Biondic’s late heroics give Terps first Big Ten series win of 2018

The chants of a group of fans behind home plate echoed throughout Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium. The family of Maryland two-way player Kevin Biondic, which has been seen waving cut-outs of Kevin’s face throughout the Terps’ three-game series against Northwestern, was wildly celebrating Kevin’s biggest hit of the season.

With a runner on first and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Biondic launched the go-ahead home run over the center field wall, giving Maryland a 4-3 lead it would maintain to defeat Northwestern, and win its first conference series of 2018.

“I don’t think they’d care if I struck out 10 times this weekend or hit five home runs,” Biondic said. “They’re going to heckle me no matter what, and I think there was some good heckling today.”

Biondic’s heroics didn’t stop there. With the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth, Biondic was called upon to record the 27th, and final out. He did so, forcing Connor Lind to line out to left field, and earning the save.

“[Biondic’s] tough as nails as a senior, he’s a winner,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “It ain’t always pretty, sometimes it’s up-and-down, but the guy wins and knows how to win.”

Much like Saturday’s 6-5 win, it was a gut-check performance for the Terps, who advance to 14-14 with the win. But unlike Saturday, Maryland completed the comeback in style, using the long ball instead of small ball.

On the first pitch of the bottom of the first, Nick Dunn took Northwestern’s starter Jack Pagliarini deep, giving Maryland an early lead. Two solid hits later, the lead was 2-0.

But a three-run third inning for Northwestern, paired with Pagliarini’s dominant stretch, looked for a while as if it would be Maryland’s demise.

In that third inning, Maryland starter Hunter Parsons saw his 11.1 inning scoreless streak come to an end, when Jack Dunn’s RBI double trimmed the deficit to 2-1. Dunn then came around to score on Alex Erro’s single, erasing Maryland’s early lead.

Then, the close calls that had gone the Terps’ way late in Saturday’s meeting started going the other way. With one out, AJ Lee jolted to his left, played a soft grounder, and threw to first base. It was within inches, but the second base umpire Brian Drury ruled that Lee did not have the ball in his glove until his back foot was off the bag, negating a potential double play.

The next batter, Willie Bourbon, hit a single that ended up driving in the go-ahead run.

While the inning unraveled a bit, Parsons kept his composure and kept the Terps within one run the entire game, despite working into some trouble. In the fourth, Parsons let the first two Wildcats reach base, and then loaded the bases with two outs. He escaped without allowing a run.

“We had Vasturia up in the fourth inning,” Vaughn said. “You close your eyes and you blink and Hunter turns in seven innings, three runs. Shoot, that’s an unbelievable job of competing.”

Parsons allowed three earned runs on seven hits, walked three and struck out three. It was the most runs he has allowed in his last five appearances, a stretch during which he has allowed just six earned runs in 39 innings (1.38 ERA).

Meanwhile, Northwestern’s star freshman did not allow a single run after the first inning, and only allowed two hits. Pagliarini also had a stretch of retiring 15 consecutive batters, a remarkable feat that ended with Will Watson’s two-out single in the seventh inning.

That’s when Marty Costes’ two-out single, followed by Biondic’s homer, gave Maryland its most exciting win of the season.

“If we can keep building on that toughness and showing grit when things aren’t going great, that’s the key,” Vaughn said.

The Terrapins will have a quick break from Big Ten play, as they host William & Mary on Tuesday. The Tribe were the Terps’ first midweek opponent in 2018, as the two teams met in February in Virginia, with the home team securing a 10-4 win. With a win, Maryland would jump to an above-.500 record for the first time since March 16.

Terps rally to top Northwestern in spirited comeback win

After Maryland’s 4-0 loss on Friday, Vaughn said that sometimes, all it takes is one comeback to build momentum and confidence.

Saturday’s spirited 6-5 win over Northwestern, capped by a walk-off walk in the 10th inning, may be the comeback Vaughn’s Terps needed.

It was a gritty win — as the Terps didn’t hold a lead until the 10th inning walk-off — but one Maryland so desperately needed.

