Maryland baseball out-slugged by USF in season opener

Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

The Terps started the season off with a thriller, but this would be one where they came up short. Maryland baseball fell to USF 8-7 on Friday night, as Jacob Orr’s eighth-inning grand slam wasn’t enough to erase the deficit.

The depth of Maryland’s lineup impressed, with the aforementioned Orr getting a triple and a grand slam on the same night, Ian Petrutz going yard in his first at-bat, and Elijah Lambros going 2-3 with another triple.

The offense came and went, perhaps only reappearing a little too late, but it was their pitching that did them in. Jason Savacool gave up five hits and two homers, both to USF’s Bobby Boser, and reliever David Falco Jr. let up three earned runs in his two-thirds-of-an-inning appearance.

“Obviously, you want to come out and get it done, we fell a run short tonight,” Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn said. “It was a good baseball game. I thought we played really good defense; there was some timely hitting on both sides.” 

Maryland rolled out familiar faces Luke Shliger, Matt Shaw and Nick Lorusso, taking up the first three spots in the order, all three of which landed a spot on an All-Big Ten team. Sophomore slugger Ian Petrutz batted cleanup ahead of Eddie Hacopian and yet another All-Conference player, Kevin Kiester. Outfielders Jacob Orr, Bobby Zmarzlak and Elijah Lambros brought up the rear, demonstrating a lineup with no shortage of offensive options.

Terps ace Jason Savacool took the mound for their first game of the season, coming off as impressive of a season as anyone. He pitched an 8-3 season in 2022, which earned him spots on First Team All-Big Ten and Third Team All American, as he positively dealt with a 2.93 ERA.

USF, however, had Savacool’s number from the very beginning. After getting the first two outs in the first inning, the Maryland pitcher let up three straight hits, with the third being a crucial home run to bring all three men aboard. 

Petrutz found a way to instantly respond, smacking a solo shot off the first pitch he saw. Keister then drew a four pitch walk, setting the stage for Orr to dig out a triple and bring the score to 3-2. Orr played sparingly last Spring, only appearing in 21 games. Lambros, formerly of South Carolina, managed another triple soon after, tying the game before the inning concluded to make up for the rocky start.

Orr got the nod tonight when James Woods woke up this morning with back tightness. “[Orr] has been preparing from the jump,” Vaughn said. “That guy was elite in the preseason, we’re sitting here as coaches trying to figure out how to get him in the lineup. That’s what good players do, when their name’s called, they’re ready to go.”

When Savacool got another chance on the bump, he again struggled by grabbing two more outs before letting two more Bulls into scoring position, but escaped the jam with his first strikeout of the night. Concern shifted to his pitch count, which had already climbed to 43 through six outs.

USF pitcher Hunter Mink made the most of his second career start, throwing two 1-2-3 innings to sandwich his spotty second inning. His Maryland counterpart continued to struggle in two-out situations, relenting a double to Travis Sankovich and allowing USF to take a 4-3 lead.

Even after Mink threw yet another three-batter inning in the fourth, Riley Skeen still took his place to start the next inning. After Lambros and Luke Shliger drew walks, Matt Shaw hit into a double play as the brief shot of momentum evaporated. He batted an unimpressive 0-3 to start, betraying the .290 batting average and .985 OPS he put up a season ago.

He demonstrated great effort in the field, though, diving and dominating at shortstop to assist Savacool in his fifth inning of work. The Maryland pitcher was only getting out of innings quicker and quicker as the game and his pitch count continued to mount, further backing up his workhorse reputation.

USF’s Ethan Brown took over for Skeen in the sixth, another piece of the long chain of USF relievers who would each pitch one or two innings before retiring. 

Boser struck again in the bottom of the sixth, hitting a second home run off of Savacool to push the score to 5-3. The righty escaped further damage, but not before throwing his 99th pitch. He racked up five strikeouts with as many earned runs, and while he generally seemed to improve as the night went on, he was ultimately doomed by deep counts.

The Terps’ offense reignited in the seventh inning, with Lambros drilling another rocket down the middle. A pair of walks by Zmarzlak and Shaw loaded the bases for Nick Lorusso, but he failed to capitalize on the opportunity by hitting his fourth straight groundout to strand all three. 

David Falco Jr. was the first Maryland reliever out of the pen, but started his tenure on the mound with a leadoff walk to set up the top of the order. Two straight wild pitches sent the pinch runner to third, and Falco walked the actual batter right after. A bouncer by Brodil resulted in a double play, but wasn’t enough to save the fielder’s choice that allowed the pinch runner to find his way home and bump the lead to three.

Falco continued to struggle in the rain, even with the bases now clear. Three more walks got him right back into deep trouble, and a hit into shallow left by Sankovich extended the lead to 8-3. This ended his night, as Maryland sent in Ryan van Buren in to clean up the mess. They mercifully drew a groundout to finish the disaster inning, but not before digging themselves into an even deeper hole.

Just when hope looked lost, the Terps finally cobbled together a rally. Tanner Mink, the brother to the starter, relented a pair of walks and a Keister hit, setting the stage for Jacob Orr. The right fielder hammered a deep shot well over the left field wall, cutting the lead to 8-7 in the eighth in a wild turn of fortune.

Van Buren continued to impress, keeping USF quiet through the eighth. This set up the heart of the Maryland lineup to serve as its last three outs, and they continued to fight until the bitter end. Both Petrutz and Hacopian drew base hits when each were down to their last strikes, but the dream ended with an easy Keister out.

“I thought offensively, we were elite in the third,” Vaughn said. “I thought we were elite in the eighth and the ninth…little but of a lull there in the middle. Gotta be a little bit better in the third through the seventh.”

Maryland will get their next chance to get back at USF tomorrow at 2 p.m. with Nick Dean on the mound.