Maryland closer John Murphy walked calmly off the mound on Friday. The right-hander had just sent a strike past Illinois’ best hitter, Zac Taylor, securing the final out of the game and ensuring the Terps’ four-run ninth-inning rally wasn’t in vain.
After struggling against Illinois’ defense, Maryland finally found its rhythm in the top of the ninth, rallying to a 4-2 victory in its series opener against the Fighting Illini on Friday in Champaign, Illinois.
The Terps’ comeback started with consecutive hits from the top of the Maryland lineup, after it entered the final inning trailing Illinois 2-0. Then, back-to-back bunts and a hit-by-pitch brought in the game-tying runs, and left the Terps with runners on first and second and one out.
Pinch-running for Maxwell Costes, who had worked his conference-leading 11th hit-by-pitch of the season earlier in the inning, junior Michael Piniero capitalized on a wild pitch from Illinois closer Garrett Acton. Piniero’s heads-up base-running put two runs across the plate, pulling the Terps ahead 4-2.
The Maryland lineup at the plate for its breakout ninth seemed like an entirely different team than that of the previous eight innings. The Terps’ only base runner through the first four innings came on a two-out hit-by-pitch to Justin Vought in the second inning. The sophomore catcher also put up Maryland’s first hit, a one-out double in the fifth, the Terps’ only hit through eight innings. But it was inconsequential, as a base-running blunder left freshman Josh Maguire at first on a fielder’s choice, and Vought out at third.
Maryland’s senior ace Hunter Parsons put up a solid start for the Terps, holding the Illini to the two runs on six hits and three walks with the help of a few key defensive plays from the rest of the Terps’ lineup.
Parsons found his groove after a rough fourth inning, when a pair of one-out singles and a four-pitch walk loaded the bases. A smooth 5-4-3 double play held the Illini to their two-run lead and kept the Terps in the game.
Building off the double-play momentum, Parsons recorded his first strikeouts of the game in the following two innings, with a strikeout apiece in the fifth and sixth. The two Ks were it for Parsons on the day, but the righty’s composure on the mound provided the Terps’ with the drive necessary to mount their late-inning rally.
Illinois did not waste time pulling ahead of Maryland. Three consecutive singles from the middle of the Illini order loaded the bases in the second inning with no outs. Then, back-to-back sacrifice flies put Illinois on the board first, as Parsons struggled to keep the Illini off the bases.
The previous inning, Parsons walked two with two outs, throwing eight balls in a row. But, after a brief mound meeting with two of the three Terrapin captains––catcher Justin Vought and shortstop Lee––Parsons finally threw a strike and worked out of the jam with a groundout.
Murphy entered for the ninth, throwing two strikeouts and giving up one walk, recording his sixth save of the season.
With the win the Terps improve to .500, both overall and in the Big Ten. They’ll face the Fighting Illini in a doubleheader Saturday, starting at 2 p.m.