Jason Savacool fought and clawed against a feisty UConn batting lineup all throughout Saturday’s matchup. Unlike Friday’s shellacking of Long Island, Maryland baseball hadn’t provided their starter with much of a cushion.
The Terps’ bats had gone eerily silent. What invigorated the Terps’ swings the day before looked to have come and gone with Huskies’ starter Pat Gallagher bearing down on them.
Maryland managed contact on Gallagher with seven hits on the outing, but key blasts remained elusive.
“[Gallagher] pounded the strike zone,” Matt Shaw said. “He did a good job of getting us in-between … we were missing that one big hit.”
It made Savacool’s trip out to the mound in the sixth frame crucial with his pitch count already running alarmingly high. If the at-bat wasn’t the frame-closer, Maryland was in trouble.
If the Terps reached into their bullpen too early, it could be fatal against a formidable lineup that already had given Savacool a run for his money. But coach Rob Vaughn placed his confidence in the sophomore — saying that his pitches got better as the game went on.
[Maryland baseball loses to UConn in NCAA regional semifinal, 10-5]
The right-hander eked out a pair of ground-outs, and set up UConn’s Zach Bushling for a two-out stint at the plate. Savacool turned it on, striking Bushling out in just three pitches as emotion bled onto the field, ending what looked like a critical frame for Maryland’s momentum.
The right-hander had turned what had looked like a disastrous outing with back-to-back solo shots to start the game into a gritty, solid performance. However, he didn’t do enough.
The Terps fell flat at the plate in the seventh — still befuddled by Gallagher. The Huskies’ starting pitcher said he drew motivation from his disastrous start last year which knocked the Huskies out of the NCAA Tournament.
With Gallagher’s stuff and a relentless offense, UConn had Maryland’s number.
The Huskies battered the Terps’ relievers to the tune of seven runs, and a three-RBI homer in the seventh buried the Terps with little support from their offense. A late homer from Ian Petrutz drew them closer, but UConn sealed a 10-5 victory and marched on to the next round.
It left the Terps and Vaughn empty. The sophomore’s gutty outing had been for nothing.
“You saw the emotion when he came off the mound,” Vaughn said. “It was one of those things … baseball can rip your heart out sometimes like it did tonight.”
[Dominant regional victory helped Maryland baseball build on an old promise]
Huskies’ coach Jim Penders had planned for Savacool from the start.
Penders said he liked that his players didn’t chase pitches down in the zone, something the Huskies observed in Savacool’s film where many had been struck out by the sophomore.
“Our guys were able to spit on a couple of tough pitches early … he’s probably not used to seeing that,” Penders said. “He’s probably used to seeing a few more swings-and-misses.”
Because of the UConn’s relentless approach, Savacool labored just to leave after the sixth inning. Had the sophomore stayed in longer, Maryland might have mustered the hope at the plate to get the Terps back in it.
Savacool played with his heart on his sleeve, evident in his emotion at the end of his outing. However, the Huskies struck the moment the sophomore left and never looked back. UConn sent Maryland packing to face Wake Forest in an elimination game on Sunday.
“That was a really good postseason baseball game for seven innings,” Vaughn said. “But what Jason [Savacool] did throughout the game was exactly what starting pitchers have to do. I thought he did an outstanding job for us and he competed his way through that thing really well.”