Game Preview: James Madison Dukes

Two weeks ago, on April 10, the Maryland Terrapins traveled to Harrisonburg, Virginia, where they defeated the James Madison Dukes, 2-1, in a gritty 12-inning contest. The victory was the Terps’ second in three contests, and brought them to within a game of .500, at 16-17 on the season. It’s been all downhill for Maryland since then, however, as they haven’t won since, dropping six straight contests over the past two weeks.

Wednesday, the Terps (16-23, 3-8 Big Ten) look to right the ship when they host James Madison for the second part of their 2018 home-and-home set. They are coming off a rough weekend in which they lost all three contests against Purdue, the first time they were swept at home since losing three straight to Indiana in May 2015.

After losing Friday’s contest, Maryland had a chance to take the final two games of the series. The Terps carried a 3-2 lead into the ninth on Saturday, but surrendered homers in the ninth and 11th to lose. Leading 6-2 after six innings in Sunday’s contest, Maryland surrendered five runs in the seventh en route to Purdue’s sweep.

Even after breaking out for six runs Sunday, the Terps are still struggling at the plate, with a team batting average of .232 while averaging 4.4 runs per game. Nick Dunn leads the team in most offensive categories, including hitting (.344), on-base percentage (.433), slugging (.556), homers (7), RBIs (28) and runs scored (27). Zach Jancarski started to heat up over the weekend, notching an RBI double Saturday and a three-run homer Sunday. He and Dunn are tied for the team lead with 11 doubles. Kevin Biondic continues to rank second behind Dunn in average (.273), RBIs (21) and slugging (.473). This week, Maryland will benefit from the return of outfielder Marty Costes, who was suspended for the Purdue series.

In addition to his success at the plate, Biondic has been the Terps’ best reliever this season. Despite not throwing a collegiate pitch until February, the senior right-hander leads the team with an 0.87 ERA in 20.2 innings, while holding opponents to a .118 ERA. Other than Biondic, the bullpen has been shaky at best. John Murphy ranks second with a 4.29 ERA in a team-high 17 appearances.

After losing to Maryland two weeks ago, the Dukes (21-19, 6-9 CAA) won five straight contests, but since then have lost three of their last four. Over the weekend, they dropped the first two at Delaware before salvaging the third game with a 6-0 victory Sunday.

Infielder Fox Semones has been hot since the Terps and Dukes met, hitting three homers in the past nine games while raising his average to .304. He paces the team with seven home runs and a .514 slugging percentage, while tying for the team lead in doubles (8) and RBIs (17). Adam Sisk, who has kept pace with Semones in doubles and RBIs, also leads the team with a .397 on-base percentage and 28 runs scored. Josh Jones leads the team with a .316 batting average, but has four hits in his last six games, and did not play in one of the contests against Delaware over the weekend.

On the mound, James Madison carries a 3.59 ERA as a team. Five of the regular Dukes relievers – not including Wednesday’s starter Michael Bechtold – have ERAs under 3.00. Brett Ayer owns a minuscule 0.71 ERA despite getting tagged with the loss against the Terps two weeks ago. Nick Robertson leads the team with three saves, while posting a 1.83 ERA in 19.2 innings of work. Matt Colon, Matt Marsili and Garrett Richards have also impressed in relief.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Wednesday, 4:00 p.m. EST

R-Fr. RHP Michael Bechtold (1-0, 2.45 ERA) vs. R-Fr. LHP Billy Phillips (0-0, 8.49 ERA)

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The brother of former Terps infielder Andrew Bechtold, right-hander Michael Bechtold gets the ball for James Madison on Wednesday, making his fourth start of the season (and ninth overall appearance). His last time out, last week against Longwood, he threw a season-high 4.2 innings, allowing just one run on five hits while striking out three. He has pitched well in his 18.1 innings of work this year, as seen by his 2.45 ERA, but he does allow baserunners, with a .260 opponent’s average.

After sitting out two years while battling cancer, left-hander Billy Phillips finally took the mound this season. In his first career appearance against Tennessee, he struck out the first hitter he faced before inducing a double play. Now, on Wednesday, he will make his first collegiate start, after making his first nine appearances of the season out of the bullpen. In 11.2 innings this year, he’s allowed 11 runs, all earned, while walking six and striking out six.

Terps blow lead in wild seventh, get swept by Purdue

Maryland catcher Justin Morris dove for the ball near the Maryland on-deck circle, a desperate attempt to keep it from rolling past him as Purdue’s Nick Dalesandro rounded third and headed for home. Morris couldn’t corral the errant throw, and pitcher Grant Burleson picked it up and threw it home wildly, allowing Dalesandro to score, as Purdue unloaded the bases on a bloop single to tie the game.

One batter later, Skyler Hunter scampered home on a wild pitch, giving the Boilermakers their first lead of the game in a wild seventh inning as Maryland fell to Purdue Sunday, 8-6. The Terps (16-23, 3-8 Big Ten) dropped all three games of an important conference series, getting swept at home for the first time since losing three straight to Indiana in May 2015.

“Coach [Rob] Vaughn kinda said it the best, he said he’s never seen anything like that before, and to be honest, I haven’t in a while either,” Maryland center fielder Zach Jancarski said of the three-run bloop single in the seventh. “The throw was a little bit up the line, communication wasn’t there as far as to cut it off or not, and then it kinda had a negative domino effect from there.”

Desperately needing a victory Sunday to stay relevant in the Big Ten Tournament conversation, everything seemed to be going right for Maryland through six innings. Tyler Blohm, who exited his last start with arm discomfort, was through six innings of two-run ball, and five combined RBIs from Zach Jancarski and Nick Dunn had given Maryland a 6-2 advantage.

But things came apart quickly for the Terrapins in the seventh, as they coughed up five runs on just two hits, highlighted by Hunter’s bases-loaded single and Will Watson’s throwing error. Blohm, who minimized damage through his first six frames, loaded the bases in the inning on a double and two walks with nobody out.

