CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Throughout its improbable postseason run, the Maryland baseball team has faced teams that have had the advantage of simply having played in big games before. To level the scales a bit Saturday, it decided to impose its own kind of game on Virginia.
The upstart Terps strung together hits early in the game and held off several late rallies en route to a tense, 5-4 win in the first game of their best-of-three NCAA super regional.
"That's a typical game that we've been playing lately," coach John Szefc said. "That's just the kind of grind-it-out kind of game where, for me, it's not necessarily how good you are, it's about how tough you are. We've got some pretty good players, and obviously they do, too, but maybe we just did enough to be a little bit tougher in the ninth."
It was enough. Maryland's school-record 40th win of the season, and 15th in 17 games, puts the team a win away from its first College World Series berth. But the Terps had work for it before a sellout crowd at Virginia's Davenport Field.
In each of the final three innings, Virginia got on two base runners as it threatened to erase Maryland's lead. Only in the eighth did one score. The Cavaliers never broke through for an inning like Maryland's three-run fourth, instead leaving 14 runners on base.
Two, in particular, were stranded on a first-inning play that proved pivotal.
After junior center fielder Charlie White, who paced the Terps (40-21) with three hits and a pair of runs, led off the game with a double and scored to give Maryland a 1-0 lead, Terps starter Jake Stinnett labored in the bottom of the first, loading the bases and allowing a run on a hit batsman.
With one out and the bases still loaded, White made a leaping catch on a line drive, and a relay throw from shortstop Blake Schmit beat a tagging Mike Papi at the plate.
"That was absolutely huge," Stinnett said. "That could have turned into a nightmare of an inning."
"That was Charlie White's inning," Szefc said. "He gets it going for us offensively, and that catch is as good as hitting a double with the bases loaded. He took two runs off the board. … Everybody in that dugout knows how important that catch was to the outcome of that game."
Virginia (47-14) went ahead 2-1 in the third, but Maryland's patient approach paid dividends against Kirby.
Fourth-inning hits by third baseman Jose Cuas, Schmit and left fielder Tim Lewis tied the game, and Schmit scored on a squeeze bunt by designated hitter Kyle Convissar (Severna Park). Right fielder Anthony Papio then doubled to make it 4-2. An inning later, a run-scoring sacrifice fly from second baseman Brandon Lowe, who drove in two runs in the win, chased Kirby after 4 2/3 innings.
"Same approach it's been all year: just hunting a pitch over the plate and putting a good swing on it," White said. "When he left them over the plate, we were able to do that."
Stinnett (8-6) grinded through six innings, allowing three runs, two earned, on six hits before giving way to Bobby Ruse (C. Milton Wright) in the seventh.
"Jake probably didn't have his best stuff, but he was close," Szefc said. "I think a good judge of a real successful starting pitcher is a guy that can battle and keep his team in the game on days when he might not have his best stuff, and that's exactly what he did."
As tenacious as Maryland was at the plate against Kirby (9-2), a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, Virginia matched it against the Terps' bullpen. Reliever Whit Mayberry held Maryland to three hits in 4 1/3 innings of relief, and every inning was a battle for Ruse and closer Kevin Mooney (North Harford).
Ruse allowed a run on a hit and two walks in 1 2/3 innings, and Mooney worked a tense four outs to seal the win with his school-record-tying 13th save of the season.
Maryland sends freshman Mike Shawaryn to the mound Sunday, when they could clinch an improbable bid to the College World Series.
"We're not here to just to win one game," Szefc said. "We're here to get out of here, to win this thing."