Maryland out slugs Illinois, sets up deciding game three

Devin Russell watched as the ball he just hit sailed toward the left field foul pole. The ball curved about 20 feet from the pole landing in foul territory and causing Russell to head back to the plate. A couple of pitches later Russell looked up again, this time paying witness to a go-ahead two-run home run.

“It’s never a good feeling when you hit a foul ball home run because you feel really good seeing it go and then it’s just a long strike and then usually in baseball when you hit a foul ball home run you don’t hit a home run in the same at-bat,” Russell said postgame. “Yeah I got lucky and I got a good pitch to hit.”

Maryland (27-17, 7-10 Big Ten) scored eight runs in the first three innings to help beat Illinois (25-14, 11-3 Big Ten) in the second game of the weekend series, 9-8.  

Russell’s fifth home run of the season put Maryland ahead, 7-5, after the Illini tied the game in the top of the third. Russell finished the game batting one for four with the two RBIs and registering one of Maryland’s seven hits with two outs.

The Terps two-out hitting was a common occurrence in the first third of the game. The Terps scored two of their four first inning runs with two outs to go along with Russell’s two RBI. Kevin Keister and Michael Iannazzo came up with the two-out RBIs with a double and single respectively. 

Eddie Hacopian added to the two-out RBI category with a RBI double to left center in the bottom of the seventh breaking a scoreless three-inning stretch for Maryland. Eddie is four for nine this series.  

Maryland’s offense finished the game with 11 hits, four walks, and four hit-by-pitches. Five of the hits were for extra bases. Maryland only struck out five times which is a big improvement for a team which came into the weekend second in the Big Ten in strikeouts. 

“When you’re putting pressure on teams and you’re not punching in those situations and, you know, balls are going to be put in play, you know, if you’re striking out a lot and not having a good approach and, you know, you’re not going to have those chances,” head coach Matt Swope said. 

The starting pitching for both sides in this game wasn’t ideal as both head coaches pulled their starters before the fourth inning. Illinois starter, Cooper Omans, made it through only an inning giving up five earned runs. Maryland’s starter, Omar Melendez, lasted only two and two thirds innings giving up the same amount of earned runs. 

The two performances strayed from the norm for both pitchers, especially coming off impressive performances their last time out. Omans threw seven innings of one run ball against Northwestern in his prior start and in Melendez’s first Saturday start as a Terp he pitched six innings allowing two earned runs. 

Due to the lack of success of the starters, the game quickly turned into a battle of the bullpens and Swope’s first move was to bring out former Friday starter Kenny Lippman. Lippman pitched well, giving up only one run in his four and a third innings pitched. Lippman struck out five hitters and walked only one, holding Illinois scoreless for three innings.

“Testament to him he’s been pretty good the last couple outings so he did a great job kind of stabilizing the wild first three and four innings right there,” Swope said. 

Logan Berrier took over for Lippman in the eighth and struggled to put away the Illinois lineup. Berrier gave up two hits and walked two in the top of the eighth allowing the Illini to cut Maryland’s, 9-6 lead, down to one.

Berrier stayed on to pitch the ninth and allowed the lead-off hitter to reach base via a base hit. The next batter laid down a sacrifice bunt moving the runner into scoring position, but it didn’t matter. Berrier struck out the remaining two hitters to end the game. 

Maryland’s pitching allowed 15 hits — only three for extra bases — and four walks while striking out eight batters. Maryland’s arms continued to struggle against Camden Janik who is now five for eight this series. 

Maryland will have a chance to win the weekend series on Sunday in the series rubber match. The Terps are 3-0 on Sunday at home this season.