He exited in favor of freshman left-hander Grant Burleson, who induced a ground ball fielder’s choice that scored a run, but set up the potential for an inning-ending double play. But after a walk loaded the bases, Hunter blooped a single into left-center. Two runs crossed, and Will Watson’s throw home skipped past cutoff man Taylor Wright and up the third base line, as Morris sprinted over in an attempt to reign it in. Dalesandro scored on the play, and Hunter crossed later on the wild pitch, completing the Maryland collapse.

“If you don’t play catch, if you let the game get fast, you know it can snowball on you a little bit and that’s what happened right there,” Vaughn said. “One bad throw led to three bad throws and a flail to the outfield ended up being a three-run triple essentially. So yeah, just not taking care of the baseball right there kinda came back to get us.”

This negated a strong outing early on by Tyler Blohm, who allowed just a solo homer and an RBI single while striking out four through his first six frames of work. He was aided by some early run support, as Maryland broke out for four runs in the third, highlighted by Zach Jancarski’s three-run homer.

The Terps took an early lead in the inning when AJ Lee scampered home on a wild pitch to make it 1-0, and Jancarski took Purdue starter Trent Johnson deep over the left-field wall after a missed catch on a pop-up extended the inning. The homer was Jancarski’s fourth homer of the year, setting a new career high for the senior center fielder.

Nick Dunn lined a two-out, two-run double into the right field corner in the sixth, scoring Lee and Brad Barnett, who had both walked earlier in the frame. Dunn’s team-leading 27th and 28th RBIs gave the Terps a commanding 6-2 lead heading into the final three innings of play, before the wild seventh inning turned the game upside down.

Purdue added another in the ninth, when Hunter doubled off Sean Fisher to open the inning, and eventually came around the score on AJ Lee’s error at shortstop. John Murphy came on in relief of Fisher to escape a bases-loaded jam to close out the top of the ninth.

Maryland brought the winning run to the plate in the ninth against Purdue closer Ross Learnard, as Kevin Biondic singled with two out and Watson walked. But Jancarski popped up in foul ground to end the game and ensure the sweep for Purdue. 

“We have to continue to be as consistent as we possibly can, and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Jancarski said. “If you don’t earn those 27 outs and you don’t play as good as you can that day, you’re probably going to lose. That’s just the way [the Big Ten] is, it’s pretty even, and we just gotta do a little bit better job moving forward, but I like our chances.”

With the loss, the Terps drop to 3-8 in conference play, as they drift further from the No.-8 spot in the Big Ten that is necessary for them to make the conference tournament.

“What we can’t control is where we are in the standings, what we can’t control is the last two months of baseball,” Vaughn said. “All we can control is our effort today and what we come out on Tuesday and do. That’s what I’m looking for out of these guys, just come back, bounce back. If we play a clean game of baseball and get beat and we compete our tails off, I can live with that.”

Maryland is back in action Tuesday at home against George Mason at 4 p.m.

Bullpen surrenders late lead as Maryland loses in extras, 4-3

Zach Jancarski stood on the warning track and watched the ball sail over the center field fence as Jacson McGowan began his trot around the bases. McGowan, Purdue’s cleanup hitter, homered in two straight at-bats – in the ninth and the 11th – as the Boilermakers rallied back to defeat the Terps in 11 innings Saturday, 4-3.

Hunter Parsons, who was moved up a day from his typical Sunday role, turned in another magnificent performance, shutting the Boilermakers (18-16, 6-4 Big Ten) down with eight innings of two-run ball. But his shot at his fourth win of the year was erased by Jacson McGowan’s game-tying home run leading off the ninth inning against John Murphy. With the loss, Maryland (16-22, 3-7 Big Ten) has dropped three straight conference series, and five straight games. 

A Maryland offense that struggled mightily with runners on base in the series opener broke out early in Saturday’s contest. An error and a single put two on and one out in the first for Will Watson, who was moved up from the seventh spot to cleanup after a three-hit performance Friday night. Watson singled through the left side to put the Terps on the board first, and Zach Jancarski followed with a double just inside the third base bag to give Maryland a 2-0 advantage.

With the game tied in the seventh, Maryland retook the lead on a heads up play by Tommy Gardiner. With the freshman designated hitter on second, Nick Dunn bounced a ground ball toward the right side. Dunn beat out the throw, and Gardiner never stopped running, sliding across home plate and pumping his fist as the Terps took a 3-2 lead.

This lead held until the ninth, when Murphy surrendered the long ball to McGowan. Murphy has struggled of late, and was later replaced by Kevin Biondic, who entered the contest with a team-best 0.50 ERA. Biondic, who also went 2-for-5 at the plate, shut the door on Purdue in the ninth, and pitched a scoreless tenth, but was handed the loss after McGowan took him deep with one out in the top of the 11th. 

Last week against Michigan, Parsons missed his start due to the weather-shortened series, instead throwing five innings of relief in Sunday’s loss. He didn’t skip a beat in his return to the rotation, dominating in his first career Saturday start. He needed 113 pitches to get through eight innings, allowing just two runs on five hits while whiffing three batters.

His only two blemishes on the day came in the third and fifth. Harry Shipley took him deep for his first homer of the year in the third – his first homer of the year. Two innings later, Parsons had a chance to work out of a first and third, one out jam, but AJ Lee’s relay on a potential double play ball allowed the runner from third to score, tying the game at 2-2.

After giving up the lead in the ninth, the Terps had two chances to walk off, but failed to capitalize. In the bottom of the ninth, Dunn singled with two out, but Biondic flew out to deep center to end the inning. In the tenth, a Watson hit by pitch and a Taylor Wright walk put the winning run in scoring position with one out, but Maryland couldn’t get him the final 180 feet.

The Terps will look to salvage at least one game of the series Sunday at 1 p.m. LHP Tyler Blohm (4-2, 3.99 ERA) will face off against Purdue’s RHP Trent Johnson (1-1, 1.88 ERA).

Missed opportunities prove costly as Terps fall to Purdue in series opener, 7-1

Entering Friday, Mark DiLuia had just seven collegiate starts under his belt. But with normal Friday starter Taylor Bloom still recovering from an injury, DiLuia got the ball Friday night against Purdue, becoming the first Terps freshman to start a series-opening game since Jimmy Reed in 2012.

