By Alex Littlehales
Kevin Mooney’s first pitch began as any other; a windup, a plant, a delivery. Instead of striking his catchers mitt, Mooney struck Nebraska’s lead batter and star center fielder Ryan Boldt’s ankle instead.
Jake Schleppenbach then drilled a line drive just over third base. Nebraska had runners at the corners with no outs, just two batters into the game.
Mooney finally composed himself, allowing just Boldt to score on what could’ve been a wide open 1st inning.
Meanwhile, Nebraska’s Derek Burkamper was pitching lights out and taking names. Burkamper started the game retiring eight straight batters, as the Terps were held hitless until Kevin Kawahara scored on a Nebraska error.
The 2nd inning came with even more troubles for the Terps. Mooney, who has only pitched 11 innings the entire season, walked in a run just after loading the bases with 8 straight balls. A Tanner Lubach pop-up dropped in the infield after a break in communication between Kevin Smith and Tim Lewis, driving in 3 runs to give the Cornhuskers a 5-0 lead.
“Guys make mistakes,’ said head coach John Szefc. “You just hope they don’t cost you three runs. That did, but we were able to come back.”
The fourth inning was when the Terps would initiate their gradual climb to victory. A huge momentum swing was led by Maryland’s bullpen ace Zach Morris. His two authoritative shutout innings, paired with a solo home run by catcher Kevin Martir, ignited the spark that would be Maryland’s comeback.
“This is the most dangerous offensive team I’ve ever played on. No lead is safe, we’re always going to come back,” said Morris.
Burkamper’s hot start was coincidentally cooling down, aided by the Terps lively dugout, and Maryland was capitalizing. DH freshman Jamal Wade cranked another solo shot deep to left field, pulling the Terps to within 3 runs.
After another shutout inning by Robert Galligan, the Terps were looking for one last push to vanquish the deficit; and they would get it.
Anthony Pupio, hitting a strong .320 on the season, drilled a curving line drive to left field to drive home Jose Cuas. The Terps were surging late at 5-3, with plenty of noise from the home ground aiding the surge. More bullpen excellence from Galligan marked the fifth straight shutout inning from the Terps.
Maryland’s dugout antics were now embedded deep in the brains of the Nebraska Bullpen. The turning point came from a two out Terps rally, when Kevin Smith turned a fastball into a two-run home run, driving in Jamal Wade.
Five straight runs for Maryland, with the score 5-5, the game would be decided in extra innings.
After intentionally walking to put runners on first and second, relief pitcher Alex Robinson faced pinch hitter Jake Placzek, and scorched him with 3 consecutive fastballs down Broadway to end the inning.
The story of the extra innings, especially for Maryland, was the versatility and prose of each team’s bullpen. Utter brilliance is an understatement for the play that came from these focused pitchers. Fortunately for the Terps, Nebraska was the first to crack.
The 9th inning fell like dominoes for Maryland. Kevin Smith singled off of an error by third baseman Blake Headley, Kevin Martir advanced Smith to second with a left field drive, then came the game’s defining moment.
Jose Cuas drove a blooper to shortstop. Nebraska gets the out at second base, and when trying to turn the double play at first base, the pass is overthrown and Smith crosses the plate to end the game.
Maryland had successfully shut out the Cornhuskers for 7 innings while scoring 6 unanswered runs.
“Anytime you sweep anybody is huge,” said Szefc. “This is mentally important for us, we just swept a really good team. For us to be able to have that kind of success, it demonstrates what we can do.”
Kevin Smith, who made the error earlier in the game but had the game-tying home run in the bottom of the seventh, said that Maryland was “a come from behind team.”
“We’re not really scared of it anymore, we almost look forward to coming back from behind,” said Smith.
Maryland remains undefeated at home, notching their 22nd win on the season, while advancing to 7-2 in the Big Ten. The Terps continue their home stand this Tuesday against regional rival West Virginia at 4 p.m.