David Falco Jr. entered the postseason after two of his best outings this season — appearances in which he combined for 4 ⅔ scoreless innings.
He was called upon again in Maryland baseball’s 3-2 win against Michigan State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament Tuesday, this time in a tie game in the seventh inning.
Falco tossed a hitless 1 ⅔ between the seventh and eighth innings to give the Terps a chance to break that deadlock — which they did courtesy of a Luke Shliger RBI double.
In the ninth, the reliever struck out a pair and sent the Michigan State lineup down in order to complete the win and his third consecutive scoreless outing of at least two innings.
Falco’s appearance capped 8 ⅓ innings of one-run pitching from the Maryland bullpen, a unit that struggled at times in the regular season but was largely responsible for the opening round victory.
Maryland, which won just one game in last year’s Big Ten tournament, will play either fourth-seeded Nebraksa or fifth-seeded Rutgers in the second round Thursday.
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Kenny Lippman was the first entrant for Kyle McCoy, who threw just 15 pitches and recorded a mere two outs. Lippman gained experience pitching in bulk relief and being used as a spot starter throughout the regular season, a quality Rob Vaughn relied on in his team’s first postseason contest.
The right-hander walked five Spartans and faced frequent traffic on the basepaths but often used ground balls to escape those jams. Lippman ended each of the second, third and fourth innings with double plays. That helped keep his pitch count low despite throwing just 32 of his 56 pitches for strikes.
Andrew Johnson and Nigel Belgrave combined for scoreless fifth and sixth frames. Belgrave allowed a leadoff triple that later reached home to even the score in the seventh before Falco entered and closed out the win.
Maryland’s pitching prowess made up for a mostly sluggish offense. After scoring two in the first inning with sacrifice flies from Nick Lorusso and Ian Petrutz, the Terps didn’t push another run across until the penultimate inning.
Jacob Orr singled and eventually reached third as the lineup turned over. Shliger, who’s held down the leadoff spot for two seasons, slugged his second double of the night to push Orr to the plate as the winning run.
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The narrow victory came despite McCoy’s abbreviated outing. His velocity was lower than it usually is in his first start in three weeks, Vaughn said on the Big Ten Network broadcast, which prompted the freshman’s exit that forced the bullpen into difficult circumstances.
Tuesday presented an opportunity for McCoy to make his first appearance since May 6 and perhaps rediscover the form that made him an effective hurler midway through his debut season. Instead, he left far earlier than anticipated.
That could end up being a blessing — being used sparingly in the Terps’ win could allow McCoy to pitch again if Maryland makes a deep Big Ten tournament run.
The chances of a run like that occurring grew larger with an opening-round victory. Staying in the winner’s bracket and avoiding playing more games than necessary is crucial if the Terps aim to move past last year’s early exit in the conference tournament, Vaughn said Monday.
Tuesday’s win proved that, despite an underwhelming regular season, Maryland’s pitchers can lead it to a successful conference tournament showing.