A four-run second was DiLuia’s only blemish in his six innings of work, but the Maryland bats couldn’t back up the freshman. In a night without middle of the order threat Marty Costes, they tallied 12 hits but went just 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position and left 11 on base. Purdue (17-16, 5-4 Big Ten) added three runs in the ninth to put the game out of reach as the Terps (16-21, 3-6 Big Ten) fell to the Boilermakers at home, 7-1.

After a scoreless first, DiLuia ran into trouble right away in the second inning. With a runner on first and one out, Evan Warden lifted a double down the left field line to plate the first Boilermaker run of the afternoon. A walk put two on for Nick Dalesandro, who smoked a line drive to left center that rolled all the way to the wall, allowing two more to score. Skyler Hunter’s subsequent RBI single to right scored Dalesandro, making it 4-0 Purdue.

Maryland had several opportunities to cut into the Boilermaker advantage, but couldn’t get the key hit off Purdue right-hander Tanner Andrews, who scattered 11 hits over seven innings of work.

“Tonight, our quality at bats were great, we got a lot of hits,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “We just couldn’t quite – we’d string three together, we’d need four; we’d string four together but need five. It’s tough, I’m proud of the way we competed tonight, that’s the bottom line. I thought we competed as a team, I thought guys ran off a pretty good plan at the plate.”

The Terps plated their lone run in the sixth inning, when AJ Lee singled with men on the corners and two away, to make it 4-1. Zach Jancarski had led off the frame with a double to right, and moved up to third on Will Watson’s single through the left side.

However, other scoring opportunities went by the wayside. Lee doubled leading off the bottom of the first, and tagged up on Nick Dunn’s fly ball to right, but Purdue appealed to second, and the umpire called him out, ruling that he left the base too early. Now with two out and nobody on, the Terps got two more baserunners in the frame, but Randy Bednar struck out to strand them both in scoring position.

A walk, a hit and a sacrifice bunt gave the Terps men on second and third with one out, but they again could not bring Jancarski the final 90 feet to cross home plate. Dunn led off the third with a single and the fifth with a double, but was stranded both times. Watson’s one out double in the fourth put another man in scoring position, but the Maryland outfielder only made it as far as third base before the inning came to a close.

DiLuia settled down after the second-inning blemish, ending his outing with four straight scoreless frames. He allowed his fair share of baserunners – eight hits and five walks in six innings – but a little help from his defense kept the deficit from growing larger. Catcher Justin Vought threw out would-be base stealers in the third and fourth, and Taylor Wright snared a liner with the bases loaded in the fifth to start an inning-ending double play.

“Mark DiLuia was an absolute dude tonight,” Vaughn said after the game. “He came in and competed his tail off. Shoot, we ran a freshman battery out there on a Friday night conference game, and for those guys to work together the way they worked and compete the way they did, I’m really proud of those two.”

Grant Burleson tossed two scoreless innings before Alec Tuohy served up a three-run double to Alec Olund in the ninth to make it 7-1, Purdue. Ross Learnard shut the Terps down with two scoreless innings of relief. 

Watson picked up three hits in the contest for Maryland, while Dunn, Lee, Jancarski and Vought notched two hits apiece.

Vaughn announced after the game that Costes, a junior outfielder, is suspended for the entirety of the weekend series and will rejoin the team Monday.

“Marty didn’t meet some of the team rules we had this week,” Vaughn said. “He’s an unbelievable kid, he works his tail off, he plays his tail off. He’s a great kid that just didn’t live up to the standards that we hold as a program this week.”

The Terps will look to even the series Saturday at 2 p.m. in College Park. RHP Hunter Parsons (3-2, 3.13 ERA) takes the hill for Maryland against Purdue LHP Gareth Stroh (4-2, 5.67 ERA).

Series Preview: Purdue Boilermakers

With conference play in full swing and warmer weather heading toward College Park, the Maryland Terrapins host the Purdue Boilermakers this weekend, looking to turn things around after a rough week.

After posting a .500 record through two Big Ten home series, Maryland hit the road last weekend, traveling to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to take on the Wolverines. The Terps all sorts of obstacles in the series, from starting pitcher injuries to cold weather delays to travel curfews. With the temperature at or below freezing for most of the weekend, the teams managed to only play two of the three scheduled games, both of which were Terrapin losses. Maryland returned to College Park on Tuesday, but fell to VCU, 14-3, to split the season home-and-home series with the Rams.

The Terps (16-20, 3-5 Big Ten) continue to struggle offensively; they have put up 14 total runs in their past five contests, going 1-4 in that stretch. As a team, Maryland is hitting .229 on the year, good for third-to-last in the Big Ten, and is faring just slightly better in conference play, with a .239 mark.

Nick Dunn is the only Terps regular hitting over .300, and he leads the team in most offensive categories, including batting average (.331), home runs (7), runs scored (27) and RBIs (25). Kevin Biondic’s .272 average is the next best mark on the team, and the senior first baseman ranks second with five homers and 21 RBIs as well. Marty Costes has not been able to replicate his dominant sophomore year at the plate, although the outfielder did notch two hits, including his third homer of the season, in Tuesday’s setback. Randy Bednar, Justin Morris and Taylor Wright have all showed signs of breaking out at the plate recently, with Bednar launching a two-run homer – his fourth of the season – against VCU.

On the mound, Maryland has faltered of late, although some of these struggles can be blamed on injuries over the weekend. Friday night starter Taylor Bloom was hit in the head during warmups before Friday’s contest in Ann Arbor and could not start, so Rob Vaughn had to piece the series opener together with redshirt freshman Mike Vasturia and four relievers. In Sunday’s weather delayed series finale, left-hander Tyler Blohm left after one inning with an injury, as usual Sunday starter Hunter Parsons had to toss five innings of relief in the loss.