“The fact that we were able to come and grind that one out was huge for us, and hopefully gives us some momentum moving forward,” Vaughn said.

Maryland’s win got off to a rough start, though. Starting pitcher Tyler Blohm’s attempt to repeat a stellar performance against Stetson got off to a dreadful start. Each of the first two batters to face the left-hander reached base. Then, before an out was recorded, Jack Claeys launched a no-doubt, three-run homer over the center field wall.

Blohm allowed a double and then settled down, retiring the side without any further damage. The Terps were quick to respond.

In the bottom of the frame, Maryland scraped together a rally of its own. A pair of singles by Nick Dunn and Kevin Biondic started the rally, and both of them came around to score — Dunn on a sacrifice fly, Biondic on a wild pitch.

Northwestern fought back, extended its lead in the second when Kyle Burnett Jr. drove in a run with a single. The teams then traded runs with solo homers — Will Watson for the Terps, and Northwestern benefited from another blast by Claeys.

The 5-3 Terrapin deficit remained for four innings, as both teams had potential scoring chances thwarted.

For Maryland, freshman Sean Fisher entered the game and had a strong performance, throwing 3.1 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits. After a rough stretch, the left-hander kept the Terps in the game while the bats looked to re-emerge.

“That’s the player of the game without any question right there,” Vaughn said of Fisher. “That guy matures every time he gets on the mound.”

In the fifth inning, Maryland left a pair of runners on base, while in the top of the sixth, Marty Costes threw out Jack Dunn at the plate, keeping the deficit to just two runs.

Maryland’s comeback really picked up in the seventh inning, when a Nick Dunn single and Marty Costes walk set the stage for AJ Lee, who drove in Dunn with an RBI single. Still, the Terps were unable to fully utilize the scoring chance, as Jancarski grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the frame, and strand two.

Similarly, in the eighth, Maryland only managed one run after placing runners on the corners with one out. Although Watson drove the game-tying run home, it was on a double play, effectively ending the greater opportunity.

The extra inning rally, aided by poor control for Northwestern reliever Josh Levy and a fielding blunder on Tommy Gardiner’s bunt, gave Maryland its first conference win of the year, and its first win in extra innings since April 26, 2016.

It wasn’t a pretty game, as Maryland scored runs on were scored on a sacrifice fly, wild pitch, a bases loaded walk, and a double play, but getting back in the win column was crucial for the Terps.

“We just did a good job grinding that out,” Vaughn said. “We’ve been telling our guys that we just need a come-from-behind win.”

The two teams will play the rubber match on Sunday, when the Terps send Hunter Parsons to the hill, looking to win their first Big Ten series of the year.

 

Maryland’s bats go cold in Big Ten opener vs. Northwestern

With the Maryland Terrapins’ bats in the midst of yet another funk, it didn’t take much offensive production for the Northwestern Wildcats to steal a road game from the Terps.

As it turns out, all Northwestern needed was one run, and it got more than it needed in a second inning, spoiling Maryland’s Big Ten opener with a 4-0 victory.

After Bloom gave up a walk and single to the first two Wildcats he faced in the second frame, a bunt, sacrifice fly, and single provided the visitor’s with the games first runs, and the only until the ninth inning.

The first run, which came home on Ben Dickey’s bunt, was fielded by Bloom, who flipped the ball home too late to get the runner.

“It’s great to get that lead runner, keep him from scoring, but you can’t not get that out,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “A couple little things right there that have just been coming back to bite us a little bit lately.”

Later in the game, Marty Costes gunned out a Wildcat runner looking to extend a single to a double, Kevin Biondic and Nick Dunn both made diving stops, and Justin Morris threw out a potential base stealer. The Terps’ defensive successes were overshadowed by their offensive woes.

Maryland didn’t have runners on base often, but when it did, they were often erased quickly. Both AJ Lee and Dunn were thrown out trying to steal second base, while Lee was also doubled up on a comebacker in the fifth inning.

While these may not have seemed like potential game-altering moments at the time, the Terps’ cold bats only increased the importance of every baserunner they were able to get. Lee had two of Maryland’s four hits on the evening, all of which singles. Maryland’s only two other base runners reached on a walk and a hit by pitch. As a team, the Terps were 0-for-10 with a runner on base, and didn’t have a runner reach second base.

