Maryland baseball right-hander Hunter Parsons bowed down to left fielder Will Watson as Watson crossed the plate and walked toward the dugout.
Watson’s grand slam, his second home run of the third inning, tied him with the Terps’ school record of eight RBIs in a single game and punctuated an 11-run frame that put Rutgers in an insurmountable hole with six innings left to play.
The Terps are filled with veterans like Watson who have scarcely reached the heights of 2017, but now — at the last possible time — have turned in big performances to extend Maryland’s Big Ten tournament hopes. Watson shined brightest Saturday, leading the Terps to a 17-2 series-clinching win.
“This isn’t any fun,” a Rutgers fan in front of the press box said following Maryland’s 11-run outburst started and ended by Watson.
“For me and this team, we’re having so much fun right now,” Watson said. “Not one of us wants to be done playing.”
In Friday’s win over Rutgers, the four seniors batting fourth through seventh in the lineup each supplied two hits. During Saturday’s victory, similar veteran leadership secured the second win of what center fielder Zach Jancarski described as a six-game stretch of playoff-feel contests as Maryland battles for Big Ten tournament contention.
“Sometimes there’s freedom when you kind of see the end of the tunnel,” coach Rob Vaughn said. “These seniors, we have four games guaranteed left together and there’s some dudes in this group that I love like crazy.”
Watson’s eight-RBI performance coupled with right-hander Taylor Bloom’s final start in College Park to power the squad to a third straight win. Beginning the day in 10th place, Maryland needs wins — and likely some help from teams above them — to secure a place in the eight-team conference tournament, which it hasn’t missed since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
Last week, after a series-opening win over Nebraska, the Terps’ pitching staff imploded by allowing 17 runs in the second contest of a series loss, and after Maryland took Friday’s series opener over the Scarlet Knights, 5-2, Jancarski acknowledged last week’s mishaps.
“We’ve got to win more than just one game here,” Jancarski said with the Terps two places out of conference tournament contention. “We want to win every game we play.”
This time, the Terps kept it together, with Bloom striking out six and allowing two runs on six hits in seven innings. Maryland’s offense never also stopped hitting, adding four runs in the final five frames after Watson’s third-inning heroics.
“I was in the dugout sitting there for like, 30 minutes, just urging to go back out there,” Bloom said. “When you have that big lead, you just have to keep doing what you were doing before. You can’t go out there and pitch defensive.”
With nobody out in the ninth inning, Jancarski tracked back near the wall in the right-center field gap and laid out over his shoulder to snare designated hitter Milo Freeman’s drive. In a 15-run game, Jancarski’s dive showed the intensity the seniors are handling the final two series.
“We tell him all the time, ‘Don’t ever dive towards the wall,’ and in a 17-2 game I have one of my best players diving headlong into the wall,” Vaughn said. “That guy has one gear. It’s the only way he knows how to play.”
The Terps started the series one place behind the Scarlet Knights, who have as much to play for as Maryland does. In a struggle for the last spot of conference tournament contention, the Terps posted their highest run total of the season to clinch the series in convincing fashion.
“We know what’s there, what’s in front of us,” Watson said. “There’s no point in hiding it.”