Kevin Biondic continues to be the best bullpen arm for Rob Vaughn’s squad, leading the Terps with a minuscule 0.50 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 18 innings of work. John Murphy has 30 strikeouts in 20 innings, but his control issues (17 walks, 6 hit by pitches) has led to a lofty 4.05 ERA. As a team, the Terps rank third from the bottom of the Big Ten with a 5.27 overall ERA.

The Boilermakers (16-16, 4-4 Big Ten) come into town stumbling, having lost six of their last seven contests. They split a home-and-home midweek set with Indiana State this week, but got stomped at home last weekend by Minnesota, losing 22-7 and 18-8 before the third game was cancelled. Three of their four Big Ten wins this season came in a sweep of Penn State in University Park, with the other coming in the series opener against then-No. 10 Indiana in the series opener two weeks ago.

Purdue ranks near the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in both batting average (.261) and ERA (4.47). While the Boilermakers have a big advantage over the Terps in average, they just barely best Maryland in slugging (.363 vs. .361) and on-base (.359 vs. .350). They average nearly five runs per game, but do it without much in the power department, hitting just 16 long balls in 32 games.

Jacson McGowan has been the Boilermakers’ most dangerous hitter this season, leading the team with nine homers, 39 RBIs, 24 walks, a .427 on-base percentage and a .593 slugging percentage. His .310 average is second best, behind only Skyler Hunter’s .328 mark. Nick Dalesandro is hitting .305 with a team-high nine doubles and 10 of the team’s 40 stolen bases. Ben Nisle (five homers, 22 RBIs, .484 slugging) is also a power threat for the Terps to be wary of.

Left-hander Ross Learnard is the go-to arm in Purdue’s bullpen. The senior has allowed just two runs (both earned) in 17.2 innings of work, for a 1.02 ERA, while striking out 17 hitters. Freshman right-hander Bo Hofstra leads the bullpen with 26.2 innings of relief work (not including a three-inning start early in the season), posting a 3.64 ERA in his 15 appearances. Trent Johnson owns a 1.88 ERA in nine appearances (five starts), but has been slotted into the rotation in recent weeks.

The Terps and Boilermakers met only once last year, in the Big Ten Tournament. Maryland came out victorious, 5-2, thanks to five shutout innings from Taylor Bloom and an eighth-inning bases loaded double by Kevin Smith. The Terps took two out of three from Purdue in College Park in 2016.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Friday, 6:30 p.m. EST

Sr. RHP Tanner Andrews (3-3, 2.50 ERA) vs. Fr. RHP Mark DiLuia (1-2, 5.92 ERA)  

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Senior right-hander Tanner Andrews takes the ball for Purdue on Friday night. He leads the Boilermakers with 50.1 innings pitched and 43 strikeouts, even after a rough outing last time out against Minnesota. Last Friday, he made it through just 3.2 innings against the Golden Gophers, surrendering six runs (three earned) on six hits and five walks while not recording a strikeout. Unearned runs have been a common theme for the 6-foot-3 right-hander this season, as only 14 of the 26 runs he has allowed have been earned.

With Taylor Bloom still recovering from being hit in the head last week in Michigan, right-hander Mark DiLuia will get the nod for the Terps in the series opener. The freshman has seven midweek starts and nine total appearances under his belt, but this will be his first career weekend (and conference start). DiLuia’s past two starts have been the best of his young career. He tossed seven innings of one-run ball last week at James Madison, a week after holding William & Mary to one run over six innings. He did not receive a decision in either outing, and will look to pick up a win with another strong start in conference play.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Saturday, 2 p.m. EST

Jr. LHP Gareth Stroh (4-2, 5.67 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Hunter Parsons (3-2, 3.18 ERA)

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Entering Big Ten play, Gareth Stroh was putting together a strong junior campaign. Through seven starts (including one conference start against Penn State), he owned a 3.12 ERA, and had completed five innings five times. However, his past two outings, against Indiana and Minnesota, have been a different story. He lasted a combined five innings in the two starts, allowing 15 runs (13 earned) on 11 hits and seven walks to raise his ERA by more than two runs. The left-hander got the start against Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament last year, allowing two runs over 5.1 innings of work.

With eight starts (and ten appearances) under his belt, Hunter Parsons has been the Terps’ best starter this season. The right-hander leads the team in ERA and innings (and ranks fourth in the conference with 56.1 innings pitched). He didn’t get a start last weekend due to the weather-shortened series in Ann Arbor, but contributed five strong innings of relief in Sunday’s loss, allowing just two runs while striking out seven Wolverines. This will be his first Saturday start, after occupying the Sunday spot in the rotation up until this point.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Fr. RHP Trent Johnson (1-1, 1.88 ERA) vs. So. LHP Tyler Blohm (4-2, 3.99 ERA)

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Freshman Trent Johnson has worked himself into the Purdue rotation in the past month, as Sunday’s outing will be his fourth weekend start in the last five weeks. His last time out, Tuesday against Indiana State, Johnson threw three hitless innings, allowing just two walks while striking out three. Against Penn State on March 31, he turned in the best start of his career, striking out six in five scoreless frames, but then allowed three runs in 3.1 innings against Indiana the following week. The right-hander has whiffed 26 hitters in 25 innings of work, and opponents are hitting just .173 off him, but has struggled with control at times, walking 16 batters.

A week after leaving his start after one inning due to arm discomfort, Tyler Blohm will take the hill Sunday this weekend, rather than in his usual Saturday role. In his last full start, two weeks ago against Illinois, the southpaw was brilliant, striking out nine over 6.1 innings of one-run ball, and he will look to return to that form against Purdue. Blohm leads the Terps with 46 strikeouts in 45 innings, and opponents are hitting .244 off him.

Eighth-inning walks doom Terps in 4-2 rubber match loss to Illinois

Three walks and a pair of sacrifice flies broke an eighth-inning tie and doomed Maryland as the Terps fell to the visiting Illinois Fighting Illini in Sunday’s rubber match, 4-2. In a contest in which all six runs crossed on errors, sacrifice flies and bases-loaded free passes, the Illini were able to take advantage of late opportunities to down the Terps and drop them to 3-3 in conference play this season.

