Maryland baseball was aware of the importance its series against Indiana held. It was a battle between the Big Ten’s two best squads, the Hoosiers chasing a conference title and the Terps fighting to hang on to their postseason aspirations.
Maryland (28-15, 9-4 Big Ten) dispelled any notions of pressure with a hot start. Matt Shaw and Nick Lorusso slugged back-to-back home runs in a three-run first inning while Nick Dean held the Indiana attack at bay.
A seven-run fifth inning gave the Terps a huge advantage that became easy to maintain as Dean cruised through the Hoosier lineup. The pitcher struck out a season-high 10 batters in Maryland’s commanding 13-2 win, which moves it into a tie atop the conference standings.
“It was our best game of the year by far,” coach Rob Vaughn said. “The offense really set the tone in the top half, the back-to-back-homers early and it didn’t stop there.”
Winning at least two of three in Bloomington would likely boost Maryland’s postseason chances. Defeats would have the opposite effect. Indiana (31-12, 9-4 Big Ten) entered the series atop the conference in wins and RPI. It ranked No. 13 nationwide in the metric entering Friday, a key factor in postseason seeding that the Terps ranked 59th in.
None of Maryland’s final three conference opponents are in the top six of the Big Ten standings, making this weekend its last chance to improve its resume.
The Terps won without typical Friday starter Jason Savacool, who Vaughn said he is saving for later in the weekend. The coach opted to give the right hander extra rest after he eclipsed 100 pitches in each of his last four starts.
Dean, who made several Friday starts as a junior in 2022, started in Savacool’s place.
He worked quickly through the initial frames. He tossed three scoreless innings before allowing a solo homer in the fourth, one of the only stains on his outing.
He worked his fastball up in the strike zone, an approach that helped him induce nine fly outs. That allowed Dean to throw his sinking changeup and looping curveball to complement the heater and collect a season-high 10 strikeouts.
“[Dean] looked fresh tonight, he felt good,” Vaughn said. “He was executing pitches, he was mixing three or four different ones in different counts. He’s the story of the game. As good as the offense was, Nick Dean was absolutely elite.”
The mix tormented Indiana for seven innings. Dean’s been a new pitcher since conference play began in March. He credits tweaks to his mental approach — enhancing his focus on breathing and blocking out distracting thoughts. In his four Big Ten outings, the senior’s only allowed five earned runs with 24 strikeouts to nine walks.
Home runs usually charge the Terps’ rallies, but singles and walks led the way in a monstrous fifth inning. Five hits, four of which were singles, paired with one walk and two hit by pitches to produce seven runs.
Long balls did give Maryland its early lead. Shaw’s first-inning blast was the 45th of his career, extending the program record he claimed Wednesday. Lorusso’s homer came in his first plate appearance since Sunday.
The usual third baseman missed both of the Terps’ midweek games with a hamstring injury he suffered in the series finale against Purdue. Lorusso served as the designated hitter Friday and went 3-for-6 in his return.
Eddie Hacopian and Kevin Keister contributed, continuing their strong recent play. Hacopian, the reigning Big Ten player of the week, finished with two RBIs. Keister, who entered Friday with four home runs across his last two games, added two hits and a walk.
“You gotta go through those top three and then you got [Ian] Petrutz behind him who’s scary and Hacopian who’s as hot as it gets behind him and [Matt] Woods … it just really lengthens your lineup,” Vaughn said.
The offense’s onslaught let Dean pitch stress-free and kept Vaughn from relying too heavily on his shaky bullpen with a lengthy lead.
The starter’s dominance was the catalyst in Maryland’s comfortable win. Dean will be an integral part of his team’s postseason push, one that looks clearer after a significant and convincing victory.
“They saw the best version of [Dean] tonight,” Vaughn said. “.. We’ve needed that all year, but he’s getting hot at the right time.”