Scouts showed up to Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium on a frigid Friday afternoon for the Terps matchup with Princeton, presumably to get a look at junior right-hander Brian Shaffer.
Shaffer gave those scouts a show in the Terps’ 4-0 victory over Princeton, striking out a career-high ten batters in eight innings. His strikeout total is the highest for a Maryland pitcher since Mike Shawaryn fanned 16 last year in the Big Ten Tournament against Indiana on May 25.
The junior right-hander went deeper than any other Terps starter has this season. He carried a one-hitter into the eighth inning and gave up just three hits to the defending Ivy League champions.
The Pylesville, Maryland, native likes to make quick work of his innings, letting little time elapse between pitches. He did so during Friday’s two hour and 17 minute game, one of the shortest games the Terps have played all season.
“It takes away time for you to think about things,” Shaffer said. “It’s nice to stay in a rhythm instead of taking 30 seconds to throw another pitch and kind of get out of it.”
He wavered just once after allowing two base hits in the eighth. With two outs, catcher Nick Cieri came to the mound for a quick visit and pitching coach Ryan Fecteau had two arms warming up in the bullpen, but they were not needed. Shaffer forced a groundout to first base to close out the inning.
Shaffer’s been on top of his game all season, coming into the game with a 2.19 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 24.2 innings. He brought his earned run average down to 1.65 and improved on his strikeout-to-walk ratio by allowing no walks.
Shortstop Kevin Smith said Shaffer’s fast tempo helps the defense stay focused. Instead of waiting 30 seconds between every pitch, the defense only had to wait 10 or 15 seconds between pitches.
“Sometimes when the game is too slow, you kind of feel the tempo getting down and everyone starts getting lackadaisical on the field,” Smith said. “Innings get to be 15-20 minutes instead of 5-10. Guys stop locking it in.”
The defense was zoned in today, making four solid defensive plays and committing no errors. Smith showed quick reflexes on two of those plays, one of them a stop on a hard-hit grounder up the middle that he finished with a turnaround throw to first to close out the top of the sixth.
“With the fast tempo, you usually throw more strikes so balls are getting in play faster and at-bats are shorter so you’re ready to go,” Smith said. “You know this next pitch is going to be around the zone so you better lock it in and be ready for a ball to come to you.”
The Terps stranded runners on base for the first five innings, but the offense trusted Shaffer to keep the Tigers in check.
“We had a few chances early on where we didn’t capitalize but when [Shaffer’s] on the mound throwing well, it kind of lets you relax,” Smith said. “It kind of gives everyone a sigh of relief if it’s not going their way early offensively.”
It was in the sixth inning when Maryland finally broke through. First baseman Brandon Gum and Cieri started it off with outfield singles to almost the exact same spot in right-center field. A passed ball allowed them to advance to second and third base with designated hitter Will Watson at the plate. Watson hit the ball to the same spot in the gap to drive in Gum and put the Terps up 1-0.
Maryland has made a habit of putting together late rallies and blowing innings wide open and the bottom of the sixth was no different. The Terps plated four runs after going down quickly in the earlier innings.
“We’re gonna come at you hard and we’re gonna hit pitches early in the count so it’s either going to blow up into a big inning or it’s gonna be quick innings like we had,” Smith said.
After a Madison Nickens fly-out, Smith walked to the plate.
“I really wanted to come through for the guys because they’d been getting good at-bats and getting on base for us,” Smith said. “Will [Watson] came through right before me with that clutch hit to right. That kind of let me relax and see pitches better.”
Smith worked a 3-2 count and knew to look for a fastball. He got the fastball he was looking for and sent it deep over the left field wall for a three-run home run.
Just like the offense trusted Shaffer to hold the Tigers down, Shaffer trusted the offense to put together an inning that would eventually give him the win.
“I wasn’t worried at all about the score being 0-0,” Shaffer said. “It was just a matter of when they were going to do it.”
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