Maryland (15-17, 3-3 Big Ten) struggled with runners on base, stranding the bases loaded in the sixth and eighth innings and leaving 12 runners on overall. The Terps went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position on the day.

“Unfortunately, we put three guys on in a row, and they cashed in,” head coach Rob Vaughn said about the eighth inning. “We come back the next inning, put the first two guys on and just can’t execute. Really, that’s the story of the game right there, they executed in the seventh, eighth, ninth and we didn’t.”

Since the beginning of March, Hunter Parsons has been Maryland’s best pitcher, averaging over seven innings per start while surrendering just six total runs. Sunday, the right-hander did not disappoint, as he and Illinois starter Ty Weber matched each other pitch for pitch through the first five frames. But Parsons exited with an apparent injury in the sixth inning of a 1-0 game, and the following innings became a back-and-forth seesaw affair.

Down 1-0 in the sixth after Parsons’ injury, the Terps were able to get to Weber, who had just allowed doubles to Taylor Wright and Justin Morris through the first five frames. AJ Lee opened the bottom of the sixth with a single to right, and Nick Dunn followed with a ground ball through the right side as Lee dashed toward third. Illini right-fielder Jack Yalowitz bobbled Dunn’s hit, however, and Lee ran through Rob Vaughn’s stop sign at third to tie the game.

A pair of walks – one intentional – signalled the exit for Weber, with right-hander Ryan Thompson entering in his place. After striking out Bednar on a full count, the Illinois reliever hit Richie Schiekofer, forcing in Nick Dunn from third base to give the Terps a 2-1 lead, but Morris struck out to leave the bases loaded.

“The biggest thing for us is trying to execute in those situations,” Lee said. “The biggest thing to do that is just knowing who we are as a team and individual players. Just staying in our approach and doing what we do, it’s gonna have to come eventually if we’re going to be a good team.”

Illinois plated three unanswered in the final three frames against a Maryland bullpen that struggled to command the strike zone. The Illini tied it in the seventh when reliever Sean Fisher struck out Grant Van Scoy, but an errant throw to first by Morris led to a collision between Van Scoy and first baseman Kevin Biondic as Michael Michalak scampered home from second base to tie things up.

Mike Vasturia finished the seventh inning, but walked the first hitter he faced in the eighth, ushering in right-hander John Murphy. But the Terps’ closer didn’t fare any better, walking Bren Spillane, and Vaughn elected to bring in Biondic, who in turn walked the first batter he faced to load the bases. The next two hitters, Doran Turchin and Jack Yalowitz, each lifted sacrifice flies to the outfield, plating a pair of runs to give Illinois a 4-2 lead.

Like Weber, Parsons cruised through the first three frames unscathed, but the Illini were able to crack the scoreboard first. The Terps’ starter loaded the bases with one away, and rebounded to strike out the next hitter, but then walked Michael Michalak on four pitches to force in a run. With the bags still full, Parsons went full on Jeff Korte, but froze the Illini catcher to minimize the damage.

That was the only blemish on his line, as he went 5.2 innings, allowing just the one run on three hits and two walks while striking out seven. He retired the first two batters he faced in the sixth, but appeared to be in discomfort after delivering a 1-1 pitch to Turchin, and exited without finishing the at-bat. 

“His [hamstring] just kind of locked up on him a little bit,” Vaughn said. “We just didn’t want to take a chance, you know we’re hoping it’s nothing too serious, we think it was just kind of a cramp and we’ll have a lot more information hopefully in the next day or so.”

After the Terps coughed up the two runs in the top half of the eighth, they had a golden opportunity to strike back in the bottom half. Maryland loaded the bases with two outs on a single, a walk and a hit by pitch, but No.-2 hitter AJ Lee struck out to strand three runners. The Terps got the tying run to the plate in the ninth, after Wright’s two-out single brought pinch hitter Will Watson up, but Gerber struck Watson out to record his eighth save of the season.

The Terps now hit the road for a four-game swing. They’ll travel to Harrisonburg, Virginia, Tuesday to take on James Madison before visiting Ann Arbor for a weekend series against Michigan.

Morris, Blohm lead Terps to 7-1 “Fort Night” victory over Illinois

Throughout the first half of the 2018 season, the Terps have unified around a common pastime:  popular survival-based video game Fort Nite: Battle Royale. So, it was only fitting that on the evening of the “Fort Night” promotion at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, Maryland broke out for seven runs on eleven hits in a 7-1 victory over Illinois in the nightcap of Friday’s doubleheader.

“Everybody loves Fort Nite, that’s really all we talk about,” catcher Justin Morris said. “To bring it out here, it just keeps things loose. It was a fun atmosphere.”

Left-hander Tyler Blohm tossed 6.1 innings of one-run ball while Morris and Kevin Biondic each collected a homer and two doubles as the Terps (15-16, 3-2 Big Ten) evened the series at a game apiece. John Murphy tossed 2.2 scoreless innings at the back end to pick up his third save of the year. 

Held in check by Illinois starter Andy Fisher in game one, the Terps’ offense broke out early against Ryan Schmitt in the nightcap. They opened the second inning with three straight hits – a Kevin Biondic double and singles by Zach Jancarski and Taylor Wright – to get on the board. After a pair of strikeouts, Justin Morris hit a three-run shot off the light pole beyond the right-field fence to extend the Maryland advantage to 4-0.

An inning later, Biondic – who just missed a home run his first time up – hit a solo shot over the left field wall by the scoreboard, his fourth home run of the year.

“It doesn’t really matter who breaks out, it’s just the fact that everybody’s getting hits today,” Morris said. “Hits are contagious. The top of the lineup was hitting the ball well, they were getting hits before I even came up. That’s just how it is when your whole team is hitting the ball it’s like you’re coming up and you’re expecting to hit.”

Meanwhile, Blohm returned to the dominant form he displayed two weeks prior against Stetson. The southpaw shut down an explosive Illinois offense, scattering five hits while whiffing nine hitters. He struck out Illini slugger Bren Spillane – who entered the contest with a cool .489/.571/.1.120 slash line in 25 games – three times, making the three-time Big Ten Player of the Week look utterly lost at the dish.

