Even after Maryland baseball starter Hunter Parsons walked the bases loaded with two outs in the seventh inning Friday, no one in the Terps dugout budged.
Right-hander Ryan Hill was warm in the bullpen, prepared to come in. Maryland, though, seemed prepared to let Parsons — the Terps’ go-to arm all season on the first Friday night start of his career — to finish what he had started.
Parsons blew through the Rutgers lineup after allowing an unearned run in the first inning. As his pitch count rose to 118, his season-high, Parsons forced third baseman Kyle Walker to fly out, preserving a two-run lead and setting up Maryland for a series-opening 5-2 win.
“Our backs are kind of against the wall right now,” Parsons said. “Just got to go out there and play like there’s nothing to lose and, you know, that’s what I was doing.”
Center fielder Zach Jancarski laid out to rob shortstop Dan DiGeorgio of a would-be run-scoring hit for the second out in the ninth. When he stood up, he pounded his chest, a fire resultant of the magnitude of the next two series. Maryland began the day in 11th place in the conference, three spots behind the tournament threshold.
Ahead of Maryland’s series opener against Rutgers, catcher Justin Morris said each of the final six Big Ten matchups would feel like the playoffs. The Terps opted to use Parsons as if it was, needing every last bit of energy from the junior hurler in the first of six must-win contests.
There’s no magic number but winning — and winning a lot — to close the season will aid Maryland’s quest for last-ditch conference tournament contention. So in reality, the Terps’ postseason started when Parsons took the mound Friday, and test one was completed following his seven inning, two-run display, where he met minimal resistance and maneuvered out it when he did.
“This is the playoffs, from here on out,” Jancarski said. “We’re playing for our lives right now.”
It kept Maryland alive for another game, another chance for a late push toward the Big Ten tournament, a competition the Terps haven’t missed since joining the conference in 2014.
After Parsons’ first-pitch strike to shortstop Dan DiGeorgio to open the sixth, the junior hurler stepped back off the mound to readjust his hat and wipe his forehead, a rare interruption to his usual breakneck pace on the mound. His consecutive two-seam fastballs on the outside corner still struck out DiGeorgio in about 35 seconds. He would punch out his sixth Knight one batter later.
When the Terps exploded for eight runs in the first two innings last Saturday against Nebraska, pitching coach Corey Muscara said Parsons changed his approach to “prevent defense.” Parsons allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings, his worst outing since his season opener.
But in another tight game, Parsons retired 10 batters in a row at one point. Left fielder Will Watson and shortstop AJ Lee supplied RBI hits in the first two frames to overcome an unearned run in the first for Rutgers.
Watson led off the sixth with a double before scoring on first baseman Justin Morris’ two-bagger. A sacrifice fly established a 4-1 edge.
As Parsons tired, though, right fielder Luke Bowerbank plated Rutgers’ second run with a single. Yet Parsons was able to elude additional damage, forcing a fly out to end the frame.
“That guy’s been so dang good he deserved to a chance to try to finish that inning,” coach Rob Vaughn said.
Jancarski reestablished the three-run edge with a two-out base knock in the next frame.
With first baseman and reliever Kevin Biondic slotted at designated hitter with a bruised foot, seemingly unable to enter as a late-game option on the mound, the Terps turned to Hill. The senior allowed consecutive one-out singles in the ninth to force a Muscara mound visit, but Jancarski’s catch preserved the victory.
“This is the last time we’re going to be putting this Maryland uniform on on this field,” Jancarski said. “There’s nothing else we know.”