Jason Savacool wasn’t sharp in his debut in the Friday night role. The preseason All-American was pounced on early by USF, surrendering a three-run blast in the first inning to put his team in a quick hole.
Another run in the third gave the lead back to the Bulls, and their second home run of the game put them up 5-3. Savacool looked helpless as his opponents made easy work of all of his pitches.
Maryland baseball (0-1) shined with hope and expectations entering Friday’s season opener in South Florida, deploying a preseason All-American on the mound. It failed to translate that to a victory as its pitching uncharacteristically faltered and offense went dormant, dropping the contest 8-7.
“[Savacool] would probably tell you that it wasn’t his best stuff,” Rob Vaughn said. “He was behind in some counts and that got him in a little bit of trouble.”
Two runners reached base with two outs in the first inning. Shortstop Bobby Boser brought them home with a bases-clearing homer and made Savacool look beatable, something that would’ve been a rare sight a season ago.
The right-hander’s early struggles stemmed from an inability to find his desired location, particularly with his curveball and changeup. He never garnered swings and misses with the secondary pitches, allowing the Bulls to hone in on his fastball.
That pitch was often Savacool’s first pitch of choice. But with the ability to sit on them and ignore the complimentary offspeed and breaking pitches, USF caught on and turned them into baserunners and eventually, runs.
“There was some timely hitting on both sides,” Vaughn said. “When you play a good game on Friday night, it boils down to a swing or a pitch or a couple at bats.”
Maryland’s offense tied it up but Savacool continued to struggle. Another two-out rally came in the third inning to break the tie before the junior settled down and worked quick fourth and fifth innings.
Boser hit his second home run in the sixth, ultimately Savacool’s last inning on the mound. He was pulled after six frames, giving up five earned runs, seven hits and two walks across six frames.
“I didn’t think that was [Savacool’s] best game, but I think it was far from his worst,” Vaughn said. “He competed and gave us a chance.”
The Bulls continued their relentless offensive attack on the Maryland bullpen. David Falco Jr. relieved Savacool for the seventh and allowed three runs on three walks. It prevented the ensuing Maryland rally from turning into a comeback.
“When we put them on for free, they took advantage,” Vaughn said.
Sophomore Jacob Orr’s grand slam in the eighth inning brought the Terps back to within striking distance. Before then, Maryland’s offense spent several innings going down quietly.
Ian Petrutz’s solo home run and two RBI triples in the second tied the game at three in the second inning. But the offense dried up after that.
The lineup went four innings without recording a hit. The only baserunners in that span came from two walks and a hit by pitch. All three were stranded.
Maryland’s top three of Luke Shliger, Matt Shaw and Nick Lorusso combined to go 0 for 13. Its best chance of retaking an advantage came in the seventh with the bases loaded and Lorusso at the plate, but the senior third baseman tapped a weak ground ball to the left side that ended the scoring opportunity.
Petrutz and Eddie Hacopian threatened again in the ninth with a pair of two-out singles. The tying run reached scoring position, but it ended with yet another scoring opportunity unfulfilled as the Terps started the year 0-1.
“Just a little bit of a lull there in the middle,” Vaughn said. “We gotta be a little bit better in the third through the seventh.”
Maryland didn’t lose a game until its ninth contest of the season in 2022. That start helped to propel them to a record 44 regular season wins.
The Terps’ 2023 is beginning on a different track, turning Saturday and Sunday’s games into crucial affairs as they try to avoid a series defeat in their first of the year.