On a beautiful Friday afternoon in Greenville, North Carolina, No. 21 Maryland took on the Michigan Wolverines to kick off the Keith LeClair Classic.
The Terps put Michigan starter Cameron Weston to work early in the first inning. Luke Shliger swiped third base to raise his stolen base count to six in the early season, but Maryland stayed off the scoreboard.
With Maxwell Costes reaching on an error and Jacob Orr snapping a single in the second inning, Shliger sliced a ball into left field that found its way over the fence for a three-run home run, his second long shot of the season.
Maryland starting pitcher Nick Dean plowed through the Michigan batting order in the first and second innings, allowing one base runner and notching three punchouts. The third frame posed a greater threat as Michigan loaded the bases, but Dean was able to work his way out of the jam scoreless.
In the fourth inning, Maryland was not quick enough to turn a double play after a single by left fielder Tito Flores. However, they successfully turned two on the very next batter to provide Dean with a fast inning. Michigan would counter in the bottom half by turning a double play themselves off an Orr ground ball.
Reaching the halfway point of the game, Dean continued to pick up right where he left off. After five innings of work, the junior limited Michigan to two hits, setting up Maryland for the bottom of the fifth.
With a single in the first inning, a home run in the second, and a triple in the fifth, Shliger put Clark-LeClair Stadium on cycle watch. Chris Alleyne would allow him to score after grounding out to second base.
“I was just trying to get a barrel out there because the [players] behind us can kind of change the game in one swing. So I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Shliger said after coming just short of the cycle.
Michigan thought an inside pitch hit designated hitter Matt Frey in the top of the sixth, but after the play went under review, the pitch was ruled a ball. Frey would loop one into center field for a double two pitches later. The next batter Jimmy Obertop was hit by the pitch – for real this time – initiating a mound visit from Maryland Assistant Coach Mike Morrison.
Dean finally gave up his first run of the season after Flores doubled, scoring Obertop. Head Coach Rob Vaughn prompted reliever Will Glock to replace Dean as a result. Glock would allow a run-scoring fielder’s choice to cut the deficit to 4-2.
Dean finished his third start of the season after 5 1/3 innings with four hits, two earned runs, three walks, and four strikeouts. He finally conceded his first run of the year after 19 1/3 innings pitched.
“[We had] a four-run lead in the sixth and you feel pretty good about where you’re at with Nick Dean on the mound,” Vaughn said. “We just didn’t quite finish, and it’s good, we need to face some adversity.”
Michigan reliever Walker Cleveland replaced Weston after Weston gave up four runs through five frames. Cleveland hit Costes, the first batter he faced, and gave up a double to Orr. Noah Rennard came in for Cleveland that same inning to face Sean Lane, who served as a pinch hitter for Kevin Keister.
In the top of the seventh inning, Riley Bertram hit a two-run shot after a Jack Van Remortel walk to even up the ballgame at four a piece. Glock got the next two Wolverines to fly out and one other to ground out. The heart of the Maryland order went down 1-2-3 in the bottom half.
Coming off the bench was Joey Velasquez who toppled a three-run blast off the foul pole to give Michigan a 7-4 lead in his first plate appearance of the season. The home run capped off seven unanswered runs for Michigan.
“We’ve had some bounces that have gone our way and that’s what you have when you win eight straight, but they hit a three-run jack off the foul pole today,” Vaughn said. “I think the reality is whether things are good, bad or indifferent, we have to do a great job of evaluating.”
Andrew Johnson took the mound in the ninth for the Terps. Despite a first base error, Maryland got through the frame unscathed, and would have one final chance to mount a comeback in the bottom of the ninth.
Willie Weiss came in to pitch the ninth for Michigan and got the save, allowing the Wolverines to defeat the Terrapins by a final score of 7-4.
“Today’s game has zero bearing on tomorrow unless we let it so we got to do a good job and I’m not worried about this group coming with a really good mindset and being ready to go tomorrow,” Vaughn said.