Maryland struggles to overcome early run deficit against West Virginia

Freshman Andrew Vail entered in the fifth, with the Terps trailing 6-0 to the Mountaineers, bases loaded and one out. The righty secured two consecutive outs––a strikeout and a fly out––to get Maryland out of the half.

After a come-from-behind 16-10 victory over William & Mary the day before, Maryland (16-16) struggled in its Wednesday matchup against West Virginia (20-12). Free bases from the Terps’ pitchers and a lackluster offense added up in Maryland’s 8-1 loss to West Virginia in College Park.

“I was like, ‘This is the perfect spot for you,'” head coach Rob Vaughn explained he said to Vail on the mound before the lefty took over in the fifth. “Because that’s all he does, is…put fires out in big spots.”

Vail returned in the sixth, putting up the first 1-2-3 inning for the Terps. The freshman was the fourth pitcher on the mound for Maryland, after junior Nick Turnbull went only a third of an inning in his first start as a Terp.

“[Turnbull} kid of lost the zone a little bit a couple weeks ago,” Vaughn said. “Sometimes you can throw a guy in a little bit different role and give him a little bit different perspective of the game and it allows him to go out there and perform.”

That didn’t happen on Wednesday, however, as Turnbull loaded the bases on two walks and a single and struggled to secure the first out. After he walked a third batter, his day on the mound was done. All four batters who reached base against Turnbull crossed the plate in the first, and the Mountaineers took a lead they did not relinquish all game.

“We gave way too many freebies,” Vaughn said. “We had 14 walks and hit-by-pitches, and 11 of those were in the first four innings. I credit the guys for making some pitches to get out of jams, but just too nay pitches, too many jams, too many base runners early.”

The junior’s outing started a series of relief appearances in which seven Terrapin pitchers gave up a total of 12 walks and hit a combined two batters.

Right-hander Daniel O’Connor finished the first, though an error from shortstop AJ Lee, a hit batter and a single combined with Turnbull’s outing to give West Virginia a four-run lead heading into the bottom of the first.

O’Connor went 2.1 innings, allowing one hit and one run while walking four. Once the righty walked three on two outs in the third, however, the Terps went to the bullpen and called on fellow right-hander Sean Heine.

But Heine talked the first batter he faced, driving in a run before securing the third out that eluded O’Connor.

“I know they’re competing their balls off,” Lee said of the Terps pitching staff. “Being up there you feel like you’re on an island sometimes, but I just try to make sure they know they’ve got a defense behind them and let them keep working.”

Vail was the first Terp to put up three-up, three-down inning, and his string of five consecutive outs was the longest string of outs for a single Maryland pitcher on Wednesday. The only other Terp to record a 1-2-3 inning was closer John Murphy, who shut down the Mountaineers in the ninth.

West Virginia added to its lead with a two-run homer deep to left-center in the eighth, but by that point Maryland was unlikely to mount a comeback, after struggling to drive runs home.

“Where we had a lot [of free bases], [West Virginia] limited it ,” Vaughn said. “And when you’ve just got to line up and hit, hit, hit, it can be a little bit difficult.”

With bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Maryland seemed to have finally found its much-needed offense. But, a backward K and a ground out to second ended the potential rally, as West Virginia held on to its 8-1 lead.

“We were a little passive there early,” Lee said. “They guy had good stuff, but we definitely took a lot of pitches that we should have moved on, and just missed a couple opportunities.”

The Terps’ first and only run came in the fifth, as Maryland built off Vail’s momentum in the top of the inning. AJ Lee knocked a one-out sac fly to deep center to plate in Michael Pineiro from third––Pineiro had reached to start the half, after taking a pitch to the knee.

Maryland put at least one runner on base in eight of nine innings, but it wasn’t until the fifth that the Terps were able to driven home. The Terrapin offense finished the day with 11 left on base, after four walks, two hit batters and five hits.

“The biggest thing for us is to just flush it,” Lee said. “We’ve been playing good baseball the last couple weeks. So I think [if we] just flush it, flush this, and get back to what we do, I think we’ll be fine.”