The Maryland baseball team experienced two opposite ends of the spectrum on close plays at the plate Saturday night. The Terps got a more favorable ruling the second time and came away with the game-winning run as a result.
Falling behind and tying the game on three separate occasions, Maryland finally pulled ahead on a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to win 5-4 and clinch a series victory over No. 18 Michigan in College Park.
Left fielder Madison Nickens lofted a fly ball to right field, deep enough to give second baseman Nick Dunn a chance to tag up from third in the eighth. The throw reached home around the same time as Dunn, who collided with catcher Harrison Wenson and rolled over him onto the plate.
The timing of the play didn’t matter, as the umpire called Wenson for obstructing the base path. Maryland had its first lead, which closer Ryan Selmer held in the ninth for his third save.
In the fourth inning, Michigan scored on another bang-bang play at the dish. As starter Taylor Bloom threw to first base for the out, Wenson dashed for home. First baseman Kevin Biondic fired after stepping on the bag, and while the throw came in on time, Wenson evaded the tag. The umpire ruled him safe, prompting an argument from coach John Szefc.
Wenson’s run gave the Wolverines a 3-1 lead that wouldn’t be safe for long. In the bottom half of the frame, third baseman AJ Lee got just enough of the bat on right-hander Ryan Nutof’s offering with runners on second and third.
The ball didn’t make it through the middle of the infield, as second baseman Ako Thomas dove to stop it while Nickens crossed the plate. Thomas lost the ball transferring it to his throwing hand, and Biondic came scrambling home as well, tying the contest.
“A huge play in that game was AJ Lee not striking out, forcing that ball up the middle, giving them a chance to make a play,” Szefc said.
Maryland’s batters needed to take advantage of every opportunity to get on base against Nutof, who struck out eight in six innings.
“I think his velocity got up to 94 [mph], so he had strikeout stuff,” designated hitter Will Watson said. “You just really had to trust your approach early in the count, not miss the fastball because he had that good slider.”
Of the Terps’ first five hits, three stayed within the infield. The final infield single, coming from Dunn, would eventually become the game-winning run.
Szefc described Nickens’ winning sac fly in a manner similar to how he explained Lee’s two-RBI single, declaring the play as a textbook representation of the game.
“College baseball is so much of hitters just not striking out,” he said. “Put some pressure on the defense, put the ball in play, [and] use the bunt game from time to time because defenses usually can’t handle the bunt game.”
Watson hit the ball way beyond the infield with a sixth inning home run that evened the score at four. He had struck out his previous at-bat and had a better idea of what to look for from Nutof.
“The last at-bat before, I got back-to-back breaking balls to start the at-bat, so right when I chased that first one, I figured he’d go back to it,” Watson said. “And he just left it a little down, it kind of came right over the heart of the plate and I just got the barrel on it, really.”
Watson later played a key part in the Terps eighth inning offensive showing, lashing a single to left that moved Dunn to third. Watson finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
By topping Michigan in back-to-back nights, Maryland has clinched the series over the Wolverines. Freshman lefty Tyler Blohm heads to the mound Sunday, fresh off securing his second straight Big Ten Freshman of the Week award.
Junior lefty Michael Hendrickson will oppose Blohm for Michigan. The game is set for 1 p.m., with the Terps looking to win their fourth in a row.
Edited by Austin Kleber.