COLLEGE PARK — After Maryland baseball used a six-run eighth inning to beat Wake Forest in comeback fashion earlier on Sunday, there might have been questions as to whether the Terps would have enough energy left to keep their season alive in the nightcap against UConn on Sunday of the NCAA Tournament regional.
If there were any doubts among the spectators at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, the Terps surely silenced them in the first inning. Third baseman Nick Lorusso smacked a double down the left field line before sophomore shortstop Matt Shaw singled him home. Junior Troy Schreffler Jr. followed by hammering a two-run homer to left-center, and the Terps jumped out to a 3-0 lead less than three hours after defeating the Demon Deacons, 10-5.
But as Maryland watched the Huskies score four runs in the sixth and two more in the eighth to tie the game at 6, perhaps the magic that has propelled the Terps to their best season in 131 years and hosting their first-ever regional might have run out.
In the 11th inning, however, the Terps proved there was still some magic left. With the bases loaded, Lorusso crushed a walk-off RBI single off the top of the right field wall to defeat UConn, 7-6.
As Lorusso was mobbed by his teammates, he didn’t know how to react. “What a long day,” he said. “Having that crowd and feeling that energy really motivated us to push through.”
Maryland (48-13) will play the Huskies (48-14) on Monday at 7 p.m. in a winner-take-all game to decide which team advances to the super regionals.
“This time of year, it doesn’t have to be pretty, it’s just about getting it done,” Maryland fifth-year coach Rob Vaughn said. “I told them afterward, if we are going to play tomorrow, we might as well win, so we are going to see what we got.”
After an encouraging first inning, Maryland’s bats went quiet, going hitless for three consecutive innings. The Terps were in a prime position to do some damage in the fourth when they had the bases loaded with two outs. However, fifth-year outfielder Chris “Bubba” Alleyne flew out to left, keeping the score at 3-0 going into the fifth.
While Maryland couldn’t get anything going at the plate, graduate student pitcher Nick Robinson was excelling on the mound. The right-handed reliever, who was making his second start of the season, held the Huskies to one hit in the first three innings of work while punching out four batters.
Robinson put himself in a tough spot in the fifth after he gave up a single and a walk. As runners stood on first and second with two outs, Robinson remained calm and forced UConn designated hitter Erik Stock to ground out to keep the Huskies scoreless.
“What [Robinson] did tonight was nothing short of heroic,” Vaughn. “He was just pounding the strike zone and went deep into that game.”
In the bottom half of the fifth, Maryland added another run when Lorusso belted a no-doubt solo home run to left-center, extending the lead to 4-0. The Terps didn’t get much going after the homer, as Huskies reliever Garrett Coe struck out three consecutive batters.
When Robinson was replaced by sophomore right-hander Nigel Belgrave in the sixth after allowing no runs on four hits, a walk and five strikeouts in five innings of work, UConn’s comeback commenced.
Belgrave hit Huskies right fielder Casey Dana then walked first baseman Ben Huber before being replaced by junior reliever Will Glock. Donlan hit a sacrifice fly to right, then left fielder Korey Morton’s infield single drove home a run, cutting the Terps’ lead to 4-2.
Things continued to unravel for Maryland. After stealing second, Donlan reached third on a wild pitch before center fielder T.C. Simmons drove him home with an RBI single. The Huskies had runners on first and second with one out when Maryland freshman reliever Michael Walsh, who replaced Glock, walked third baseman Zach Bushling to load the bases.
UConn second baseman David Smith stepped up to the plate and grounded into a fielder’s choice, which tied the game at 4.
Maryland was in need of a boost and got it from senior pitcher Sean Heine. The right-handed pitcher, the Terps’ fourth reliever out of the bullpen, struck out the last two batters to keep the score tied.
In the bottom of the seventh, Alleyne belted a leadoff double. With one out, Shaw hit an infield single, but Smith’s off-balance throw to first allowed Alleyne to score from second, giving the Terps a 5-4 lead. Costes added more insurance, driving home Shaw on an RBI single.
But the two-run lead didn’t last long. Smith hit an RBI triple before sliding home on a wild pitch from Maryland junior pitcher Ryan Ramsey. The left-hander would go on to pitch 2 1/3 innings, allowing a hit and walk while striking out three batters despite pitching five innings on Friday night against Long Island University. Vaughn said he wanted to take Ramsey out of the game, but he refused.
“That tells you how important it is to him,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn said after the game that he has no idea who will pitch on Monday and how he will manage the bullpen after using seven pitchers, saying the Terps don’t have the luxury of managing game-to-game and trying to save a starter.
“We’re just trying to find a way to get a zero and score runs,” he said. “Our mantra the entire day was one inning at a time. The same guys that walked [batters] are going to be there to help us win tomorrow because they have no choice.”
Maryland had some ugly at-bats until the 11th when Keister and Shliger hit back-to-back singles and Alleyne was hit by a pitch, setting up Lorusso for his moment in the spotlight. At the plate, all Lorusso was thinking was hitting a deep fly ball. He said Huskies pitcher Devin Kirby’s curveball caught him off guard but he stayed ready for a fastball.
“I tried to remain calm and neutral,” Lorusso said. “It got to a 1-2 count and he eventually threw me a fastball I could handle and I ended up punching the ball to right,” he said.
When Lorusso was asked if he was disappointed that the ball didn’t go over the wall for a grand slam, he just laughed. But Vaughn stepped in and said, “I was.”
“I’m just glad I got the job done,” Lorusso responded.
NCAA Tournament regional
MARYLAND VS. UCONN
At College Park
Monday, 7 p.m.