COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Through five innings Friday night, the Maryland offense had been stymied by Rutgers lefthander Grant Besser and his changeup. The Terrapins, who came into the game averaging 8.4 runs per game, had just three hits and one unearned run on the scoreboard.
Making just his second start of the season – and his first traditional start; his previous start was a one-inning, 10-pitch appearance as an opener – Besser had quieted Maryland and outpitched All-American righthander Jason Savacool.
But you can only contain the Terrapins for so long. Shortstop Matt Shaw, a Preseason All-American and projected first round pick, broke the ice for Maryland leading off the sixth inning. He jumped on a changeup up in the zone and drove it the other way, deep to right center field for his 11th home run of the season.
That marked the end of the day for Besser, but the Maryland offense was just starting. The Terrapins pushed another run across in the sixth to tie the game at three and then Nick Lorusso hit a towering three-run home run over the batter’s eye in center field in the seventh inning to give them the lead. Maryland went on to win, 6-4, to open a critical Big Ten series.
Shaw said Besser did not throw him a fastball in his first two plate appearances, continually going to his changeup. So, while on some level, Shaw was expecting to finally see something else, he said he had to respect the changeup and was ready to see it again when he dug into the box to start the sixth.
“I didn’t think they’d throw another changeup but at that point you kind of have to sit on it knowing that they weren’t going to throw the fastball,” he said. “But they threw the changeup, and I got it and hit it.”
Shaw is now hitting .357/.464/.739 with 11 home runs and 11 stolen bases. He leads the Terrapins in OPS (1.203) and has walked (21) more than he’s struck out (19). Shaw now is tied for second in program history with 40 career home runs, just three behind Paul Schager, who has held the record since 1987.
Shaw has really heated up of late and has homered six times in an eight-game hitting streak. Eight of his home runs have come in the last three weeks.
“I’m seeing it well, I’m sitting on the right pitches,” he said. “I would have liked a few more better swings (Friday), but in general I’m seeing it good.”
Shaw also made some strong plays defensively, starting a double play in the sixth and ranging well up the middle in the eighth. His defense is perhaps the biggest open question about his game and scouts are still determining where he fits best at the next level.
On Friday, he showed he can anchor the Terrapins’ defense.
“Everyone wants to talk about Matt Shaw’s bat and every scout tells me how he’s going to have to move to second or he’s a center fielder or a left fielder,” coach Rob Vaughn said. “I watch that guy every day and that’s a big-time shortstop right there and that’s a tribute to his work ethic.”
It was an all-around solid day for Maryland (18-11, 3-1). The Terrapins played clean defense and pitched well against the Scarlet Knights. Savacool overcame a slow start to the game to pitch into the seventh inning and give the Terrapins a quality start. He struck out three batters and worked around four walks and six hits to hold Rutgers to three runs in 6.2 innings. Tommy Kane and Nigel Belgrave pitched well out of the bullpen, holding the Scarlet Knights to one run in the final 2.1 innings to earn the win and the save, respectively.
Maryland isn’t matching its torrid pace from a season ago and, as a result, isn’t tracking toward hosting another regional at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium. But after a tough spell early in the season when the Terrapins lost six of eight games, they’ve righted the ship and are playing like the team Big Ten coaches picked to win the conference. Since Maryland stopped that skid after the season’s third weekend, it is 14-4.
As well as they’ve played lately, the Terrapins may still have another gear to get to. Their offense is second in the conference in scoring and could hit another gear as the weather warms up and the ball starts flying a little further in College Park.Getting outfielder Matt Woods (.305/.427/.561) back from a concussion he sustained Tuesday would be a boost as well.
But this version of the Terrapins is already more than a handful, as Iowa and now Rutgers have found out in conference play. They can beat teams in a variety of ways, thanks to their offensive firepower, experience on the mound and steady defense.
The Terrapins on Friday night lived one of Vaughn’s maxims, that “sometimes, your best players have to be your best players.” With its stars shinning bright, Maryland kept rolling.