Lee walk-off homer secures series opener victory for the Terps

Maryland’s dugout emptied as A.J. Lee tossed his bat to the side and started his trot around the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning. Lee, and the rest of the Terps, knew the ball was going out of the park as soon as it left his bat.

In the opener of Lee’s last regular season series as a Terrapin, Lee secured Maryland’s 8-6  victory over Iowa (30-20, 12-10) on Thursday in College Park, the walk off two-run homer marking the Terps’ first walk-off of the 2019 campaign.

“It’s really special for this team,” Lee said. “We’re been through a lot of adversity as a team, had ups and downs, good days and bad days. But at the end of the day, we’re all brothers and we’re out here trying to fight for a spot in the post season.”

“Regardless of what happens in the next two days,” head coach Rob Vaughn said, “that’s a moment that that young man’s never going to forget. He deserves it.”

After Maryland (26-27, 10-12) took the lead early, a late-inning Iowa comeback––headlined by the Hawkeyes’ four-run top of the ninth––necessitated the Terps’ bottom-of-the-ninth rally.

When Hunter Parsons exited his final regular season start as a Terrapin in the top of the ninth, greeted by a standing ovation from Maryland fans in the stands of Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, Vaughn handed the ball over to senior closer John Murphy to finish out the game, the Terps ahead 6-2.

But Murphy struggled to shut down the Iowa offense, walking his first batter and giving up a bunt single to load the bases, after third baseman Taylor Wright struggled to field the slow roller.

The Terps turned a double play, but a Hawkeyes runner still crossed. Then another, and another. With three consecutive hits, Iowa cut Maryland to a one-run lead. Then, a single up the middle from Ben Norman tied the game at six runs apiece, before Murphy got his first strikeout of the night to end the inning.

Before freshman Josh Maguire stepped into the box in the ninth, Vaughn told him to “let the guy behind [him] be a hero.” That’s exactly what the freshman did, as he singled to the mound then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from fellow freshman Ben Cowles.

Then, Lee’s home run and bat flip.

“I had a pretty good idea [it was going out],” Lee said. “But [the bat flip] was just out of pure excitement. I knew pretty much it was going to be gone.”

Lee scored Maryland’s first and last runs of the game, after he smacked a leadoff single into center field, then stole second and made it to third on a wild pitch. A one-out single up the middle from fellow senior Taylor Wright, which bounced off second base and into center field, plated Lee and put the Terps on the board first. Wright crossed the plate two batters later, on an RBI-single from Pineiro, giving Parsons wiggle room with a 2-0 lead.

Maryland put up two more runs in the third, when Maxwell Costes belted his 11th home run of the year to left field. The two-run shot put the Terps ahead 4-0, and secured Costes’ team-high in home runs. The first baseman also leads all Big Ten freshmen in home runs.

After a solid four innings of work from Parsons, who worked out of multiple jams on the night, the senior and his defense began to falter against the Hawkeyes’ offense at the same time Iowa kept Maryland’s offense, for the most part, out of scoring position.

Second baseman Benjamin Cowles made Maryland’s first error of the night to start the fifth inning, dropping a Ben Norman line drive. Then, with Norman at third, Cowles dove but couldn’t stop an RBI-single from Chris Whelan, and Norman crossed the plate as the Hawkeyes’ first run of the game.

Cowles then redeemed himself, turning a double play to end the inning and strand two Hawkeyes on the base paths. Then, the freshman led off the bottom of the inning with a single right up the middle, his first hit of the night. A fielder’s choice left Cowles trotting off the field, out at second, and the Terps stranded one runner in scoring position to end the inning.

“We talk about resiliency a lot,” Vaughn said. “What I’m proud of [Cowles] for…he didn’t feel bad for himself, he didn’t pout, he said, ‘Hand me the next one,’ and turns a huge double play.”

With Hawkeyes on first and second in the sixth inning, right fielder Randy Bednar climbed the wall in foul territory, reaching over to grab a huge first out for the Terps. Iowa plated one runner, cutting into Maryland’s lead, after Norman knocked the ball into left field, dropping just inside the foul line and past a diving Pineiro before it bounced into the Terps’ bullpen for a ground rule double. The one run was it for the Hawkeyes in the half as Parsons worked out of the jam, holding on to the Terps’ 4-2 lead.

But the Terps seemed to find their rhythm after the seventh inning stretch. A Lee sacrifice bunt plated Chris Alleyne from third, Maryland’s fifth run of the night, setting up Parsons to work out of the jam in the eighth.

With the 5-2 lead, Parsons gave up a pair of singles to put Hawkeyes on first and second. But, after a mound visit from head coach Rob Vaughn, the senior stayed in the game, throwing a career-high 123 pitches and recording his fourth strikeout of the night.

Before Lee’s ninth-inning walk-off, Maryland’s sixth run came across in the eighth, after Wright doubled to start the inning, crossing the plate on a Pineiro sacrifice fly. 

After his brief outing in the ninth, Parsons ended the night having thrown 127 pitches in 8.0 innings of work, giving up three runs on nine hits and two walks, striking out four. Murphy went 1.0 innings, allowing three runs on five hits, one walk and recording the one strikeout and earning the win.

“Murphy competed really hard,” Parsons said. “He gave up a couple runs but he [ended up] getting the strikeout to get us back in in a tie game, and then A.J. comes up in the bottom of the ninth, hits a walk off. Just a great team victory all around.”

Both looking to secure a playoff berth, Maryland and Iowa face off in College Park for game two of the three game set on Friday at 6:30 p.m.