These struggles were nothing new for the Terps, who have now been shutout four times — three of which have come in the last two weeks. Furthermore, they have scored four runs or fewer in 15 of their 26 games.

Once Bloom worked past the rough second inning, he had one of his better starts of the season. The senior right-hander completed eight innings, threw 108 pitches, and regained his control after walking four and hitting Jack Dunn twice.

Despite having a solid start, Bloom’s performance paled in comparison to Northwestern freshman Quinn Lavelle, who tossed a complete game shutout. The left-hander was spectacular, finishing the game with eight strikeouts, and lowering his season ERA to 2.10.

“You talk about competing with what you have tonight,” Vaughn said. “It’s just Taylor Bloom at his finest. It doesn’t matter what you give him that day, he’s going to give you a seven or eight inning performance.”

Northwestern tacked on an insurance run on an RBI double by Willie Bourbon in the ninth inning.

Maryland will have a chance to avoid opening its Big Ten season with a series loss when it continues its series with Northwestern Saturday at 2:00 p.m. Tyler Blohm, coming off a stellar eight inning performance, will look to force a rubber match on Sunday.

Series Preview: Northwestern Wildcats

The Maryland Terrapins (12-13, 0-0 Big Ten) open their conference schedule this weekend with a home series against the Northwestern Wildcats.

Consistency has been an early-season problem for Maryland, the Terps are hoping the team that scraped out two gritty wins against Stetson shows up, not the team that collapsed in Tuesday’s loss to Richmond after allowing six Spider runs in the sixth frame.

Now, a scuffling Northwestern team (7-12, 0-3 Big Ten) becomes the newest opportunity at a potential momentum-shifting series.

The Wildcats are in the midst of a five-game losing streak, but have lost those games by an average of less than two runs. That stretch includes a pair of extra inning losses to then-No. 24 Illinois this past weekend.

There were bright spots for the Wildcats to take from the weekend, however. Their pitching, which has been lackluster and currently ranks last in the Big Ten with a 5.83 ERA on the season, allowed just 14 runs in three games against the powerful Illini.

Northwestern’s offense has also been inconsistent, hitting just .235 as a team but plating nearly five and a half runs per game. No Wildcat starter is hitting over the .300 mark; Alex Erro and Jack Dunn lead the team with averages of .296 and .286, respectively.

Erro will look to resume his hot streak after a fantastic series against the Illini, during which he went 5-for-11 with a home run, three RBI, reached base in 50 percent of his plate appearances, and didn’t strike out a single time. He followed that up with a 3-for-5 day in Northwestern’s midweek against Chicago State.

Willie Bourbon has provided the pop for the Wildcats, leading the team in home runs (4), RBIs (16) and total bases (34), but has cooled down greatly since a hot start to the spring. The junior infielder hit four home runs in his first eight contests but has not cleared the fence since, and has seen his average drop from .333 to .246 during that stretch.

The challenge for Erro and company — finding success against a Maryland weekend rotation that has really come into its own as of late. While Taylor Bloom has seen his productivity decline, Tyler Blohm and Hunter Parsons are coming off their best starts of the season. Blohm struck out a career-high eight batters in eight innings against Stetson while Parsons threw a complete game shutout, which garnered him Perfect Game/Rawlings National Pitcher of the Week honors and Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week honors.

Meanwhile, Maryland saw its offense sputter in its midweek game, unable to follow-up a pair of weekend wins against Stetson. The Terps only had four hits in a 10-3 loss to Richmond, three of which were solo home runs. Tuesday’s poor showing lowered the team’s batting average to .232, the third-lowest mark in the conference, and just .02 points higher than the team in the cellar of that list.

Nick Dunn continues to pace the Maryland bats, slashing .330/.438/.604 even after an 0-for-3 performance at the plate in Tuesday’s loss. The second-baseman leads the team with six homers – equaling his career total entering this season – seven doubles, 20 RBIs and 21 runs scored. Kevin Biondic has also impressed, tallying 11 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs to go with a .283 average.

