With runners on the corners, two outs, a full count and a one-run deficit for Anna Kufta at the plate Sunday, Maryland softball’s hopes rested on the junior infielder — as they have frequently during the young season.
Two straight singles from center fielder JoJo McRae and designated player Regan Kerr set up the Terps with a chance in the bottom of the eighth for a walk-off win, a positive ending to a trying Trojan Classic.
After fouling a ball off, Kufta lifted the final pitch of the day deep into left-center field. The Murray State outfielder couldn’t reel it in, and McRae and Kerr raced home to pull out Maryland’s 3-2 win. For Kufta, it displayed once more the significant role she has in an otherwise unproven lineup.
“She wants to be that go-to,” coach Julie Wright said. “That’s a role she’s embracing for our young team.”
The inexperienced Terps came into the tournament with nine new players. But by relying on upperclassmen leadership from Kufta and senior pitcher Sydney Golden, they secured two wins against the Racers.
Golden allowed just one earned run Sunday, a stark contrast to the seven runs that No. 9 Alabama notched off her during the Terps’ 10-0 loss Saturday.
The Terps opened the weekend with a 6-3 win over the Racers but followed with a 4-3 loss to Troy despite Kufta’s late three-run homer. Facing the Crimson Tide, Maryland gave up nine runs in the first two innings and fell 10-0 before a rematch with Troy ended with a similarly lopsided score, 10-1.
“Whenever you have failures, you learn quickly,” Wright said. “They needed some failure; they needed to see themselves on the field together to figure out who they were.”
But after falling behind in the third inning in the tournament finale, Maryland fought back to end the weekend with a win. Catcher Gracie Voulgaris singled up the middle in the fifth, sending shortstop Bailey Boyd home to tie it up. But stout defense from each team continued, and by the bottom of the seventh, the score was still locked at 1-1.
In the top of the eighth, the Racers scored to go up 2-1, but Golden came through with her second strikeout of the day against left fielder Lillie Goetz to end the half inning and give Maryland a chance.
“She made some great in-game adjustments, even in today’s game, that really helped her quiet that offense,” Wright said. “We needed her on that mound and she came through big for us.”
Sophomore infielder Taylor Wilson came in to pinch hit for McRae, earning a single that put McRae on first base. Kerr stepped up to plate and delivered another single for the Terps with two outs, opening the door for Kufta’s game-winning double.
“We learned really early on in the weekend that if we’re going to win, we all have to put in our piece and do our job and stick together,” Boyd said.
The Terps closed out the tournament with a mix of strong pitching and timely hitting that showed up in spurts throughout the weekend. And with the conclusion of the Trojan Classic, Maryland has two much-needed wins for an inexperienced team still searching for its identity.
“I think we still have more to show,” Kufta said. “We’re still a learning team, so in the next couple of weeks we’re going to change our identity a little bit more.”