George Mason’s extra-inning walk off ends Maryland baseball’s season

No. 19 Maryland fell to George Mason in a hard-fought 11-10 duel on Sunday afternoon, with the second straight Terps loss abruptly ending their season in the NCAA Regionals. 

A ninth inning collapse on both sides sealed their fate, with both squads entering the ninth inning tied at 10-10. Maryland, the visiting team, had a chance to run away with it by loading the bases with two outs in the top of the ninth, but Big Ten Player of the Year Matt Shaw grounded out as the opportunity slipped between his fingers.

The Maryland defense, tasked with keeping the Patriots scoreless for one more frame to reach extra innings, plainly collapsed. Closer David Falco Jr., who’s been lights out all postseason, walked the leadoff batter, and catcher Luke Shliger gave the runner a free pass home by sailing his pickoff attempt into shallow outfield. Maryland Coach Rob Vaughn took an ill-fated gamble by intentionally walking multiple George Mason hitters in the heart of the lineup to try his hand against Brett Stallings, and the result was a walk off sac-fly to take a dramatic win.

The unconventional win shouldn’t take away from the Terps’ bats, who fought all game long to put themselves in positions to succeed. They rifled three home runs en route to tallying 11 hits, and came close to outpacing their own rocky pitching unit.

After five straight wins to sweep the Big Ten Tournament and advance to the second round of the NCAA Winston-Salem Regional, the Terps suffered their most lopsided loss of the season on Saturday to Wake Forest, the top seeded team in the tourney. The 21-6 bludgeoning was the first time Maryland lost by more than 10 runs all spring, and the Demon Deacons did it by bothering all seven Maryland pitchers they faced with small ball, a pattern that would resurface in Sunday’s win-or-go-home matchup.

George Mason, a prior victim of the mighty Demon Deacons, now found themselves in a similar spot to the Terps. Both teams needed to win three more games, and a loss for either squad meant a premature end to their season. 

Maryland opted to start occasional starter Ryan Van Buren for a game in which Vaughn would need all hands on deck. The plan hit a wall early, as the Patriots chased the pitcher from the mound after piling up three runs in just 0.2 innings.

It didn’t take long for the Terps to come marching back. Five straight Maryland batters reached base to start the fifth, with Kevin Keister and Shaw each slugging homers to tie the game at three apiece. The Terps then loaded the bases right back up for Elijah Lambros to smoke a single, bringing in two more runs to take a 5-3 lead.

The run leaked into the fourth, when Lorusso and Eddie Hacopian brought in three more runs to stretch the lead to 8-3. Andrew Johnson, who came in for Van Buren, kept the momentum squarely on Maryland’s side with multiple consecutive quick innings right until the bottom of the fourth. His control slipped, and he enabled five walks to breathe life into the Patriots. Nigel Belgrave entered with an 8-5 lead, but relented a two-RBI single before a three-run Connor Dykstra moonshot gave George Mason a wild 10-8 advantage.

But the Terps, never quite out of a game, retook the tie with a two-run Matt Woods home run in the sixth, the team’s third long shot of the afternoon. Maryland once again shackled the Patriots with high-level defense around the field, and Kenny Lippman provided some long relief by rediscovering the same rapid-fire pitching that coincided with the Terps’ earlier rally.

The Terps nearly slipped up in the bottom of the seventh, allowing multiple base runners before an Alex Knapp double with two outs created a real threat to the score. The outfield wrangled in the loose ball and pitched it to Shaw, who fired a missile to Shliger to catch runner Reece Woody inches from home plate and keep the game knotted at 10 apiece.

This play arrived in the midst of a tense, almost three-inning long stretch of scoreless baseball for both teams. The Maryland bats worked themselves into a favorable spot by loading the bases with two outs, but Shaw couldn’t capitalize as his groundout stranded everyone involved.

George Mason, conversely, loaded the bases with no outs to give themselves a wider window. A leadoff walker in Jordan Smith made his way to third after Shliger’s pickoff attempt went awry, and Vaughn intentionally walked the next two batters to challenge the fringes of the Patriots’ lineup. Six-hole hitter Stallings flew out, but the runner from third scored to steal an 11-10 win for another date with Wake Forest. The Terps collapsed in their first back-to-back losses in nearly a month, and George Mason seized the honor of closing the door on the Big Ten champs.