Many of the Terps’ regulars and semi-regulars have yet to find their groove at the plate – Taylor Wright, Justin Morris, Tommy Gardiner, to name a few, are all below the .200 mark. But Marty Costes, who started the season ice cold, has heated up of late, raising his average from the mid-.100s to .220 over the past week and a half, with a respectable .348 on-base percentage.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Friday, 6:30 p.m. EST

Sr. RHP Taylor Bloom (2-4, 4.04 ERA) vs. Fr. LHP Quinn Lavalle (2-2, 2.84 ERA)

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Taylor Bloom’s feel-good start against East Carolina two weekends ago faded away after the senior right-hander faltered last week, allowing seven runs on 10 hits over seven innings against Stetson. He has consistently provided depth for the Terps this season, averaging seven innings per outing, and will look to return to his early-season form this weekend against the Wildcats.

Lavalle has solidified a spot as one of the Big Ten’s best young pitchers just several weeks into his freshman season. The southpaw has pitched to a 2.84 ERA, and that’s after arguably his worst start of the season last weekend when he allowed three earned runs in 6.1 innings against a talented Illinois offense. There are some growing pains for the freshman, who has 16 walks compared to 15 strikeouts, but if he can keep his pitch count down, he is already an arm worth watching across the conference.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Saturday, 2 p.m. EST

So. LHP Tyler Blohm (3-2, 3.82 ERA) vs. So. RHP Hank Christie (2-2, 5.72 ERA)

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Tyler Blohm is coming off of his best start of the season, and arguably the best of his short career. The sophomore lefty threw eight innings, allowing just one unearned run, against Stetson last Saturday. He struck out a career-high 12, and was able to keep his pitch count to just 97 pitches, facing 28 batters, and allowing just four hits. He has completed at least six innings in four of his six outings, and leads the Terps in strikeouts – a sign of what the Terps hoped they’d be getting from the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year this season.

Hank Christie, a sophomore, is the most experienced starter Maryland will face this weekend, but hasn’t continued his tremendous end to his freshman season. Last year, the member of the All-Big Ten Freshman Team went 4-0 in his last six starts with a 1.54 ERA. So far this year, he’s hit a bit of a sophomore slump, allowing at least four earned runs in four of his six starts. He did have back-to-back scoreless scarts against MacMurray and Central Michigan, and followed that up with 5.2 innings against Illinois, allowing four earned runs on three hits.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Hunter Parsons (3-2, 3.23 ERA) vs. Fr. LHP Jack Pagliarani (1-1, 2.49 ERA)

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What seemed improbable before the season has happened: Hunter Parsons has been the Terps most consistently dominant starter. The junior has thrown four superb games in a row, a streak that started with seven scoreless innings against Ball State on March 4, and culminated with a complete game shutout against Stetson last week. Through his last four starts, he has thrown 32 innings and allowed three earned runs, lowering his ERA to a team-best 3.23 mark.

Jack Pagliarani is in the midst of his best stretch of his freshman year, and is currently ranked sixth in the Big Ten in ERA. The Springfield, Ohio native has thrown six innings in each of his last three starts, allowing two earned runs in those 18 innings. He struck out seven in his first Big Ten start last week against Illinois, and didn’t allow an earned run. The only struggle he had against the Illini was with his control, as he walked a career-high four batters.

Terps drop midweek contest to Richmond in final tune-up before B1G play

Throughout their struggles during last week’s skid, the Maryland Terrapins often failed to get the ‘big hit’ it takes to win close games. In Tuesday’s 10-3 loss to Richmond, the Terps actually did get that hit. Randy Bednar’s double in the top of the sixth inning seemed to be a crucial momentum shifting sequence, but Kevin Biondic was thrown out at the plate, thwarting Maryland’s best opportunity to even the score.

Instead, the momentum evidently swung to the hosting Spiders, who rallied for six runs in the bottom of the sixth, essentially putting a dagger in Maryland’s chance to win its third straight game.