“He did an unbelievable job there mixing pitches,” head coach Rob Vaughn said of his sophomore left-hander’s performance. “He had a really good feel for his breaking ball, real good fastball command today, was able to throw his changeup when he needed it. But just a very good start overall for him against a very, very dangerous offense.”

Blohm’s only blemish on the night came in the seventh inning. He surrendered a one-out walk in front of Jeff Korte’s double, which put men on second and third. That spelled the end of the night for the sophomore starter, who exited in favor of John Murphy. Grant Van Scoy then drove in a run on a ground ball to second, ending the shutout, but Murphy froze Zac Taylor to shut the door.

His counterpart, Schmitt, did not fare as well on the hill in his first career start. The sophomore right-hander lasted just 3.2 innings, surrendering six runs on eight hits. He departed in the fourth, after issuing his first free pass of the night to Terps shortstop AJ Lee. Earlier in the frame, a Chris Alleyne single and a Morris double set up Nick Dunn’s sac fly that drove in the Terps’ sixth tally.

Sean Leland replaced Schmitt and stifled the Maryland offense for three innings before the Terps struck again in the eighth inning to make it 7-1. Morris reached on a hit by pitch and moved to third on Dunn’s single before Marty Costes drove him in on a groundout.

Murphy made things interesting in the ninth, hitting two consecutive hitters on two-strike counts to put a pair of men on with one away, but struck out Van Scoy and Taylor to seal the victory.

Friday night’s victory came in the nightcap after Illinois dominated the Terps in the first game, 10-6.

“I think it fired us up as a team, it definitely fired me up, I wanted to go back, get out here as soon as possible and show them what we’re made of,” Blohm said of the team’s effort after losing the opener. “We’ve won a lot of series on the Saturday and Sunday games and I think we’re doing a really good job of responding.”

After a day off Saturday, the Terps will look to take their third straight series (and second straight Big Ten series) Sunday at 1 p.m. Hunter Parsons (3-2, 3.33 ERA) takes the hill for Maryland against Ty Weber (3-1, 2.74 ERA) for Illinois.

Bloom struggles as Terps drop game one to Illinois, 10-6

Zac Taylor dropped the bat at home plate and jogged toward first base as the ball sailed over the left-field fence. Maryland right-hander Taylor Bloom stood on the mound and stared in disbelief as Taylor trotted around the bases with a grand slam that broke the game open, giving the Illinois Fighting Illini a 10-3 lead in the fifth inning.

Bloom has been the workhorse in the Terps’ rotation this season, averaging over seven innings per start entering Friday’s contest, but he was no match for the potent Illinois offense, as he turned in his worst start in four years at Maryland. The right-hander labored through five innings, allowing a career-worst ten runs on ten hits and five walks as the Terps fell to the Illini in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader, 10-6.

The Terps (14-16, 2-2 Big Ten) kept pace with the Illinois bats early on, but struggled to solve left-hander Andy Fisher as the game went on. The Illini junior scattered eight hits and two walks over eight innings, allowing just three runs in his longest start of the season. Maryland rallied late, plating three in the ninth, but the comeback ultimately fell short. 

Meanwhile, Bloom was in trouble right from the start. The right-hander walked Taylor and gave up a single to Ben Troike to open the game, putting two on for the recently crowned Perfect Game/Rawlings Midseason National Player of the Year Bren Spillane with nobody out. The junior slugger delivered, smoking a double to the wall in left-center to put Illinois on the board. Michael Massey followed with a line drive over Randy Bednar’s head in right field, scoring two more as the Illini took a 3-0 lead before Bloom could record an out.

Bloom walked the bases loaded in the third and Michael Michalak followed with a double over Tommy Gardiner’s head at third, plating two. Doran Turchin added the sixth run of the game with a towering solo shot over the batter’s eye in the fifth. A pair of infield hits and a walk loaded the bases, and despite Bloom’s pitch count hitting 100, Rob Vaughn elected to keep his veteran starter in to face Taylor. The Illini leadoff man made him pay, promptly unloading the bases.

Like Bloom, Fisher ran into a jam early, as the Maryland bats got to work early. With runners on the corners and one away in the first, AJ Lee’s ground ball single scored Marty Costes, and Zach Jancarski followed with a bloop hit into shallow right field. Kevin Biondic came across on the play, pulling the Terps within one. After Will Watson’s infield single loaded the bases, a fly out and a strikeout ended the inning however, as the Terps stranded three in the inning trailing by one.

After this, Fisher shut the Terps down. The only other Maryland run crossed in the fourth, when Tommy Gardiner trotted home on the left-hander’s balk. Singles by Gardiner and Nick Dunn and a Costes fly out set up runners on the corners preceding Fisher’s mistake.

Following Bloom’s exit, Grant Burleson, Alec Tuohy and Billy Phillips combined to keep the Illini off the board for the final four frames. 

Justin Vought hit a two-run homer to right off Illinois left-hander Jimmy Burnette in the ninth to cut the Terps’ deficit to five, but that’s all Maryland was able to muster as the comeback attempt fell well short. Vought, who was pinch hitting for Justin Morris, has two hits in his college career – both have cleared the fence. Later in the frame, Jancarski drove in the Terps’ sixth run of the contest with a double to the left-center field gap, but Watson struck out to end the game.

With the loss, the Terps have lost two straight, and fall to 7-8 at home this season. They will look to even the series in the nightcap of Friday’s doubleheader when they send southpaw Tyler Blohm (3-2, 4.50 ERA) to the mound against Illinois right-hander Ryan Schmitt (1-1, 3.68 ERA).

Series Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

Last weekend, the Maryland Terrapins took two out of three at Northwestern in College Park to start off their 2018 Big Ten schedule. This weekend, the Terps have a tougher test when the Illinois Fighting Illini come to town. The Illini, who this week dropped out of D1Baseball’s rankings after being ranked 25th last week, own the second best overall record in the Big Ten (17-7, 4-2 Big Ten) and are 7-2 on the road this season. With foul weather due to arrive in the D.C. area Saturday, the series schedule has been altered, and the Terps and Illini will play a doubleheader Friday followed by a single game Sunday.

