Maryland baseball and East Carolina fought tooth and nail in a contentious elimination game that could see the Terps season finished. And as the baseball recoiled off Pirate third baseman Zach Agnos’ bat into the rain-soaked outfield, it seemed clear — it was over.
One, two runners crossed the plate joyously and a once tight game spiraled for coach Rob Vaughn’s Terps. They fought their way through the losers’ bracket, but they were out, and their season ended as No. 13 East Carolina downed them, 9-6.
If the stellar pitching of game one Sunday was not what you expected following Maryland’s first two slugfests of the postseason, game two likely had you out of your seat. The Terp’s Connor Staine, who hadn’t been on the mound in a month, had an understandably ugly start.
Three consecutive hits banged off Pirate bats and into the outfield as Maryland felt the effects of their depleted bullpen. If their pitching staff spiraled, that could be it for the Terps.
“I told him I was not gonna let him get very high [in the pitch count],” Vaughn said. “I just told him, give me everything you got.”
But Staine, with the help of a timely double play, survived the opening inning, allowing only two runs. And Matt Shaw repaid him.
Slugging a monster shot to left, Shaw established the Terps on the scoreboard and cut into the Pirates two-run first frame.
A homer to left and a well-hit double sent Staine to the dugout, throwing 40 pitches in just one and two-thirds innings pitched. Sam Bello then faced the tall task of keeping Maryland in what was likely a tight, offensive minded matchup.
While he finished the inning, Bello’s command wavered in the next frame, walking the first two batters, until locking down the next trio. But not before a sac fly gave East Carolina their fourth run of the day, and a three-run lead.
“We trust everybody [on the mound],” Shaw said. “Biggest thing we knew coming into all these games is that we gotta throw strikes, limit the walks … you limit the walks, you win games.”
The next inning would see Shaw pull a shot to the other grandstand in right as he owned the pair of runs Maryland would hold onto for the first half of the game. The Terps couldn’t capitalize off a pair of runners later in the frame, which would prove to be a theme of their offense in the game.
“We had some opportunities early, but just couldn’t quite get the big hit,” Vaughn said.
As Bello lost control again, Sean Fisher stepped in and started shakily with two hit batters, until settling down having yielded one run to the Pirates. The next inning would see Fisher allow two batters on-base before an attempted steal of home was snuffed out by the senior to end the inning.
Even with all the missed opportunities on offense Maryland had stacked up, it turns out they wouldn’t need to atone. The Pirates did that job for them as Troy Schreffler banged a single just outside an infielder’s glove that rolled into the outfield to score a pair in the fifth.
The next few frames saw each team emptily threaten to score before every starting arm put enough batters down to escape. Like their earlier matchup against Charlotte, the Terps were going to need every ounce of juice they had left to pull out a victory.
But with Fisher losing command and Sean Heine taking over, Maryland faltered. A two-out double by the Pirates scored two crucial runs that set the Terps back four with two innings to go. They would need an inspired effort to come back.
And the inspiration came from Max Costes, who wasn’t ready to go home.
Smashing a 3-1 ball to the right field fence, Costes scored two and got Vaughn’s squad right back in it.
“Whether it was the first game versus Charlotte or even in this game, we never really felt like we were out of it,” Costes said.
Elliot Zoellner got the nod to take the ninth and struggled, allowing the first two batters on base. A fielder’s choice set two East Carolina-runners in scoring position and another one scored a run for the Pirates.
With a three run-deficit, Justin Vought was first to the plate in the bottom of the ninth. After blasting the game-winning hit earlier in the day, he struggled to get on base in his first few at-bats against East Carolina.
Vought grounded out to first, followed by a quick strikeout for Tommy Gardiner. The Terps were down to their final out of the season and it took three pitches to strike Schreffler out and end Maryland’s season with a 9-6 loss.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of last days, and they never get easier, but I can’t tell you how proud I am of this group,” Vaughn said.