“That’s been kind of our inconsistency,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “When we’re winning games we’re doing stuff where we’re picking hitters up. When we’re losing games, right now, we’re not.”

Sean Fisher allowed three batters to reach base without recording an out (a walk, hit by pitch, and fielder’s choice); Elliot Zoellner allowed five hits, resulting in five Spider runs, and left with the bases loaded; Grant Burleson walked Davis Payne with the bases loaded before he escaped the inning.

Maryland had to fight from behind early, as midweek starter Mark DiLuia’s inability to retire the Spiders in the top of the first cost him. After quickly setting down the first two Richmond hitters, DiLuia walked a batter before D.J. Lee took him deep, giving the Spiders an early lead.

The freshman right-hander fought back though, completing three innings without allowing another run. He only allowed three hits, one of which was Lee’s homer, and struck out a pair.

“I thought he competed really hard for us,” Vaughn said. “We weren’t worried about getting length out of him, we thought it was more important to get him good quality innings.”

It was a similar effort to his start from last week, where he gave up five runs in the first inning, but still battled his way through six innings.

The Terps were able to get DiLuia off the hook with a pair of solo home runs, first by Kevin Biondic in the second inning, and then by Zach Jancarski in the fourth.

But aside from the occasional long ball — Justin Vought added to that total with a seventh inning blast — Maryland’s offense struggled immensely. The Terps had just four hits and were 1-for-10 with runners on base.

While the bullpen collapsed in the sixth inning, Mike Vasturia gave Maryland some solid innings of relief, throwing two innings and only allowing two hits. He did, however, allow the RBI single to Sage Bruhl that ended up being the game-winning hit. Despite allowing a run, Vasturia still boasts a 1.54 ERA, and remains a trustworthy asset in the bullpen.

The loss continues a troubling trend for the Terps, who have seen some poor pitching performances often during midweek games. In their five midweek losses, they have allowed 47 runs, an average of over nine runs per game. In their two wins, they have allowed just three total runs.

“We want to get to where day-in and day-out we know who’s coming to the park. We know who’s showing up on offense, on defense, on the mound,” Vaughn said. “It’s just striving for that consistency because that’s what we’ve been lacking.”

Maryland will return to College Park to prepare for its opening series of Big Ten play, a three-game weekend set against the Northwestern Wildcats.

Game Preview: Richmond Spiders

After losing six games in seven chances, a pair of encouraging wins over Stetson may be just what the Maryland Terrapins need.

Now, in their final tune-up before opening Big Ten play, the Terps (12-12) will look to keep their recent momentum when they travel to Richmond, Virginia, to play the Richmond Spiders at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The heroes from the two wins against Stetson — starting pitchers Tyler Blohm and Hunter Parsons — will not be a part of the midweek matchup, so Maryland will have to rely on starter Mark DiLuia and the team’s bats to win its third straight.

In the two wins, Maryland scored just eight runs, but still an improvement from the previous five-game losing streak during which the Terps averaged just over two runs per game.

While Nick Dunn still carries the load offensively, with a team-high .341 average, six home runs and 20 RBIs, Maryland has received contributions from its other veterans. Kevin Biondic is hitting over .280, and is second on the team with 16 RBIs, while AJ Lee leads the team with 20 walks and has bumped his average up to .269. Marty Costes is in the midst of a hot streak, collecting hits in six of his last seven games to break out of his early-season slump and raise his average to .230.

Meanwhile, the Spiders (14-9) are hot, winning six of their last seven contests, including two of three over the weekend against UMass. Their offense is potent, scoring over six runs per game, and do so without the long ball. Entering Tuesday’s contest, their entire team has combined for six home runs, the same amount as Maryland’s Nick Dunn. They do, however, have six players with double digit RBI.

Shortstop Vinny Capra often starts rallies for Richmond, as he has a .341 average and a team-high 23 walks and remarkable .514 on-base percentage. He also leads the team with eight extra-base hits (including six doubles), and a .476 slugging percentage, and has started all 23 Spider contests.

Infielder Daniel Brumbaugh and utility man Sage Bruhl are other key factors in the Richmond lineup. Brumbaugh is hitting .291 with 16 RBIs and Bruhl is hitting .282 and ranks second on the team with a .404 on-base percentage.

