When Maryland baseball coach John Szefc returns to the dugout Sunday night, he will find his team a victory from advancing in the NCAA Division I tournament.
Szefc has been a spectator the first two games of the Los Angeles regional; he was suspended two games by the NCAA after his ejection in the Big Ten Conference tournament final. What he has seen so far has to have pleased him.
The third-seeded Terps handled No. 1 overall seed UCLA on Saturday night, coming away with a 4-1 victory at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Maryland (41-20) set a season record for victories.
A chorus line of pitchers and some timely hitting left the Terps needing only a victory to advance to their second straight super regional. The situation for the Bruins (43-15) is more dire. They need three consecutive victories to win the regional, starting against Cal State-Bakersfield on Sunday. The winner of that game plays Maryland on Sunday night.
The Bruins seemed to be in a good position entering the game with Grant Watson on the mound. But the Terps came up with key moments against one of UCLA’s most effective postseason starters.
Watson’s 30 career victories are the second most in Bruins history, behind Trevor Bauer’s 34. Watson had not allowed a run in two postseason starts in his career. He was 2-0, throwing 13 1/3 shutout innings, in 2013. He had a 1.10 ERA in four postseason appearances.
But Watson scuffled in 6 2/3 innings against a Maryland team that came up with key hits when needed.
Watson gave up two singles in the second before Tim Lewis sliced a high fly that dropped just fair for a two-run triple. In the third, LaMonte Wade (St. Paul's) crushed a 1-1 pitch for a solo home run. Kevin Smith followed with a double and later scored on a groundout by Kevin Martir.
Associate head coach Jim Belanger has stood in for Szefc this weekend, and he made all the right moves Saturday. The Terps went with a pitching-line committee and stifled the Bruins.
Brian Shaffer started and went two innings. Bothered with forearm discomfort, he was followed by Bobby Ruse (C. Milton Wright), Robert Galligan and Kevin Mooney (North Harford). Galligan was the most effective. He entered with one out in the fourth and retired 13 of the 15 batters he faced, including the last 10. Mooney pitched a perfect ninth for his 10th save this season.