The Terps (14-15, 2-1 Big Ten) have continued their up and down season, following up their weekend series win with an 11-inning loss to William & Mary at home Tuesday. Maryland has not won more than two straight games since rattling off a five-game winning streak from February 25-March 4.

Nick Dunn continues to lead the Terps in most offensive categories, including batting average (.346), RBIs (22), home runs (7), doubles (8) and runs scored (25). He has hit safely in four straight, including a two-hit performance with a double and an RBI Tuesday against William & Mary. Marty Costes also collected two hits and an RBI against the Tribe, raising his average to .231 after a dreadful early-season cold spell, and after a 1-for-5 performance Tuesday, AJ Lee ranks second on the team with a .268 average.

The weekend rotation of Taylor Bloom, Tyler Blohm and Hunter Parsons that seemed weaker than the past couple years entering the season has been a bright spot for Rob Vaughn’s squad, with two of the three arms owning sub-4.00 ERAs. The bullpen has been more hot and cold, however. Kevin Biondic and John Murphy have been the two anchors in the Terps’ relief corps, combining for 40 strikeouts over 29 innings pitched. Biondic leads the team with a minuscule 0.63 ERA, while Murphy owns a 2.45 mark in his 11 appearances. Right-hander Mike Vasturia has also emerged as a go-to arm in the bullpen, making 10 appearances (nine in relief) with a 2.63 ERA.

Illinois has cruised through much of their early season schedule, meanwhile, but ran into some trouble last weekend against Iowa. The Illini dropped two of three at home to the visiting Hawkeyes, and had to fend off a furious Iowa comeback in the ninth Saturday to earn a 13-12 win.

The Illini offense has been lethal this season, averaging seven runs per game. The team leads the Big Ten with 31 homers and a .477 slugging percentage, and ranks fourth with a .281 team average. This is largely thanks to first baseman Bren Spillane, who owns a .494/.579/1.149 slash line that seems too good even for a video game. The junior leads all of Division I baseball in slugging percentage, is tied for the lead in home runs (14) and ranks second in batting average and on-base percentage. He has 100 total bases and 38 RBIs in 24 games, driving in nearly 23 percent of all of Illinois’s runs, and is a capable baserunner to boot, going 12-for-18 in stolen base attempts. He has earned numerous awards this season, including Perfect Game Midseason Player of the Year, and three Big Ten Player of the Week honors.

While Spillane steals the show offensively, he is hardly the only offensive threat in the Illinois lineup. Michael Massey is hitting .350 with 13 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs, while Ben Troike (.302/.405/.417) also holds his own at the plate. Doran Turchin is the other power threat in the order, tallying six homers, five doubles and a .556 slugging percentage to go with a .291 batting average and a team-high 19 walks. Three Illini regulars (Zac Taylor, Jeff Korte and Jack Yalowitz) are all hitting under .230 through 24 games, but their slow starts haven’t seemed to hamper Spillane and the rest of the offense one bit.

Illinois is not quite as dominant on the mound, posting a 4.37 ERA, but it matters little with such an electrifying offense. Outside of the weekend starters – more on them below – Ryan Thompson and Joey Gerber are perhaps the most important arms on staff. Thompson leads the team with 21.2 innings out of the bullpen, whiffing 23 hitters in those innings while holding opponents to a .183 average. Gerber paces the Illini with 12 appearances and seven saves, whiffing 17 hitters in his 11.1 innings of work.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Friday, 3 p.m. EST

R-Jr. LHP Andy Fisher (2-0, 3.75 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Taylor Bloom (2-5, 3.93 ERA)  

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Andy Fisher will take the mound in the opening game for the Illini. The southpaw earned a win in last Saturday’s slugfest against Iowa, surrendering five runs (two earned) on five hits and six walks over six innings in a thrilling 13-12 victory. Fisher leads the Illinois staff with 25 strikeouts in 36 innings of work, but his control has been suspect, as he has walked 22 batters and hit four more. These wild tendencies have hampered his ability to work deep into games, with the left-hander completing six innings just twice this season.

Opposing Fisher on the mound is Terps Friday right-hander Taylor Bloom. The senior has been a workhorse this season, leading the Big Ten with 50.1 innings pitched – an average of over seven per start. He’s been the victim of some tough luck, as he has pitched better than the 2-5 record would suggest. Last time out against Northwestern, he tossed eight innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits and four walks, but was tagged with the loss.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Friday, 6:30 p.m. EST

So. RHP Ryan Schmitt (1-1, 3.68 ERA) vs. So. LHP Tyler Blohm (3-2, 4.50 ERA)

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Right-hander Ryan Schmitt will take the hill in game two of the series on Friday night, making his first collegiate start. The sophomore has made eight appearances spanning 14.2 innings this season, with his longest outing of the year coming last week against Iowa. Opponents are hitting just .188 off him, but five of the nine hits he has surrendered this spring went for extra bases.

One week after his best start of the season (an eight-inning, 12-strikeout performance against Stetson), Tyler Blohm struggled mightily against Northwestern last time out, surrendering five runs on eight hits and three walks in just 4.2 innings of work. The left-hander leads the Terps in strikeouts (36) and is tied with Hunter Parsons for the team lead in wins, and will look to return to his Stetson form against the Illini.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

So. RHP Ty Weber (3-1, 2.74 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Hunter Parsons (3-2, 3.33 ERA)

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Sunday’s ballgame may be the best pitching matchup of the weekend, with each team’s hottest starter taking the hill. After struggling to a 5.06 ERA through his first two starts, Ty Weber has nearly cut that mark in half since, including an eight-inning, one earned run performance on March 18 at Southern Illinois. Last time out, Weber lasted 5.2 innings against Iowa, surrendering two runs in a no decision. The right-hander leads the Illini rotation in most statistical categories, including ERA, innings pitched (42.2) and batting average against (.241).

