Michigan State pitcher Alex Troop took the mound in College Park as the Big Ten’s ERA leader. He left it trailing 11-0, the opposing starter inheriting the conference’s top ERA mark.
The Terrapins punished Troop with a six-run second inning and Michigan State hitters with seven quiet frames from Brian Shaffer, dominating the Spartans in an 12-2 win in College Park Friday.
Troop entered the game allowing a run and a half every nine innings. Maryland drove in two in the first with a single by designated hitter Will Watson.
The Terps were just getting started.
The first two batters of the second inning scored as catcher Nick Cieri homered beyond the reach of leaping center fielder Robbie Jones.
Cieri said he was simply trying to execute the predetermined game plan of keeping the ball up the middle. But Troop’s pitches were coming in flat, and Cieri barreled one up.
“I thought the fastball was pretty straight, pretty easy to see,” he said. “He was pretty over the top [in his delivery], so it wasn’t a lot of deception there. I didn’t really have a problem picking up the ball most of the night.”
Middle infielders Nick Dunn and Kevin Smith added two-RBI hits to Maryland’s advantage, striking a single and a double, respectively. Dunn, Cieri and Madison Nickens, all lefties facing the left-handed Troop, went 3-for-3 in the inning with four RBIs and three runs.
Maryland hit .381 with runners on base and .385 with them in scoring position in the game. The Terps’ tendency to steal may have influenced the team’s success at the plate.
“The one thing I think that kind of helps that is how active our baserunners are,” Maryland head coach John Szefc said. “The threat of the stolen base will normally take the focus off the hitter and put it back on the runner. And usually when you do that at the college level, pitchers make a lot more mistakes and throw a lot more hittable pitches.”
Down 8-0, Michigan State stuck with Troop and sent him back out for the third. He temporarily rewarded their patience with a 1-2-3 inning, but the success did not last.
First baseman Brandon Gum struck out on a dirtball leading off the fourth, but catcher Matt Byars could not complete the play and threw wide of first base trying to retire Gum. Given an extra out, Maryland took advantage with a one-out sacrifice fly and a two-out, two-RBI hit. Neither would have been possible had Byars made an on-target throw.
Troop exited having surrendered 11 runs, eight of them earned. In nine starts on the season, he had given up nine earned runs and 16 total.
With oncoming rain threatening to disrupt the weekend’s schedule and force a doubleheader Saturday, leaving Troop in the game for four innings was tactical.
“They did a great job of managing that game to not utilize their bullpen,” Szefc said. “That guy probably made the worst start of his career and [reliever] Caleb Sleeman ate up four innings for them, and kind of saved their bullpen for tomorrow in case we would have to play a doubleheader. That’s a really good job of managing by their stuff, in my opinion.”
Terps starter Brian Shaffer experienced no such struggle that Troop did. The right-hander faced the minimum in five of his seven innings and squeezed out of a bases-loaded situation in the fifth inning.
Shaffer gave up just one run and six hits while striking out seven, picking up his fifth win of the season. He lowered his ERA to 1.77, making him the conference’s best at run prevention.
Troop left the game with a full run added to his mark, up to 2.64.
Cieri said Shaffer’s command and slider were sharp enough for them to ignore utilizing the changeup. Cieri threw out one of the few Michigan State runners, and the clean basepaths made it a fairly relaxing night for the catcher.
“When there’s not a lot of runners on and I can just sit back there and work on the low pitches, and he sticks them there, it makes it fun for me to try to help him out,” Cieri said.
Shaffer versus Troop attracted attention because of the quality of the arms. A writer from D1baseball.com called Szefc before the game “because that was one of the better matchups in the country,” Szefc said. “On paper it was, at least. And then it wasn’t … That’s a big win for us.”
Weather permitting, Maryland and Michigan State will play Saturday at 1 p.m.