The sellout Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium crowd had been set ablaze in the first inning.
Slugger Luke Shliger had just hit a towering leadoff home run into right field to start the game off and could only admire his handy work as he flipped his bat and rounded the bases in front of the home crowd.
But those cheers turned to stunned silence just a half-inning later after a grand slam by Matt Donlan gave UConn a five-run lead.
Maryland baseball’s early deficit proved insurmountable. Watching the Huskies celebrate by the pitching mound after winning the College Park Regional, 11-8, the Terps’ historic season ended in disappointing fashion.
“Credit to UConn,” Coach Rob Vaughn said. “That’s a tough, tough group of guys. They played hard, they made pitches in big spots, they made plays in big spots [and] they had tough at bats.”
Despite facing a massive deficit of 9-1 early in the game, the Terps clawed their way back in the eighth inning. Down 10-8 with a runner on third and one out, Big Ten Player of the year Chris Alleyne was up at the plate representing the tying run.
On a 1-2 count the Maryland captain hit a chopper in between the pitcher’s mound and first base that UConn pitcher Justin Willis fielded and threw away as Alleyne collided with first baseman Ben Huber. Alleyne was ruled safed as Kevin Keister scored to cut the deficit to one and the tying run was now on base.
However, home plate umpire Jeff Head called runners lane interference on Alleyne much to the displeasure of Alleyne, the Maryland coaching staff and the Maryland faithful. Alleyne was ruled out and Keister had to return to third as the run did not count.
The call was reviewed but stood and Nick Lorusso’s groundout ended the inning and rally for the Terps chance to complete the comeback.
“I’m just trying to get down the line and get that run in,” Alleyne said. “[Head] made the call he thought was the right call and that’s just baseball. It’s out of my control and out of our control.”
In the first inning, Shliger’s leadoff home run and starting pitcher Andrew Johnson getting two quicks out seemed like the perfect start Maryland was looking for in a winner-take-all game.
But Johnson had walked four straight batters to tie the game up before being pulled for Sean Heine. Heine’s first pitch hit T.C. Simmons, giving the Huskies a 2-1 lead before Donlan’s longball put Maryland in an early 6-1 hole despite giving up just one hit.
Multiple times in the inning the Terps were one strike away from getting out of the inning but they paid the price for not finishing the UConn batters.
“[The crowd] was absolutely electric,” Vaughn said. “Unfortunately for [Johnson] on the mound, it kind of sped him up a little bit. It seemed like the more fired up they got, the quicker it got for him.”
Now facing a big early deficit, Maryland got two baserunners in the top of the third with one out. Two loud outs off the bats of Alleyne and Lorusso gave the crowd some brief hope — but the balls didn’t drop and Maryland couldn’t score.
UConn would pad their lead in the bottom of the third with a RBI sac-fly from Donlan — his fifth RBI of the game — to make it 7-1.
A leadoff home run in the bottom of the fourth by UConn second baseman David Smith off of new pitcher Gavin Stellpflug made it 8-1. Bryan Padilla’s RBI-double added another run for the Huskies as things continued to unravel for the Terps. Knowing they faced an eight run deficit, Vaughn’s squad could have easily packed it in. But the Terps started a comeback in the top of the fifth.
The UConn outfield gave Maryland a gift by being unable to track a flyball in the lights for a leadoff double by Bobby Zmarzlak. Kevin Keister quickly brought him home with an RBI single into the gap in left-center.
A Shliger single and a wild pitch put runners at second and third with no outs for a chance to cut into the deficit more. Another gift on a dropped line drive on a fielding error by right fielder Casey Dana allowed Keister to score from third and keep the rally going.
A wild pitch and a two-out RBI single by Troy Schreffler made it 9-5 and chased UConn starter Ian Cooke out of the game. A diving catch by Simmons in center field to end the inning robbed Maxwell Costes of extra bases and the Terps chance to cut into the deficit further.
Now within striking distance, Vaughn brought in Jason Savacool out of the bullpen with a runner on first and no outs — a move he hinted at in his press conference Sunday night.
The move didn’t pay off after a steal and an RBI single made 10-5 Huskies after five innings.
But Maryland drew closer in the seventh inning. A Shliger double followed by an Alleyne home run — his 24th of the season, the most in a single season in program history — got the crowd back into it as it was the lead was trimmed to three.
Two walks by Matt Shaw and Costes brought the tying run to the plate but Ian Petrutz struck out looking to quell the scoring threat.
Will Glock pitched around a jam in the bottom of the seventh to give the Terps another chance to rally in the eighth.
Zmarzlak began the inning reaching second on a fielding error and Keister’s RBI double drew Maryland closer and brought the tying run up. A deep flyout from Shliger to left-field just missed tying the game but Keister tagged up to third right before the controversial call involving Alleyne and the aftermath after that ended the Terps scoring threat to tie it up.
“It was a pretty good gut punch right there,” Vaughn said. “We just ran out of time.”
UConn added a run in the eighth and Maryland went down in order in the top of the ninth to end it. Vaughn’s squad watched from the dugout, processing what just happened after its resilient comeback fell short and its historic season ended on a sour note.
“This is a group of warriors,” Vaughn said. “One thing you can’t question about this group is how hard they play. It hurts but this team rewrote every record that we have here.”