The Maryland baseball team has developed a habit of making the improbable comeback routine.
On Tuesday, West Virginia became the latest and highest-profile victim of the rallying Terrapins.
With West Virginia starter Alek Manoah out of the game, Maryland bullied the bullpen and scored five runs in the seventh to upend the Mountaineers 7-6 in College Park.
Catcher Danny Maynard kicked off the seventh inning by homering off reliever Jackson Sigman. The homer triggered an onslaught that saw four more Terps score before Maynard came to the plate again and ended the inning with a strikeout.
Three Terrapins hitting in new positions in the batting order were crucial to the outburst. First baseman Brandon Gum hit in the two-hole and walked to start a streak of six straight batters reaching.
Second baseman Nick Dunn, who moved out of the two spot and down to cleanup for the first time all year, drove in Gum with a single to right. Two batters later, the game was tied by third baseman AJ Lee, who was moved up to his highest position all year at the sixth spot.
Right fielder Marty Costes broke for home before the pitch was thrown. Lee needed to get the bunt down, or Costes would be toast and West Virginia would have the second out.
The suicide squeeze worked perfectly, as Costes scored and Sigman had no one to throw to as the first baseman left his position to join the play at the mound. Lee’s bunt got him a single and the game-tying RBI.
“We work on it all the time,” coach John Szefc said. “If you’re going to be good, you have to win using different types of weapons. That’s why we feed the bunt machine 3,000 times since August—so that when you have a chance to tie a game, you use the weapon. You don’t leave the weapon in your back pocket, you use the weapon.”
Left fielder Madison Nickens followed with a two-RBI single, his third and fourth RBIs in two innings. An inning earlier, he launched a two-run homer to right that gave the Terps their only runs off Manoah.
The West Virginia right-hander pitched six innings and gave up just three hits with six strikeouts. The first batter Manoah faced reached on a single and five innings passed before Maryland got another hit.
Nickens’ bomb ended the team’s dry spell and put pressure on the Mountaineers.
“The home run to go from 4-0 to 4-2 was really crucial because it cuts the lead in half, but it’s kind of like a mental dagger for those guys,” Szefc said of Nickens’ blast. “They’re feeling pretty good about a 4-0 lead and whammo, all of a sudden it’s cut in half and it’s only the sixth inning. We’re not quite at the end of the game yet.”
West Virginia couldn’t outlast the Terps, who Szefc said excel at hanging around in games.
“Our guys have done a very good job at making the other team go 27 outs,” he said. “It’s like the prize fighter. You used to have go 15 rounds with some of the guys. That’s hard … Sooner or later you’re going to pay for it. I’m not saying we’re Muhammad Ali or anything like that, but it’s a similar situation.”
West Virginia landed the first punch with three runs in the first, as third baseman Cole Austin pulverized a first-pitch offering over the centerfield wall for a three-run homer. Terps starter Taylor Bloom, having already pitched Saturday, lasted 2.1 innings and allowed those three runs.
The Mountaineers struck again when first baseman Jackson Cramer homered in the third off reliever Taylor Stiles. An unearned run was charged to John Murphy in the seventh. Overall, the Maryland bullpen covered 6.2 innings and gave up three runs.
Reliever Ryan Selmer navigated 2.1 innings for the win, though a run came in against him in the ninth. He exited with runners on first and third with two outs, the righty Ryan Hill coming on to face the lefty-hitting Darius Hill. Maryland’s coaching staff liked Ryan Hill’s cutter against the lefty, and he closed the game striking out Darius Hill for the save.
Maryland came back from a 9-4 deficit last Tuesday against Richmond, but West Virginia was ranked 16th in RPI ranking of Division I baseball teams. The lofty ranking didn’t seem to bother the Terps.
“We’re just comfortable when we’re playing from behind,” Nickens said. “Last year’s team, when we were down 4-0, you could sense the tightness in the dugout. ‘We need to do something, we need to do it now.’ This year it’s more relaxed. We know we’re pretty good. We know we can play from behind.”
The Terps travel to George Mason Wednesday for a 3 p.m. game looking for another win.