Last season, the Terrapins baseball team ranked third in RBIs in the Big Ten en route to the third-best record in the conference.
With third baseman Jose Cuas, second baseman Brandon Lowe and catcher Kevin Martir, who combined for 151 RBIs, the Terps were one of the most prolific offenses in the conference. But after losing more than 50 percent of their RBI production the past offseason, the Terps struggled to drive in runners during their first three-game series of the season against Alabama this weekend.
Coach John Szefc’s squad stranded seven runners on base in losses Friday and Sunday, scoring just one run in each of those contests. Without being able to push runners home, the Terps fell to the Crimson Tide in the series, 2-1.
“When we have some of those guys who can be productive in those situations, it can be a lot less painful,” Szefc said. “Early in the season, you have a lot of ups and downs and some guys are more ready than others to really put the whole thing together for nine innings. We have to make progress little by little.”
After the Terps recorded just five hits in a 3-1 loss Friday, the offense bounced back Saturday. Szefc’s team hit three two-run home runs in the fourth inning and went on to score nine runs on eight hits in a 9-5 victory.
But the Terps couldn’t carry that momentum in the rubber match Sunday, plating just one run.
“We just capitalized on our chances better [Saturday],” said catcher Nick Cieri, who tied a team high with four hits this weekend. “We dominated the fastball a lot better on Saturday than we did on Friday or Sunday. We got to focus on hitting the fastball no matter where it is so they don’t throw it anymore.”
After right-hander Brian Shaffer, who took the loss Sunday, allowed two runs in the third inning, he and right-hander Cameron Enck combined to retire 12 straight batters between the third and seventh innings. But the Terps’ offense couldn’t provide enough run support for its pitching staff.
The only time the Terps took advantage of their base runners Sunday was in the seventh inning when right fielder Anthony Papio scored to cut the deficit to one. But Szefc’s squad stranded two more runners on base in the frame, and the pitching staff faltered the following inning.
The Crimson Tide piled on three runs against four different pitchers in the inning to secure the win. And in the final two frames, the Terps failed to get a runner on base.
“We strayed away from our approach at times,” center fielder Madison Nickens said. “Maybe we got a little too aggressive; maybe we weren’t aggressive enough. That can be a lack of focus at times. We’ll learn from it and get better for next time.”
While Szefc was unhappy with the offense’s performance this weekend, he said it’s normal to struggle driving in runners early in the season, as most of the hitters don’t have a lot of experience.
Only two hitters who played in at least 50 games last year returned this season. So Szefc said the Terps will focus on simulating game-type situations in practice this week to better prepare the younger guys.
With more experience and confidence, Cieri said, the Terps’ offense will be fine.
“We just had to get that big hit,” Cieri said. “The skill is there. We just got to bear down and keep grinding.”