In addition to a solid offense, the Spiders have performed well on the mound this season, pitching to a 3.31 ERA. Freshman southpaw Antonio Balducci is the go-to guy out of the bullpen, leading all pitchers with 10 appearances while pitching to a 1.15 ERA in 15.2 innings of work. Fellow lefty James Hulbert has also been a key cog in the relief mix, notching a bullpen-best 16 innings pitched over eight appearances while posting a 1.69 ERA. Right-hander Layne Looney has not allowed an earned run yet in seven relief appearances this spring.

After a wild stretch of games, which included a pair of midweek contests sandwiched between two weekend series, Maryland will have a full pitching staff for Tuesday’s matchup. Parsons threw a complete game shutout on Sunday and Blohm threw eight spectacular innings on Saturday, which leaves head coach Rob Vaughn with some options. Through their first six midweek games, the Terps have allowed 40 runs and are just 2-4.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Tuesday, 3:00 p.m. EST

Fr. RHP Mark DiLuia (1-2, 8.59 ERA) vs. TBD

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After a couple strong outings to open the year, Mark DiLuia has struggled of late. He made early exits in his two starts against Delaware, and then gave up 14 hits and nine earned runs in a loss to North Carolina, but battled to complete six innings. He has allowed 37 hits and 21 runs (all earned) in 22 innings of work this season, but has showed flashes of dominance, striking out 20 hitters. This week, he will face another quality lineup, as the Spiders boast five players above a .280 average, including three that have started at least 20 games.

Richmond’s starter has not yet been announced.

Maryland scores early and often, snaps losing streak with win over Elon

For the better part of the last week, Maryland was the team that fell into an early deficit. The Terps had lost five games in a row, and had not held a lead in a game since March 13.

On Wednesday, they flipped the script, jumping out to an early 1-0 lead and continuing to expand it, topping the Elon Phoenix 11-3 for their first win in nearly two weeks.

Similar to their recent offensive struggles, the Terps’ offensive success on Wednesday was a team effort. Six different Terp hitters drove in a run, while eight of the nine starters recorded hits.

Maryland scored a run in the first inning on Nick Dunn’s sacrifice fly — the first time it has scored in the first inning of a game since its meeting with Delaware last week — but the real rally started in the third.

A pair of walks and a hit batsman set the stage for AJ Lee and Marty Costes, both of whom responded with two-run singles to give Maryland a commanding 5-0 lead in the third inning.

Lee has been one of Maryland’s better hitters during its spring break road trip, while Costes has increased his batting average over .200 for the first time in weeks after a jolt in production that coincided with a lineup change. The Terps’ star outfielder, once again, was in the No. 6 spot, and finished 2-for-5 with three RBI and a home run.

With the lead, a pair of freshman delivered RBI hits of their own. Tommy Gardiner drove in a run with a single in the fourth; Richie Schiekofer added to the lead with a single in the fifth. Kevin Biondic then put the Terps into double digits with a run-scoring single in the sixth. It was the fifth time in its 10 wins that Maryland scored double digit runs, and the first instance since March 10.

The pitching performance, which held Elon to three runs — well below its season average of 6.1, was also a superb group effort. Rallying behind reliever Mike Vasturia, who made his first career start, head coach Rob Vaughn rolled with a committee of six pitchers.

While Vasturia earned his first career win, the Terps got one inning each out of Elliot Zoellner, Sean Fisher, and Grant Burleson, in addition to two innings by Kevin Biondic and John Murphy.

Burleson and Murphy were the only pitchers to give up multiple hits, but even they only allowed one run apiece (Murphy’s was unearned).

While quite a few Big Ten teams will begin conference play this weekend, the 10-11 Terps will have one more chance to maintain their newfound hitting momentum. Maryland will welcome Stetson into College Park for a weekend series against the Hatters. Stetson entered Wednesday’s action with a 17-3 record, and were ranked 28th in the latest NCBWA rankings. This weekend also marks the Hatters’ first game action outside of their campus.