While Virginia squanders chances, Maryland makes most of them
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Charlie White went 3-for-5 from the plate in Maryland’s 5-4 Super Regional Game 1 win against Virginia at Davenport Field on Saturday, but perhaps the biggest moment he provided for his Terrapins team came in center field in the bottom of the first inning.
Maryland starter Jake Stinnett was struggling to record outs, having hit two batters and given up two hits and run. With one out and the bases loaded, White, who had already doubled and come around to score in the top half of the inning, made a spectacular diving catch on Kenny Towns' fly ball. Virginia’s Mike Papi had to return to third base to tag up, giving White enough time to recover from the dive and fire the ball to shortstop Blake Schmit, who gunned down Papi at home to end the inning.
“[The first inning] was Charlie White’s inning,” Maryland head coach Szefc said. “He gets it going for us offensively, and that catch was as good as hitting a double with the bases loaded, because he took two runs off the board.”
On the play, Papi said that he thought he had left the base early, making him hesitate, return to the plate, and eventually give Maryland a big boost to end the first inning.
“It’s tough to judge a 27-out game by just one play,” Papi said. “But baseball is a game of momentum, and I think that it may have taken a little bit of momentum out of us.”
That was just one example of a play where Maryland took advantage of an opportunity -- and Virginia squandered one. That became a prevalent theme throughout the game.
For Virginia, it came down to several situations in which a run came across the board, but the Cavs struggled to turn it into a bigger inning. In all, Virginia left 14 on base. Papi ended up having a good day at the plate, reaching base five times all five times he was up, with three hits and two walks. But he only scored once, with one total hit from the next three batters in the lineup.
“There were a lot of situations in this game where we would tackle a run and have another opportunity to put a crooked number up there on the scoreboard, and we just couldn’t get the hit to do it,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said.
Virginia ace Nathan Kirby, who came in with a 1.73 ERA, ended up giving up the most runs he had given up all season in his shortest outing of the year. Kirby said that he left a couple breaking pitches up in the zone that Terrapin hitters took advantage of.
“He just didn’t look sharp to me out there,” O’Connor said. “Usually his velocity is a little bit better, and usually that breaking ball is down a little bit more, but that’s to Maryland’s credit. When he made pitches that were up in the zone, they capitalized on it.”
The win was Maryland’s 40th of the season, and it is the first time the program has reached that mark.
“I know our coaching staff and players are very proud of that.” Szefc said. “It’s hard to win 40 games in a college baseball season.”
The Terrapins used timely hitting, clutch pitching and good defense to win its first game in the NCAA Super Regionals. They put across three runs by stringing some hits together in the fourth, and used sacrifices to bring White around after he led off the fifth with a hit. Then relievers Bobby Ruse and Kevin Mooney, while giving Virginia fans some hope in each of the final three innings, managed to get the outs they needed without too much damage.
In addition to White’s play in the first, Brandon Lowe made a potentially run-saving diving play at second base. This is the kind of play that got Maryland to this point. The Terrapins beat South Carolina on the road in regionals twice last week, and have now won 15 of their past 17 games.
“I think [these plays] all help,” Szefc said. “I think our guys have gotten to a point where they are playing with so much confidence and they’re playing so loosely that they just expect to make those plays.”
Szefc said that anybody can make the plays when it doesn’t matter -- but a big reason Maryland is one win away from Omaha is the fact that the Terps are making them when they do matter.