After Maryland baseball put across four runs in the first inning against Nebraska, continuing an offensive onslaught from the Terps’ series-opening victory the night before, Scott Schreiber’s solo home run in the bottom half of the frame seemed innocuous.
The first baseman’s long ball, his 17th of the season, appeared to be nothing more than an early hiccup for starter Hunter Parsons. The junior hurler had been nearly untouchable, having not allowed more than three runs in a start since his season-opening implosion against Tennessee.
But after the Terps established their 8-1 advantage in the second inning, their slow demise began. The Huskers scored 16 unanswered runs to deal coach Rob Vaughn’s team a 17-8 defeat on Saturday at Haymarket Park.
Parsons struggled as the game progressed, narrowing Maryland’s lead to 8-7 by the time he exited in the fifth. The Terps’ bats went quiet, hitless for 4 2/3 frames. And Maryland’s bullpen, a point of concern throughout the year, collapsed in the late innings.
After center fielder Zach Jancarski dove to catch a fly ball and keep the tying run at first base in the seventh, Vaughn took a few steps out of the dugout, considering pulling Sean Fisher. Then he stopped, turned around and watched to see if the left-hander could finagle his own way out of the jam, as he had in the prior two frames.
Instead, center fielder Jaxon Hallmark hit the first home run of his career, pushing Nebraska ahead 9-8 with a shot off the left-field foul pole.
This time, Vaughn made the full walk to the mound, but it was too late. Maryland’s offensive firepower seemed to extinguish as a golden chance to jump closer to Big Ten tournament contention went by the wayside.
The Terps managed seven hits, with just three coming after the second inning. After Maryland subdued the large crowd for a second straight day with its hot start, those fans found their voice once more as Nebraska’s comeback became a drubbing.
It seemed clear Friday’s breakout at the plate was no fluke in the first inning Saturday when Jancarski held his one-handed follow through, admiring the grand slam he launched to left-center field, as he started his trot around the bases.
Taking advantage of starter Luis Alvarado’s wildness, Jancarski powered Maryland to a four-run lead one out into the contest. The next inning, three consecutive walks from Alvarado loaded the bases, and designated hitter Will Watson and third baseman Taylor Wright each notched two-RBI hits to inflate the Terps’ lead to 8-1.
But Nebraska recovered following its initial setback as left-hander Nate Fisher stabilized the contest and allowed Nebraska to chip away at its deficit.
Amid Parsons’ rocky start, the lack of reliable relief pitching was on display. Sean Fisher maneuvered out of damage in the fifth and sixth innings, but couldn’t escape in the seventh. Then, Maryland turned to first baseman and reliever Kevin Biondic.
While Biondic didn’t pitch for Maryland before his senior season, he’s been the most stable arm in the Terps bullpen. He missed Friday’s contest because he was taking a Chicago Police Department entrance exam and arrived late to Saturday’s matchup.
With the game on the line, the Cornhuskers tagged the first-year pitcher for five runs, more than Biondic had given up all season to that point. With a stop-and-start offense, Parsons’ first bad outing since February mixed with unproven bullpen arms to allow Nebraska to power its way to its highest run total this season.
For both teams, Big Ten wins are pivotal as they scrabble to remain relevant in the conference tournament hunt. A win would have secured the Terps’ second straight series victory and pulled them ahead of Rutgers, who began the day half a game ahead of Maryland but lost to Michigan.
But for Vaughn’s team, which was expected to challenge near the top of the Big Ten this year, so many inconsistencies make a second consecutive NCAA Regional unlikely.