Maryland baseball’s Justin Vought twirled his bat, waiting for the pitch from Illinois’ Riley Gowens. Contorting and twisting his body, Vought slammed a just-outside fastball to deep left field, a hit that left no doubt.
And Vought did it again and again.
Behind a trio of homers by Vought, the Terps slugged their way to a series win with a 12-4 clincher over the Fighting Illini. Earlier in the day, Maryland took a 5-3 victory over Illinois.
Coach Rob Vaughn said Friday that his group has responded every time they’ve been challenged. On Saturday, the Terps did just that.
Behind a stellar hitting performance from Chris Alleyne that saw him bat in three RBIs and an equally great performance from right-hander Jason Savacool, Maryland made it look easy in game one.
“It was a crazy day,” Vaughn said. “Savacool was unbelievable early, and I think it set the tone for the day.”
After both teams limped through the first two innings with minimal contact, Alleyne swatted a line drive single to right-center to score Bobby Zmarzlak. One batter later, Alleyne turned on the jets to score from first on a Matt Shaw double.
Those two knocks were part of a 13-hit showing for Vaughn’s squad, eight more than it put up the night before. But pitching was the main story for the Terps again.
Savacool came within two outs of a complete game, allowing three earned runs, two of which came as his arm tired. He struck out seven batters on the day and allowed four hits.
“We created a pretty good game plan this week on how to attack some of the better hitters,” Savacool said. “I think we executed really well.”
In the eighth inning, Alleyne’s two-strike RBI single capped off Maryland’s scoring for the day. That mark proved to be crucial.
The Fighting Illini stood true to their name and put up two runs in the ninth inning off a bases-loaded double that came within feet of going over the wall and tying the game. Sam Bello struck out Tom Jurack on a low pitch to end the nervous moments for the Terps and tie the series.
The day’s second contest featured Connor Staine on the mound for Maryland looking to close out the series with a win.
Sean Burke was initially slated to start, but Vaughn changed the plan when the right-hander was late to a team event. Vaughn planned for another pitcher to throw a few innings and then let Burke take over.
“[Burke] had an issue being on time to something so we … [said] you’re gonna throw, but you’re not gonna start,” Vaughn said. “I think it put him in a weird position.”
Staine started strong, throwing 2.2 scoreless innings until regressing. Elliot Zoellner took the mound from Staine and finished a rocky third that saw three straight batters reach, capped by a Justin Janas RBI single to give Illinois a 1-0 lead.
But the fourth inning saw an explosive hitting rally for the Terps sparked by Vought and Tucker Flint. Their home runs built a 4-1 lead for Maryland and solidified its continued hitting success.
Burke jumped into the action, too, allowing only one baserunner in his first inning of work. But bad news struck the Terps in the fifth.
Max Costes sprinted to third on a Zmarzlak single, and as he scrambled to the bag, he awkwardly fell. One of Maryland’s leading sluggers needed a bit of assistance to get off the field and was replaced by Matt Orlando. He is day-to-day with a left ankle injury, Vaughn said after the game.
Even sans Costes, the Terps banged another pair of homers via Alleyne and Vought in the sixth extended its lead.
In the bottom of the frame, Ryan Ramsey relieved Burke on the mound as he suffered from command issues. Burke walked six batters in 2.2 innings. A homer by Ryan Hampe in the seventh supplemented an RBI single from Taylor Jackson in the previous inning as the Fighting Illini looked to dig themselves out of a hole.
But Maryland just kept digging it deeper and deeper for Illinois. Vought slammed his third home run of the day, and Ben Cowles followed later in the eighth to give the Terps a five-run lead.
“It was just one of those days, I don’t have any other way to describe it,” Vought said.
In the ninth, Troy Schreffler scored on a wild pitch, while Vought and Shaw capped the fireworks with RBI singles to lift Maryland to a series victory.
“Showed a lot of maturity … to not panic when thing weren’t going your way the first 11 innings of the weekend to completely dominating the second half of it,” Vaughn said.