Despite their best efforts to seemingly do otherwise, the Maryland Terrapins managed to win their series opener Thursday night against the Iowa Hawkeyes, 8-6, thanks to a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth by shortstop A.J. Lee.
It was only because of normally-reliable closer John Murphy’s collapse that such heroics were necessary, as the Terrapins carried a 6-2 lead into the top of the ninth behind a strong outing from the ace of their starting rotation, Hunter Parsons. But twice with the Hawkeyes down to their final strike, Murphy failed to close the deal, allowing Iowa to tie the game.
Maryland took the lead in the bottom of the first when Taylor Wright singled through the gap to score A.J. Lee. Two batters later, Michael Pineiro singled to bring home Wright and double the lead. In the third inning, power hitter Maxwell Costes padded the lead to four with his team-leading eleventh home run of the season.
Hunter Parsons took the mound for what is expected to be his final regular-season start at Maryland. On the day when they needed it most, Parsons gutted out 123 pitches over eight full innings. Though his stat line may not have been impressive compared to some of his other appearances this season – nine hits allowed and four strikeouts – he kept his cool in tight spots and repeatedly guided the Terps from potentially disastrous innings, as evidenced by the nine Iowa runners he stranded on base.
The Hawkeyes got the best of him in the top of the fifth, picking up three hits and scoring their first run on a single by Chris Whelan, but before they could cut further into the Terps’ lead, Izaya Fullard grounded into a double play to end the inning. Iowa wasn’t quite finished yet, as Ben Norman’s double to left the following inning put a second Hawkeye run on the board.
The Terrapins swung momentum back their way with two quick baserunners in the bottom of the seventh, culminating in a fifth run for Maryland when Chris Alleyne raced home on A.J. Lee’s sacrifice bunt. Taylor Wright added another run the following inning when he scored from Pineiro’s sacrifice fly. Parsons held out until his fourth pitch of the ninth, when he drilled Tanner Wetrich in the back, setting the stage for John Murphy.
Everything that Parsons and the Terps offense had built up over the past eight innings threatened to topple when Murphy let the Hawkeyes load the bases with nobody out. The situation seemed to have turned Maryland’s way when Austin Martin grounded into a double play – which scored a run for Iowa, but brought the Terrapins one out away from the win. But the Hawkeyes kept chipping away at the Terps’ lead. When Zeb Adreon’s double brought Iowa within two, suddenly a Maryland win wasn’t as much of a certainty as it seemed when Murphy first stepped on the field.
Worse was to follow. One strike away from the win, Murphy allowed an agonizing RBI single to Tanner Padgett which cut the lead to 6-5. With Brad Norman at the plate, it was much of the same; Murphy again worked his way to 0-2, but Norman singled through the gap to bring home the tying run. Only then did Murphy recover enough control to strike out Mitchell Boe to end the inning, giving Lee the opportunity to play the hero with his fifth home run of the season.
Events elsewhere made Lee’s homer all the more important. With Maryland now scrapping with Ohio State and Rutgers for the eighth and final seed in the Big Ten Baseball Tournament, even one loss in the series against Iowa could potentially spell doom for the 2019 season. Ohio State won their game Thursday afternoon at Purdue, 7-0, to keep pace.