Maryland softball pitcher Courtney Wyche wiped sweat from her brow as she stood on the mound in the top of the seventh inning. Behind her, the scoreboard illuminated a tied game entering its tensest moments.

The teams traded narrow leads throughout the game, but the Scarlet Knights had a runner in scoring position. Rutgers popped a sacrifice fly to center field to score the go-ahead run.

The Terps’ offense didn’t respond in the bottom of the seventh inning and Maryland fell to Rutgers, 7-6, in a narrow first loss of Wednesday’s doubleheader in College Park.

The Terps fell by a much larger margin in the second game as they struggled to get on base in a 9-0 mercy-rule defeat. Maryland notched only three hits to Rutgers’ six. A Morgan Smith grand slam in the fourth inning extended an already large Scarlet Knights’ lead to nine, and the Terps had no response in the shutout loss.

“We’re in a tough spot in the season, we’re starting to get a little worn down,” coach Lauren Karn said. “I think it’s easy when you are feeling worn down, you’re feeling tired, those types of things, to abandon some things that were working for you.”

Wednesday’s pair of defeats extended Maryland’s losing streak to four games as the Terps (17-21, 4-7 Big Ten) continue to fall in the conference standings after a positive start to the Big Ten season.

[Maryland softball falls to Illinois, 4-0, drops second straight Big Ten series]

Maryland mercy-ruled Illinois in an 8-0 five-inning win to start last weekend, but lost by four runs in the next two games to drop the series to an Illini team that was previously winless in Big Ten play.

The top of the lineup gave Maryland another positive start against a conference opponent as it erupted in the first. Starting with lead-off batter Megan Mikami, the first three Terps got on base and moved their fellow runners forward.

Jaeda McFarland danced down the third base line after Mikami crossed home to open the scoring, edging closer to home plate before retreating back to the base as Rutgers (25-16, 7-4 Big Ten) prepared to pitch.

“She’s just such a firestarter,” Karn said. “Her ability to do all of those things is so special and then when we get production after her it just makes it so much easier for our offense to flow.”

McFarland took advantage of a wild pitch and sprinted to home plate, sliding feet first to take a 2-0 lead. Quick thinking and aggressive baserunning put the Terps up early on.

Maryland’s defense started strong as well with the help of Wyche, who struck out three of the six batters she faced in the first two innings.

But a Rutgers ground out brought home its first run of the game in the third inning and left the Scarlet Knights with two outs and runners on second and third. Smith, who leads the Big Ten in home runs and scored one in both of Wednesday’s games, stepped up to the plate and slammed the ball over the center field fence to give Rutgers a 4-2 lead.

[Maryland softball cruises past Illinois with 8-0 mercy rule victory]

The Terps wasted no time in responding with two home runs of their own. McFarland destroyed the ball over center field fence in the Terps’ first at bat of the third inning to make it 4-3. Diamond Williams stepped up after her and crushed the tying run over the wall for her team-high 13th home run of the season.

Rutgers added another pair of runs in the fifth frame via Smith, who recorded five RBIs in each game, but McFarland hit another home run in the bottom of the inning before a throwing error allowed the Terps to tie it at six.

Wyche struggled on the mound as her pitch count grew later in the game. Rutgers succeeded in hitting her fast pitches and getting on base, and the Scarlet Knights’ seventh-inning run proved to be enough to lift Rutgers to a narrow win against Maryland’s ace before a more dominant showing in the second game of the double header.

The Terps will head to Evanston, Illinois, on Friday looking to break their four-game losing streak in the first game of a weekend series against Northwestern.

“Going into Northwestern we need to be ourselves. We need to stay positive,” Karn said. “We need to keep working to have quality at bats and get ahead of batters on the mound. Play clean defense. Our focus just has to be on what’s next and not what happened today.”