Maryland baseball started out hopeful.
Grabbing a couple of outs via nimble defensive play and flawful but competitive pitching early, the Terps had no reason to panic against a top dog in the Big Ten.
But the Fighting Illini found their groove, and hammered the Terps.
Even after a decisive early lead, Illinois clobbered homers late into the night as Maryland’s bullpen fell into disarray. By the time the dust cleared, the Terps had suffered their worst loss since a 24-4 defeat against Georgia Tech on March 20, 2010.
Frustrated by dynamic starting pitching and explosive slugging, Maryland fell flat against Illinois, 19-1.
[Maryland baseball’s Bobby Zmarzlak cut down on strikeouts and is reaping the rewards]
The Terps found themselves in game one of a crucial conference series against second-place Illinois — who had thrived in conference despite struggling through their non-conference slate.
This series would prove important to whichever squad claimed it with several teams near the top jostling for position. It looked to be a dogfight between Maryland and the Illini.
Neither club disappointed early.
The Terps seemed particularly exasperated by Illinois’ ace pitcher Cole Kirschsieper as he picked apart Maryland’s lineup at the plate. He piled up eight punch-outs on the day.
But Troy Schreffler and Matt Shaw gave significant defensive contributions in the second to help cover up their squad’s apprehension in the batter’s box. Shaw kicked that off with a neat scoop moving towards third and zipped one to first to put the first batter away.
Schreffler came up next as he scrambled and dove to snatch a line-drive for the second out. Starting pitcher Nick Dean landed the third out off a punch-out. The crucial inning kept the Terps competitive.
Then the Illini broke out.
Kellen Sarver closed the distance to the batter’s box, likely inspired by an early Illinois run via an RBI-single. His appearance in the third defined the day.
Sarver obliterated a Dean pitch to right, carrying the ball over the wall and several runners across with the three-RBI shot. The Illini’s offensive efficiency crushed Dean as some of Maryland’s early defensive heroics rang shallow.
The Terps added an RBI sacrifice fly in the next frame to add some optimism, but Kirschsieper had wrangled Maryland’s lineup enough to minimize its impact.
[Maryland baseball holds off Towson in extra innings, 4-3]
The bottom-half of the inning didn’t fare much better for the Terps as Illinois added another pair of runs off an overthrow to first on an attempt to turn a double play.
The Illini had made it 6-1 in their favor going into the sixth. Maryland hadn’t faced adversity like this all season. And it didn’t seem to end.
The nightmare only grew stronger as Nick Robinson — who had relieved Dean in the fifth — unraveled even after two punch-outs to start the inning. Four hits and a hit-by-pitch later, the Terps fell well behind and stayed there as Illinois pummeled Maryland at the plate.
The Terps found little to edge into a double-digit lead that Illinois nursed late and Maryland would have to find a way to recover from its largest loss of the season.