The cheers from the sellout crowd of 3,000 at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium fell quiet as the ball flew over the center field wall.
Nigel Belgrave was one out away from escaping the seventh inning and keeping Maryland baseball’s deficit to one run.
But he could only stare as UConn’s Matt Donlan drove his pitch over the fence for a three-run homer that put Maryland down four runs.
The Terps couldn’t recover, losing 10-5 to the Huskies on Saturday. The loss sets up a pivotal Sunday for Maryland, which now stands on the cusp of elimination in the College Park Regional.
To clinch a berth to Super Regionals, the Terps will need to win three straight games, including two on Sunday.
“[Belgrave] came in and made some good pitches there and just hung one and they didn’t miss it,” Coach Rob Vaughn said. “That’s postseason baseball. It comes down to a pitch, it comes down to a play and the bottom line is UConn just executed a little bit better than we did tonight.”
[Dominant regional victory helped Maryland baseball build on an old promise]
Maryland, who played as the visitors despite being in its home stadium, got out to a dismal start.
Pitcher Jason Savacool gave up back-to-back solo home runs to Huskie batters David Smith and Eric Stock to put the Terps in a two-run deficit.
The Terps looked poised to answer UConn’s early scores but wasted baserunners as Matt Shaw was thrown out trying to steal second and Maxwell Costes hit into an inning-ending double play after a Troy Schreffler walk.
Savacool put runners on the corners in the second inning but escaped the frame unscathed with a double play of his own.
Maryland’s offense got on the board in the third inning with a Kevin Keister solo home run that cut the Terps’ deficit to just one run. Savacool escaped another jam in the fourth inning to give his squad a chance to tie.
The Terps did just that. They opened the fifth inning with a walk and a single to put two on for Ian Petrutz.
The designated hitter delivered with an RBI single to center field to tie the game.
But despite having runners on second and third with one out, the Terps were unable to take the lead. Luke Shliger struck out and Chris Alleyne struck a loud fly ball that briefly got the crowd excited before landing in the right fielder’s glove to end the inning.
[Maryland baseball pummels Long Island in first-ever College Park regional game, 23-2]
“[Shliger] is the guy I wanted up in that situation,” Vaughn said. “[Alleyne] put a really good swing on one, just a good enough changeup that got him out front just a tick and they [caught] it.”
UConn wouldn’t make the same mistake. They put Savacool in yet another jam but this time the sophomore couldn’t get out of it — as a grounder off the end of the bat to first base proved potent enough for the Huskies to retake the lead, 3-2.
Savacool escaped a bases-loaded jam to limit the damage to just one run and returned to the mound for the sixth inning and delivered his first one-two-three-inning. But Maryland’s offense couldn’t match their starter.
Huskies’ pitcher Pat Gallagher kept the Terps’ offense quiet through seven innings, giving up just two runs and striking out six.
“We had a lot of loud outs, a lot of line drives that were caught and that’s a part of baseball,” Shaw said.
Even after Gallagher departed, Maryland struggled. It got two runners on base in the eighth inning but stranded them.
UConn scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth to further their advantage. Despite a three-run homer in the ninth by Petrutz the damage had already been done. A poor bullpen showing furthered Maryland’s collapse, putting their historic season in jeopardy of an untimely exit.
“We knew going into this regional. There’s some good teams here,” Vaughn said. “We’re gonna have to earn our way through this thing.”