energizing the crowd at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, where Maryland had lost six straight games. It fell victim to sweeps against East Carolina and Creighton in consecutive weekends, and only scored two runs per game in that stretch.
But Maryland didn’t need many runs to take the series opener, especially after solid defense stopped Indiana’s best scoring opportunities. Right fielder Randy Bednar robbed a home run to begin the third and, one batter later, shortstop AJ Lee used his entire frame to leap and snag a line drive destined for the left-center gap.
“Early in the game I was scuffling and then Randy goes up and makes that play,” Parsons said. “It’s a reality check.”
The home team’s dugout erupted into cheers after both plays, as a dedicated fan waved a yellow flag with a bright red “M” into the sun-setting College Park sky. Parsons still hadn’t allowed a base runner before nightfall.
Parsons finally allowed a hit with one out in the fifth, and a leadoff double in the seventh was his only other blemish.
Early on, Milto was just as dominant as his counterpart, retiring all nine Terps one time through the order. But center fielder Chris Alleyne’s leadoff triple in the fourth disrupted the starter’s rhythm. Two batters later, third baseman Taylor Wright scored Alleyne on a well-executed safety squeeze to give Maryland a 1-0 edge.
“When we score first, we’re a really hard team to beat,” Alleyne said. “So that was the mindset … to safety [squeeze] to get the run in and that helped us out.”
Alleyne led off the sixth inning with a drag bunt that split Milto and second baseman Drew Ashley. Again, he came around to score, when Caleb Walls lifted a fly ball to left field with one out in the sixth.
Parsons issued a two-out walk in the top of the eighth with Maryland still leading 2-0, drawing head coach Vaughn out of the dugout to talk to his starter. At 112 pitches, Vaughn needed an honest answer from his veteran, and asked him if he had enough left in the tank for one more batter.
Parsons did, and used two more pitches to complete his eighth and final scoreless frame. Then, Murphy faced the heart of Indiana’s lineup in the ninth, working around a leadoff walk to earn his fifth save of the season.
And although Maryland is far away from knowing how this one result plays into its postseason fate this season, Parsons’ dominance reversed the struggles against the same Indiana team that abruptly ended its 2018 campaign.
“That was a heavyweight matchup. That’s what Friday nights are supposed to look like,” Vaughn said. “You’re going to get bruised and bloodied up a little bit, but Hunter didn’t blink.”