Rulers of the rally, the Maryland baseball team seemed to have normalized the come-from-behind win, but Friday night’s victory over Penn State was no ordinary comeback.
Trailing 1-0 with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, the top of the order was due at the plate looking for anything to get on base. All it took was two pitches to erase that need.
Zach Jancarski and Brandom Gum hit home runs on back-to-back pitches to make it a 2-1 game and give the Terps their first walk-off win of the season in Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium.
It was Jancarski’s fourth time at the plate against Penn State starter Sal Biasi, who throws predominantly fastballs, so he knew what to expect. But Jancarski struggled before his final at-bat, flying out to right field and striking out twice.
“I took an extra breath in the on-deck circle, took a deep breath and realized that I’m good enough to do this,” Jancarski said. “Obviously, I wasn’t trying to hit a home run, I was just trying to hit it hard to start something.”
Brandon Gum wasn’t thinking about sending one over the fence, either.
“I looked down at the third baseman and saw he was playing really deep,” Gum said. “I thought about bunting but was like, ‘Eh, I’ll wait a few pitches,’ and good thing I did.”
The only other run of the game also came off a solo shot from Penn State’s Ryan Sloniger in the top of the fifth inning. It was the only time the Nittany Lions made starter Brian Shaffer look vulnerable all game, and he still struck out the next three batters to end the inning.
Left-hander Andrew Miller earned the win for recording the last two Penn State outs on a strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play to end the top of the ninth. Miller came in because the coaching staff saw a good matchup with Sloniger, especially after Shaffer had struggled against him.
“That’s a big throw right there,” head coach John Szefc said of catcher Nick Cieri’s throw to catch the runner at second just after Sloniger went down swinging. “Immediately, we have the tying run come to the plate.”
Shaffer picked up the no decision but pitched another gem. The right-hander fanned a career-high 11 strikeouts. Szefc praised his consistency, as this was the fourth of nine starts where Shaffer went eight innings or more and his fifth start allowing less than two runs.
“The guy goes out there every single Friday night and competes like I’ve never seen,” Jancarski said. “He gives us everything he’s got, every single day.”
The Pylesville, Maryland, native lasted 8.1 innings in a true arms race with Biasi. Both starting pitchers eclipsed 100 pitches and stayed on the mound into the ninth inning. Biasi allowed three hits, while Shaffer surrendered only four.
Biasi one-hit the Terps through his first eight innings and often stifled any Maryland rally before it could even happen with excellent placement on his fastball. The Terps were 0-for-7 with runners on base. Shaffer did the exact same, limiting Nittany Lions hitters to 0-for-11 with runners on base.
Despite the team’s early struggles at the plate, each player still believed they were going to pull out the win, especially after the double play that Miller and Cieri forced in the ninth.
“We had the momentum and it’s just a lot of guys that trust each other,” Shaffer said. “[We] trust that one guy is going to be able to get it done and then pass it on to the next.”
Jancarski and Gum were the only Maryland batsmen to reach base on a hit. Gum was 2-for-4 with his first hit coming in the bottom of the first inning. The rest of the lineup was a combined 0-for-19, but Jancarski said there was no worry heading into the bottom of the ninth.
“Our coaches always preach that the biggest at-bats are in the last third of the game and what happens before that doesn’t really matter at all,” Jancarski said. “Everybody believes in everybody here, which is why I think this team is going to be really special.”
The Terps will look to carry this momentum over to tomorrow at 2 p.m. as freshman left-hander Tyler Blohm will take on Nittany Lions right-hander Justin Hagenman.
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