Minnesota threatened Maryland baseball at every turn. Homer for homer, run for run, the Golden Gophers went the distance.
And all the Terps needed to win was for Tommy Gardiner to walk 90 feet. With a walk-off walk, Maryland survived Minnesota, 4-3, on Saturday afternoon.
If Friday’s 12-run outburst was the best of the Terps’ offense, they fell back on Saturday.
Gophers pitcher Jack Liffrig, one of only two pitchers on his staff with an ERA under 5.00, held Maryland to two hits in the first five innings. It wasn’t because he found an affinity for striking out batters.
Liffrig managed to get 13 Terps out across those five frames by forcing contact and getting help from his defense. It marked a stark contrast from the previous game when Maryland reached base at will.
“Lefty with a really good changeup that throws a ton of strikes,” coach Rob Vaughn said. “There [were] very minimal freebies, he wasn’t walking guys.”
Despite the mediocre offensive performance, the Terps received their contribution from senior Chris Alleyne early. He banged a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the first, grabbing Maryland an early lead.
But the Terps relinquished their edge in short order as Ronald Sweeny punched back.
Minnesota’s RBIs leader clocked a Jason Savacool pitch over the right field wall for a two-run homer in the second. The Gophers held a 2-1 lead, their first advantage of the series.
But Savacool didn’t let the homer rattle him. The freshman allowed no more runs and struck out five batters across six innings, with many his outs similarly coming via contact.
“Just trying to pitch my game, get back into good form,” Savacool said. “I had some tough situations but I was able to get out of them.”
He did his job, but Maryland didn’t get out of its hitting rut until Max Costes took the plate in the sixth. With lightning-fast hands, the junior pulled an inside pitch to left field for a single, scoring Matt Shaw for a crucial tying run.
Both teams exchanged runs in the seventh, keeping the game knotted at 3-3. A frustrating out call to end the inning fired up Vaughn and led to his ejection.
“I felt like it was a situation that wasn’t right,” Vaughn said. “I expressed my thoughts and I was told to go away.”
The Terps left the bases loaded in that inning and stranded two runners in the eighth, setting up a critical ninth inning.
Veteran Sean Fisher took down the Gophers lineup with expertise in the top of the frame, going three up, three down. His Maryland teammates now had a chance to deliver the win via a sputtering offense.
Shaw walked, but Alleyne and Ben Cowles struck out to set up Costes to be the hero. Minnesota wouldn’t have it, sending him to first on an intentional walk.
Then, two more. With disastrous control, Gophers left-hander Noah DeLuga walked Luke Shliger and Gardiner, rotating the winning run home for the Terps.
“I’m sitting up in the locker room watching BTN and I see Tommy’s at the plate and that’s the last thing I get,” Vaughn said. “I’m sweating out those last pitches … really proud of our boys for finishing it off.”