After imploding in his first start at Tennessee, Hunter Parsons has quickly evolved into a dominant, dependable starter, pitching at least seven innings in each of his last five starts, including two complete games. The right-hander tossed seven innings of three-run ball last time out against Northwestern, earning a no-decision. His 46 innings pitched rank second in the Big Ten, behind only Taylor Bloom, and opponents are hitting just .223 off the right-hander.

Bullpen falters as Terps fall to William & Mary in extras, 6-3

William & Mary second baseman Sean McDermott dove for Randy Bednar’s ground ball up the middle and threw toward first as the Terps’ freshman sprinted up the line. First baseman Colin Lipke corralled McDermott’s low throw to retire Bednar and the Terps, as Maryland fell to the Tribe 6-3 in 11 innings Tuesday in College Park.

Taking over for Kevin Biondic on the mound in the 11th with the game tied at 3, Elliot Zoellner, aka “Fuzz,” hit two of the first three hitters he faced, putting runners on the corners for the Tribe (11-18). After a well-placed sac bunt attempt loaded the bases, Lipke poked a single through the right side, breaking the tie to give William & Mary a two-run lead. Grant Burleson replaced Zoellner (1-2) and walked in a run later in the frame to put the Tribe up 6-3.

Maryland (14-15) squandered golden opportunities to win the game in the eighth and ninth innings, wasting a runner on third with no out and one out, respectively. Down by three in the 11th, the Terps looked to put a rally together against Tribe closer Wade Strain. AJ Lee singled to lead off the frame and Zach Jancarski was hit by a pitch to put two on and no out with the tying run coming to the plate. But the next three hitters couldn’t progress the rally further, with Bednar’s ground out sealing the Terps’ fate.

“You give us the runner at third base with nobody out to win a game, you should be able to book it that the game’s over at that point,” head coach Rob Vaughn said after the game. “You leave 17 guys on base at home and can’t execute like that you don’t have a chance to win.”

The extra-innings loss negated the best start of freshman Mark DiLuia’s young career. The right-hander, who has been hit hard in several of his outings this year, tied a career-high with six innings of work, allowing just one run on four hits and a walk while striking out six.

But his Tribe counterpart was just as brilliant early on. Maryland’s offense couldn’t get anything going through four innings against Tribe right-hander Nick Butts, drawing five walks but failing to crack the hit and run columns on the scoreboard. Once Butts exited in favor of fellow right-hander Jamie Sara, however, the Terps’ bats came alive.

Trailing by one, Taylor Wright ignited a Maryland rally leading off the fifth against Sara with a double down the left-field line – the first Terp hit of the afternoon. Two batters later, Nick Dunn drove Wright home with a line drive single to center, picking up his team-best 22nd RBI and tying the game at 1-1. The Terps had a chance to take the lead, after a Costes single put men on first and second with two out, but Kevin Biondic struck out on a high 3-2 fastball to end the inning.  

Down 2-1 in the seventh, Nick Dunn led off the inning with a double over the head of Tribe left fielder Brandon Raquet, and immediately moved up to third on a wild pitch. Marty Costes collected his second hit of the game, driving in Dunn with a single up the middle to again tie the game, this time at 2-2. Sara again shut down the Terps’ hopes of a larger rally, however, inducing two fly outs before whiffing Jancarski on a 3-2 pitch.

Again down by a run in the eighth, Watson walked to lead off the frame. Wright squared to bunt, laid it down, and sprinted toward first, as William & Mary pitcher Charlie Fletcher picked up the ball and fired it wide of first down the right field line. Watson rounded third and scored easily, and Wright ended up at third on a three-base throwing error as the Terps tied the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth. With Wright at third and no out, the Terps taking the lead seemed imminent, but Richie Schiekofer and Justin Vought, the next two hitters, couldn’t drive him home. With two out in the inning, Dunn and Costes walked to load the bases, but Biondic flied out to center. 

Looking to walk it off, AJ Lee led off the ninth inning with a bouncing ball to third base, and while the throw to first beat the Maryland shortstop by a step, William & Mary first baseman Colin Lipke couldn’t hold on to it, and Lee was safe. After moving up on a sacrifice bunt, Lee stole third, putting the winning run in scoring position with one away, but Will Watson grounded out and Taylor Wright struck out to send the game to extras.

DiLuia ran into early trouble when Tribe leadoff man Ryan Hall lined the third pitch of the game into the left-field corner for a double. He settled down and retired the next two hitters, and was one strike away from escaping the inning unscathed, but William & Mary catcher Hunter Smith dropped an RBI single in front of Marty Costes in right to put the Tribe in front, 1-0.

After the early blemish, however, DiLuia settled down to give the Terps some much-needed length in a midweek start. He allowed runners on in the second and third, but was able to pitch out of jams to avoid further damage. Terps catcher Justin Vought helped his pitcher by throwing out would-be base stealers in both frames. The only marks against him in his final three innings of work were a fifth-inning error and a sixth-inning hit by pitch, neither of which the Tribe could do anything with.

“Mixing pitches was a big thing today, I had the changeup that was working well, so it was tough for guys to sit on three pitches,” DiLuia said of his success Tuesday. “I thought I did a good job just moving the ball in and out.”

Mike Vasturia took over on the mound in the seventh after DiLuia’s six brilliant frames, but immediately got into a jam, walking and hitting the first two batters he faced, respectively. After a pop up, Zach Pearson, William & Mary’s leading hitter, lined a single back up the middle to score Owen Socher from second and give the Tribe a 2-1. The big right-hander was able to retire the next two hitters however to keep the Maryland deficit at one run.

An inning later, after the Terps tied it up again, Tribe first baseman Colin Lipke greeted new Terps pitcher Sean Fisher with a monster solo home run that cleared the center field wall by plenty. A Hunter Smith double ushered a quick exit for Fisher in favor of John Murphy, who recorded the final two outs of the inning. 

Murphy fired a 1-2-3 ninth inning before handing things over to Biondic in the tenth. The two-way star allowed two William & Mary hitters to reach before retiring the Tribe in the first frame of free baseball.

Maryland is back in action this weekend to host Illinois in a three-game set, starting at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.