By Alex Rychwalski
After 11 innings of a back-and-forth, low-scoring game between Maryland and Iowa, it appeared as if the winning run may never get scored after four scoreless extra innings. But Brigette Nordberg, with the winning run on third, hit a clutch line drive to center field to end the battle and give the Terps the 2-1 win in College Park.
Both Iowa and Maryland had been continuously denied when they had a chance to score a decisive second run, but the Terps were able to earn to a much needed series-opening victory.
Entering the final inning of regulation softball, the Hawkeyes held a 1-0 lead that looked to be an insurmountable deficit for a Terps team that had mustered just four hits.
With a runner on first, Maryland catcher Anna Kufta blasted a double in the gap that gave the Terps their first run of the game.
Kufta was hitting just .185 entering the game, but coach Julie Wright had the confidence in her to bat her cleanup, a lineup decision that paid dividends for the Terps.
Kufta also was also a key player in the 11th frame, when she laid down an important bunt to set Nordberg up to be the hero.
“Team softball — that’s all that really matters,” said Kufta, “and I just wanted that run across the plate, and I knew Bridgette was going to come up big.”
Maryland starting pitcher Ryan Denhart was nearly spotless through five innings of tightly contested action, and the game appeared to be over after the Hawkeyes touched her up for a run in the final frame. But the Terps never gave up.
“Honestly we felt pretty good,” said Wright. “We felt like we were doing some good things even if weren’t having success early on against [Iowa]. We had prepared well early and the week, so we weren’t nervous at all… I felt like we were in a really good spot to respond.”
Denhart, who allowed just one run and four hits in five innings, kept the Terps in the game into the final stages of regulation softball. Neither team hit the ball well, and both defenses made clutch plays when it mattered most.
After Denhart was pulled in the sixth, Sydney Golden came in for relief and threw six shutout innings of two-hit ball to earn her seventh victory of the season.
The low-scoring tone was set in the first inning. Denhart gave up a double and a walk to start the game, and after the runners moved up on a fielder’s choice, Maryland center fielder Kassidy Cross snagged a sinking liner to keep the Hawkeyes off the board.
Maryland shortstop Mikayla Werahiko was another standout defensively, who, despite an error early in the game, made a leaping grab in the first and an over the shoulder grab to keep the Hawkeyes off the scoreboard in the third.
The win improves the Terps to 13-20 on the season, already two more victories than in their 2017 campaign.
Game 2 of the series is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday.