Nick Lorusso has often been lauded for his maturity by Rob Vaughn, who calls him Maryland baseball’s most consistent threat at the plate. But when the third baseman came to bat in the seventh inning with two runners on, his coach considered telling him to bunt.
Vaughn turned to hitting coach Matt Swope, who shook his head in disagreement at the thought. The head coach obliged and soon after, Lorusso proved they made the right choice.
The third baseman’s Terps (18-11, 3-1) were in a stalemate with Rutgers (15-14, 1-3) when he came to bat for the fourth time Friday night. He’d already extended his hit streak to 28 games but eyed more, crushing the first pitch he saw beyond the centerfield wall.
Lorusso trotted the bases as the Bob Smith Stadium lights went into a frenzy. When he finally crossed home, lights still flashing on and off in celebration, Maryland’s lead grew to three. The blast powered the Terps to a 6-4 win in their Big Ten home opener.
“Sometimes your best player’s gotta be your best player,” Vaughn said. “He was tonight.”
The go-ahead blast came on the heels of Jason Savacool throwing a career-high 118 pitches. The junior right hander exited in the seventh after surrendering a two-out walk.
He rebounded after an uneven first inning that resembled how he opened his previous start when he allowed five runs in the first to Iowa.
Savacool started his battle with Rutgers by giving up three walks and two hits to put Maryland in a 2-0 hole. The junior lacked command of his fastball — Rutgers sluggers teed off on pitches in the zone and laid off on ones outside of it.
“[I] let him go stomp around the dugout and be frustrated at himself … and then just let him breathe and sit down,” Vaughn said. “… [Mike Morrison] does such a good job … the way they communicate between innings and the way they communicate about how they’re going to attack guys. He’s just able to get him kind of refocused.”
The pitching coach’s words helped Savacool allow just one run over the next five innings. Vaughn, liking the matchup against Rutgers’ bottom of the order, sent the pitcher back out for the seventh nearing 100 pitches. While Savacool didn’t finish the inning but provided length for a bullpen that desperately needed it.
Maryland’s pitching staff, which allowed 153 earned runs in 28 games entering Friday, was a concern for the Terps as they entered conference play. Vaughn needed more consistency from his starters to prevent overworking a struggling bullpen.
Savacool’s outing is exactly what Maryland needs more of.
“It was an emotional game, big night, and it took him a little while to settle in,” Vaughn said. “… Once he settled in, it was efficient, it was quick.”
Scarlet Knights’ starter Grant Besser enjoyed similar success, stifling the Terps with an off-speed pitch he threw in an assortment of counts to nearly any hitter.
“That guy was eating our lunch with the changeup,” Vaughn said. “I knew when I watched that guy on video, it was going to give us fits.”
Matt Shaw was one of few Terps to connect with the lethal pitch, doing so in a two-run sixth inning, barrelling one for a lead-off home run to center field.
“I didn’t think they’d throw another changeup, but at that point you kinda have to sit on it,” Shaw said. “… I got it and hit it.”
Bobby Zmarzlak scored later that inning when he stole third base and the throw spilled into the outfield to tie the game.
An inning later, Lorusso proved himself as the Terps’ best slugger and helped Maryland to the series-opening conference win.