Midweek games are often used as opportunities to give younger pitchers valuable starting experience, particularly ones who could become part of the weekend rotation later in their careers. That’s what Rob Vaughn sought to do in Maryland baseball’s first such game of the season Tuesday.
Ryan Van Buren made the start on the mound, the third of his career. The first chance of his sophomore season to prove himself in a starting role quickly snowballed into one of the worst outings of his career. He allowed four runs and was pulled before the end of the first inning.
Andrew Johnson came to clean up the mess. He made it even worse, bringing in one more and failing to record an out in his brief stint on the mound.
The Terps couldn’t overcome the disastrous start and dropped their home opener to West Virginia, 8-6. Vaughn used three different pitchers in the first inning and seven total against the Mountaineers, who found consistent hard contact and were patient against errant Maryland hurlers.
“Midweeks are always interesting,” Vaughn said. “Pitch counts aren’t quite built up yet, you’re not wanting to kind of dip into the well too much with guys. You’re trying obviously not to use three guys in the first. That’s not usually a recipe for success on a Tuesday.”
[Maryland baseball’s Saturday games — and season — could hinge on Nick Dean’s resurgence]
Van Buren began his start with a leadoff walk followed by a single and another free pass, loading the bases and bringing West Virginia cleanup hitter Caleb McNeely to the plate. He clubbed a double into the left field wall, bringing home two all before Van Buren could record an out.
From there, the pitcher struggled to command any of his pitches and get any Mountaineer hitters to whiff. A hard-hit grounder up the middle sent two more runs to the plate and chased Van Buren.
“He just got in bad counts with guys,” Vaughn said. “That’s how you make good hitters really good hitters when you put them in a 2-1, 3-1 count.”
Johnson couldn’t close the floodgates, walking the first three batters he faced. Vaughn was forced to call on Logan Ott to end the opening inning.
Vaughn needed the junior left-hander to cover multiple innings as the coach quickly lost some of his top bullpen options. Ott went three more frames and threw considerably more strikes than his predecessors did, but allowed his team’s deficit to grow wider. Five hits, including a leadoff homer in the third, gave West Virginia a 7-0 advantage.
[Jason Savacool falters as No. 13 Maryland baseball loses season opener to USF, 8-7]
While a near-impossible hole to climb out of, the Terps’ offense — without Matt Shaw due to a sickness — did little to come close until it was too late.
Maryland didn’t tally its first base hit until the third inning when leadoff man Luke Shliger singled. Nick Lorusso promptly scored him with a two-run double.
“The main piece is just more leadoff hitters,” Shliger said. “Getting a man on first with no outs is a big thing for our offense.”
That was the last Terps’ rally until the seventh inning, where back-to-back home runs from Elijah Lambros and Shliger cut West Virginia’s lead in half. Lambros’, which soared over the batter’s eye in center field, was the first of the sophomore transfer’s career.
The Terps could only tack one run in the final inning as overcoming catastrophic outings on the mound in the early innings proved too difficult. As a result, Maryland matched its amount of midweek losses from a season ago in its first such game of 2023.
“The starting pitcher really sets the tone for the game,” Vaughn said. “Obviously that tone wasn’t necessarily what we wanted tonight.”