COLUMBIA, S.C. — Maryland coach John Szefc has been around the game of baseball for a long time, but he can't recall earning a victory the way the Terps did Friday afternoon against Old Dominion in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Brandon Lowe and Jose Cuas were hit by pitches with the bases loaded in the ninth inning to drive in the final two runs in a 4-3 comeback win that gave Maryland its first NCAA tournament victory since 1970.
"I've been part of walk-offs with wild pitches and passed balls. If I've ever been a part of one like this I can't remember it," Szefc said. "It's not surprising that we won coming from behind. That has been our staple the latter half of the season. The way it happened, you don't see that too often, but obviously we'll take it."
Second-seeded Maryland (37-21) will face top-seeded and host South Carolina at 7 p.m. Saturday in the winner's bracket. Old Dominion (36-25) will face fourth-seeded Campbell in an elimination game at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Terps were second in the country with 118 hit-by-pitches coming into the NCAA tournament and Monarch pitchers hit Maryland batters four times on Friday. Even though that is not a normal offensive strategy, it turned out to be a huge factor.
"We always live by the rule of 'don't let the pitcher move your feet,'" Lowe said. "So, if it comes in, don't let him move you and keep your stance. If it hits you, it hits you."
The comeback was unlikely after the first seven innings. The Terps were limited to five hits and they stranded seven against Old Dominion left-handers Andy Roberts and Ryan Yarbrough. But With the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth, LaMonte Wade scored on a double-play ground out by Blake Schmit before the ninth inning implosion by the Monarchs bullpen.
Kyle Convissar started the winning rally in the ninth with a double. After a ground ball out, Kevin Martir reached on an error at third to put runners at the corners. Charlie White followed with an RBI single before Wade walked to load the bases.
Old Dominion closer Brad Gero then hit Lowe and Cuas on back-to-back pitches for the sudden ending. Gero had hit two batters in 52 innings this season.
"I did not think he was going to hit me," Cuas said of his unusual game-winning RBI. "I saw a slider coming and kept my stance and took the hit by pitch."
Old Dominion was in control until the eighth. They scratched across single runs in the third, fifth and sixth innings against Maryland ace Jake Stinnett. The senior right-hander allowed three runs on six hits with seven strikeouts and one walk in eight innings. Tayler Stiles (4-2) earned the win and had two strikeouts in his lone inning.
"Stinnett gave us a very efficient start and gave us a chance to win late," Szfec said. "That's all you can ask for in the NCAA tournament."
After 44 years of not having an NCAA tournament victory, Szfec, who is in his second year, felt like this was a huge win.
"That's a really quality win for us," he said. "As you're building your program, to have guys experience that kind of win in the NCAA tournament coming from behind, regardless of how it happened, is really important."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun