Hojnar’s 2 homers send Maryland to its first series win in over four weeks

Photo by Chris Lyons/Maryland Athletics

Joey McMannis faced arguably the most pressure in his college career starting the fifth inning. McMannis allowed a solo home run to start the inning and then in a blink of an eye, the bases were loaded with no outs. McMannis faced what appeared to be an insurmountable challenge and rose to the occasion. 

McMannis got all three outs of the inning allowing only two runs to cross the plate ending the inning with a ground ball hit back to him. As the Freshman jogged over to flip the ball to Eddie Hacopian, the two hyped each other up and exited the field with a high five.

“He showed a lot of gumption getting out of that situation there,” head coach Matt Swope said postgame.  

McMannis pitched five innings in Maryland’s (28-17, 8-10 Big Ten) Sunday win over Illinois (25-15, 11-4 Big Ten), 11-7, winning its first conference series since March 24 against Michigan State. The win breaks a stretch of four consecutive conference series losses. 

McMannis allowed four earned runs throughout his five innings of work, scattering seven hits through the 15 outs. McMannis only allowed two extra-base hits, which were two solo home runs from Connor Milton and Vytas Valincius. A big part of the right-hander’s success was his two-seam fastball, Swope said. 

“They weren’t hitting the two-seam at all,” Swope said. “I got on him a little bit about swiping a couple of breaking balls that they ended up hitting on there, just he was pounding that two-seam and they kept pounding it in the ground.” 

A third of McMannis’ outs came on the ground. 

Maryland’s offense backed up its Freshman starter with its own power stroke blasting two solo home runs in the first third of the game. The home runs came off the bats of Chris Hacopian and Sam Hojnar who continued their chase for the Maryland lead in home runs. 

The solo blasts were just two of Maryland’s seven runs scored in the first three frames as the Terps took an early lead just as they did a game ago. The Terps had nine hits in the first three innings, four of them for extra bases, to go along with three walks. Eddie Hacopian recorded three RBI in that span ending the series batting six for 13 with seven RBI on the weekend. 

Maryland’s offense added a run in the seventh to increase its lead to 8-4, heading into the final two innings of play. That insurance run became all the more important after the events of the top of the eighth. 

Evan Smith embarked on his third inning of relief and just like McMannis innings earlier, the Freshman reliever faced a bases-loaded jam with only one out. Smith struck out Drake Westcott for the second out and was a strike away from getting out of the situation unscathed against the dangerous Valincius. 

The junior hitter increased his RBI total to five on the day with a bases-clearing double to right center, cutting the Terps lead down to one. 

The Terps lead increased to four in the bottom half of the inning on Hojnar’s second home run of the game, this one a three-run shot over the batter’s eye in center. Hojnar ended the day with a 12 to 11 advantage over Chris in the long ball category after blasting the three-run homer, replacing the insurance runs Maryland lost in the top half. 

“I knew I was gonna have a chance to drive in some runs, give us some space with two outs and so I knew a hit would score a run and so I was just looking for a fastball over the plate and then got to an advantage count,” Hojnar said postgame. “I kind of knew fastball was coming and he gave me, gave me kind of [an] elevated fastball what I was looking for so [I] stayed with it and got enough on it to get it out.’

Hojnar’s home run capped off Maryland’s offensive day with the Terps connecting for 12 hits, five walks, and only three strikeouts. Maryland’s pitching allowed only 10 hits while striking out nine. 

Maryland’s win ended Illinois’ unbeaten streak in conference series this year. The win doesn’t change much in the Big Ten standings as Maryland remains in ninth place looking in on the conference tournament and Illinois remains slotted in the top two of the conference.

The Terps will try to carry this brand of baseball and the winning momentum into their mid-week game against Towson on Tuesday. 

“We kind of came into today with no doubts and it started feeling like we were feeling at the beginning of the year when we were off to that hot start,” Hojnar said. “It didn’t feel like a huge, unexpected win for us, it just kind of felt like we’re getting back to playing our brand of baseball.”