Huskies pitching outlasts Terps, Maryland to play in elimination game

With the stage set Saturday evening for a duel between two of the strongest teams east of the Mississippi, Maryland and UConn quickly became deadlocked in an intense duel between a couple of respective first team all-conference pitchers.

First Team All-Big Ten pitcher Jason Savacool and First Team All-Big East pitcher Pat Gallagher clashed at The “Bob” in the heat of an early June day, but after Savacool’s exit after the sixth, the Huskies took off while the Terps’ fuse fizzled out. The game ultimately ended in UConn’s favor, with the Huskies winning, 10-2.

The Huskies got to scoring immediately, crushing back-to-back home runs against Savacool to leadoff their half of the first inning. The solo shots, coming from David Smith and Erik Stock, respectively, gave Gallagher a very early lead to work with, and for the first four innings he was able to keep the Terps mostly at bay.

While on the theme of solo home runs, Maryland’s first strike of the night was a Kevin Keister solo home run that he crushed well beyond the right field wall to bring the Terps within a run.

A couple of innings later, Ian Petrutz came up with a big-time RBI to score Maxwell Costes and even the score, 2-2. Petrutz was coming off a three-hit, five RBI performance against Long Island University Friday night, and has continued to prove himself as a potent threat in the bottom of Maryland’s order.

Up to that point in the game, Savacool had nearly matched his counterpart’s performance on the mound, keeping his confidence high and limiting the Huskies to the two early solo blasts. Outside of both pitchers giving up a pair of runs, they both gave up seven hits, and Savacool had just one more walk than Gallagher.

Quite the pitchers duel.

However, the anti-climatic difference-maker in the game came in the bottom half of the fifth, when a fielder’s choice groundout to first base allowed Stock to score from third. The play before that may have been an even bigger difference-maker than the run-scoring groundout itself, as wise base running from Stock allowed him to get from first to third on an infield single.

If anyone kept UConn’s offense in the game the whole nine innings, it was easily Stock. By the end of the night, he reached base four times (double, home run and two walks), and scored all four times.

Following that go-ahead run, Savacool cruised through the sixth, emphatically striking out Zach Bushling for the third out en route to an applause-filled exit from his start.

The game may have been decided after UConn’s go-ahead run in the fifth, but with Savacool gone and Nigel Belgrave entering in the seventh, the Huskies were dead-set on grabbing some insurance.

After allowing the first two Huskies to reach base, Belgrave nearly put an end to the rally with two straight strikeouts that had the sellout crowd erupting. But on the very first pitch redshirt junior Matt Donlan saw, a three-run home run was crushed well over the batter’s eye as the Huskies got their insurance with a 6-2 lead after seven innings.

From then on, the Terps struggled to produce anything on the offensive side, the only glimpse of a comeback coming on a dropped ball error by Huskies right fielder Casey Dana. Two quick outs abruptly ended the rally, and the game became virtually out of reach after the Huskies picked up four more runs later in the inning.

Petrutz would add on to the Terps’ score in the ninth — hitting a three-run home run to cut UConn’s lead to five — but Maryland could not muster up a big enough miracle to push past the Huskies.

With the loss, Maryland now faces Wake Forest in an elimination game Sunday at 1:00 p.m.. Should the Terps reign victorious, it would set up a rematch with UConn.