COLUMBIA, S.C. — Maryland baseball coach John Szefc has talked all week about playing with house money, about how his team is not under any pressure playing in its first NCAA tournament since 1971. He also pointed to the expectations facing regional host and top-seeded South Carolina, which had the nation's longest postseason home winning streak entering Saturday night's winner's-bracket game.
You can say the Terps have handled things just fine so far. Second-seeded Maryland got a gutty performance from freshman starter Mike Shawaryn and enough early runs to claim a 4-3 victory over the Gamecocks and advance to the championship round tonight in the Columbia, S.C., regional. The win ended South Carolina's 28-game winning streak at Carolina Stadium in NCAA tournament play.
The winner of today's elimination game between the Gamecocks and fourth-seeded Campbell would have to defeat the Terps twice to win the regional. Maryland needs just one more victory to advance to next weekend's super regionals.
“A really, really good night for us and a good night for our program,” Szefc said. “I was happy with the way our guys responded in that atmosphere under some duress.”
Maryland (38-21) wasted little time in jumping on South Carolina starter Jack Wynkoop. The Terps scored a run in the first when Charlie White led off with a double, advanced to third on a groundout by LaMonte Wade (St. Paul's) and scored on a single by Brandon Lowe.
The Terps used a two-out rally in the second to knock Wynkoop out of the game. The South Carolina left-hander got two quick outs before Kevin Martir and White delivered consecutive singles. Wade followed with an RBI double, and a throwing error by Gamecocks third baseman Joey Pankake led to two unearned runs, ending Wynkoop's night. The South Carolina sophomore allowed four runs, two earned, on six hits over 1 2/3 innings.
Freshman Taylor Widener silenced the Terps' bats for the next six innings, even though the Gamecocks needed two impressive defensive plays to do so. Right fielder Connor Bright made a diving catch of a drive by White into the right-center-field gap to save a run in the fourth inning. In the sixth, left fielder Gene Cone threw out Anthony Papio at the plate on a single by Wade.
South Carolina slowly got back into it. The Gamecocks pushed across a run in the fourth inning on an RBI single by DCArendas before adding two more in the sixth inning. Kyle Martin had an RBI double that just missed clearing the wall in right field before Arendas added a sacrifice fly to score Pankake.
Shawaryn, meanwhile battled through 111 pitches over 6 1/3 innings.
“He is the master of minimizing negative situations,” Szefc said. “It was a night of minimizing and playing clean defense. The biggest turning point was when they had second and third with no outs, and Mike was able to minimize that to two runs.”
The right-hander already had two wins over Florida State and one each over Florida and Georgia Tech before adding South Carolina to his list of big victories. He seemed unfazed for most of the night before an announced crowd of 6,813, most dressed in garnet.
He allowed three runs on five hits with three walks and three strikeouts. He started quickly, retiring 11 of the first 12 batters he faced and keeping South Carolina (43-17) off balance, for the most part.
“This is the type of atmosphere you dream to play in,” Shawaryn said. “We embraced it and we put it out of our mind, and the big thing was slowing the game down and going pitch by pitch. The target doesn't change; it's still 60 feet, 6 inches.”
The Gamecocks had runners in scoring position in the final three innings, but the Terps' bullpen got out of it. With a runner at second and one out in the seventh, Bobby Ruse (C. Milton Wright) got a flyout to right field and a ground ball to second. South Carolina had a runner on third with two outs in the eighth, and Kevin Mooney (North Harford) got a strikeout to end threat.
The Gamecocks got runners on the corners with one out in the ninth, but Mooney got a ground ball to second for a double play.
“I've been there before at the end of the game when they get a few guys on,” Mooney said. “It just comes down to slowing the game down. I hit a good spot and got a nice two-hopper right to Lowe at second, and we ended the game with a double play.”
Szfec has seen this effort from his bullpen before.
“I thought they were outstanding,” he said. “They threw up three zeros in a row. We've been effective in the month of May, and a lot of that has to do with that bullpen. If those guys aren't effective in April and May, I'm not even sitting here talking to you. They had some speed bumps along the way, but they've been effective a bunch more than not being effective.”