As Maryland baseball designated hitter Maxwell Costes came to the plate with a runner in scoring position and two away in the seventh inning against VCU, the Terps were in need of another clutch hit from the freshman to break a 2-2 tie.
Costes notched six RBIs during a three-game sweep against Maine last weekend — earning Costes Big Ten Player and Freshman of the Week honors — and in Richmond on Tuesday, the infielder had a chance to put the Terps ahead with another.
The Baltimore native delivered, shooting a single to left field to score third baseman Taylor Wright from second base to put Maryland in front. And behind the strength of nine arms, the Terps beat the Rams, 4-3, in their first midweek contest of the season.
“That was a huge two-out hit he had for us there,” coach Rob Vaughn said. “We threw more guys today than we even had on our staff last year, so that was nice”
Just as Maryland (5-2) did in a 5-3 victory over VCU (4-3) on Feb. 17 in South Carolina, the team got off to another hot start in its second meeting this year.
Left fielder Caleb Walls singled to lead off the game, and after just two batters, right fielder Randy Bednar brought the freshman home with a double, giving the Terps an early 1-0 lead.
Following the early hiccup, VCU right-hander Connor Gillispie settled down to give up just one run in four innings. And until the fifth inning, when center fielder Chris Alleyne poked a single up the middle, Maryland’s failed to record another hit.
On the other side, the Terps turned to left-hander Drew Wilden for his first career start; he sat out last year recovering from Tommy John Surgery. The sophomore gave up a run in two innings on two strikeouts, but no Maryland pitcher lasted longer than 1 ⅔ after Wilden.
“Drew looked great,” coach Rob Vaughn said. “We kinda had a hard 40-pitch limit for him. As he kinda crept up to it, after he got the first two guys out in the second, you could see him start to get tired.”
Vaughn decided to pitch by committee in the Terps’ first midweek contest, a strategy he employed frequently in midweek games last season. Nine different arms appeared for Maryland.
“It’s getting these young guys a lot of touches,” Vaughn said. “The more they’re touching the baseball, the better they’re getting.”
One of those inexperienced pitchers who benefitted from the strategy was right-hander Daniel O’Connor, who threw 1 ⅓ innings against Coastal Carolina two weeks ago, and was Maryland’s first man out of the pen. After he gave up a go-ahead single up the middle to second baseman Paul Witt, the Terps found themselves in a 2-1 hole.
But in the fifth inning, the Terps waged a response.
Alleyne’s leadoff single, a walk by Walls and a sac bunt from Bednar set up Wright with a pair of runners in scoring position and one out, and Wright delivered a sac fly to center field to level the game at 2-2.
Costes, who finished 1-for-4 with an RBI, had the opportunity to put the Terps ahead with runners on first and third with two down, but he popped up to first base to end the frame. However, the freshman stepped up during his next at-bat.
Last year, the Terps went 5-8 in midweek matchups, but by knocking in Wright to put his squad ahead 3-2 in the seventh, Costes put Maryland in prime position to win its first midweek game of the year.
Five pitchers combined to hold VCU scoreless between the fifth and eighth innings, and shortstop AJ Lee, who finished 1-for-4, added an insurance run with an RBI single in the top of the ninth.
Lee has struggled out the gate, he began the season going 0-for-10 in the Terps’ first three contests, but with the ninth-inning base knock, Lee’s now recorded a hit in three of the four games since.
“I’ve been taking pretty good at-bats all year, just not finding holes,” Lee said. “He left one over the plate. I put a good swing and found a hole.”
Right-hander John Murphy gave up a leadoff double to center fielder Hogan Brown to open the final inning, and an infield single by third baseman Brett Norwood brought the Rams within a run. But the senior held on for his third save of the season, a 4-3 win over VCU and Maryland’s fifth straight.
“A win’s a win, it doesn’t have to be pretty,” Murphy said. “And at the end of the day, we got our fifth ‘W’ in a row, and that’s really all that matters.”