Maryland players leaped and yelled, spilling from the dugout and gathering around home plate waiting for their last teammate to join them.
Nick Lorusso finally reached the crowd after a long trot around the bases. Few teams had stymied the Terps’ offense like Nebraska had. Maryland needed an answer.
Its third baseman provided it.
With two strikes and two outs in the tenth, Lorusso boomed a ball to left field. The Terps were previously victim to a park that seemed to keep every hit inside its walls throughout the night as several Maryland sluggers flew out to the deepest parts of Charles Schwab Field.
But Lorusso’s blast cleared the fence and won his squad the game, 2-1. When he met the rest of his team at home, anxious to erupt in celebration, the festivities began.
Lorusso’s late-inning heroics have become common in Maryland’s recent games. The latest edition pushed the Terps to their first Big Ten tournament semifinal in six years, erasing a history of conference tournament struggles with one swing.
Maryland will take on either the Cornhuskers or Michigan State in the semifinals Saturday.
Two runs were all that were required to close out a second consecutive narrow victory thanks to another stellar outing from Terps pitchers — a group that has flipped into a strength in recent games after being a weakness entering the postseason.
The Maryland bullpen tossed 3 ⅔ scoreless frames in Thursday’s victory after finishing 8 ⅓ one-run innings Tuesday. Nigel Belgrave entered first and threw one pitch before a 93 minute weather delay. On the other side of the stoppage, David Falco Jr. continued what’s been his best stretch of the season.
Falco tossed 2 ⅔ scoreless frames in the win, locking down the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. He ended every frame with a swinging punchout, punctuating each one with an enthusiastic roar. Jason Savacool was next, pitching a hitless tenth in only his second career relief appearance.
Before the relievers closed Maryland’s win, Nick Dean kept Nebraska quiet. Dean has been battling through forearm tightness for nearly a month, pitched into the seventh inning for the first time since April and finished at 104 pitches, one shy of his season high.
His changeup, as it often is, was masterful. The right-hander collected three of his five strikeouts on the pitch and forced even more swings and misses. The offering, which crosses the plate over 10 miles per hour slower than his fastball, consistently fooled hitters as it dropped sharply out of the zone away from left handed hitters and inside to righties.
Two hits and two walks were the only blemishes on Dean. He rebounded from a shaky first two frames — in which he allowed his only run — to allow just three baserunners after the second inning.
Inefficiencies have kept Dean from working deep into recent starts. He allowed seven hits in each of his last two starts and five homers over his last four outings. But he’s now strung together two consecutive starts without allowing a long ball and the two hits he allowed Thursday marked his lowest since April 1.
His performance helped the Terps overcome a sluggish offensive performance before Lorusso’s blast. The opposite scenario was true through most of the regular season where one of the nation’s best offenses carried Maryland and often had to mask pitching inconsistencies.
That explosive offense has yet to show so far in the postseason.
Instead, pitching has been why Maryland has opened the Big Ten tournament with a pair of tight wins and is playing in its first conference tournament semifinal in the Rob Vaughn era.