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Maryland baseball team’s dream season ends with a loss to Connecticut

NCAA tournament, College Park regional: Connecticut 11, Maryland 8

Maryland pitcher Gavin Stellpflug can only watch as Connecticut's David Smith rounds the bases on his fourth-inning home run Monday night in College Park. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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Few leads were safe against Maryland’s baseball team, especially in its tiny home stadium. But Connecticut’s early eight-run advantage Monday night was enough to oust the Terrapins from the NCAA tournament.

Maryland nearly tied it on two occasions in the late innings, but the Huskies held on for an 11-8 win. The final game of the College Park regional was a tribute to attrition as much as to skilled baseball, though both played a part in ending the No. 15 seed Terps’ season.

“Our guys emptied the tank,” Maryland Coach Rob Vaughn said. “They gave our team and they gave each other every ounce of who they are. We can leave here with our heads held high, knowing we did some really special things this year.”

The Terps (48-14) trailed 9-1 after four innings but brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh, just five batters after Chris Alleyne’s two-run homer closed the gap to 10-7. Connecticut ace Austin Peterson, pitching in relief on two days of rest, caught Ian Petrutz looking at strike three to escape the jam.

The eighth brought greater consternation for Maryland, which had closed within 10-8 and had Kevin Keister on third base with one out when Alleyne nubbed a grounder. Pitcher Justin Willis’s throw was wide of the bag, but Alleyne was called out for being out of the running lane as he slammed into the first baseman. Keister was sent back to third base, taking what would have been a run off the board. A groundout ended the inning, stranding Keister and leaving the Terps’ deficit at two.

“I was just trying to get down the line and get that run in and just kind of collided there,” Alleyne said. “The guy made the call he thought was the right call, and that’s just baseball. It’s out of my control and out of our control.”

After Connecticut added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, Willis retired the side in order in the ninth and was mobbed by his teammates as the Terps stared in resignation from their dugout.

The Huskies (49-14) will face No. 2 seed Stanford in the super regional round.

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Maryland was denied its first super regional trip since 2015 and had an otherwise memorable season end on a home field that had treated it so well all year. The Terps hosted a regional for the first time and played to raucous crowds throughout the weekend in a facility bolstered by temporary bleacher seating in left-center field.

Maryland set a school record for victories and claimed the Big Ten regular season title in large part because of its stellar play in College Park. The Terps went 27-4 at home, but two of those losses came in a three-night span against the Huskies. Maryland allowed 10 and 11 runs in those defeats, totals that tested even its potent offense’s ability to match.

The Terps began the day second in Division I with 135 home runs, behind only No. 1 seed Tennessee (150), and their logical strategy in a game featuring a pair of taxed pitching staffs was to mash their way past the Huskies. It looked like a sound approach when Luke Shliger belted a leadoff homer to right-center against Connecticut freshman Ian Cooke.

But the ultra-cozy bandbox nestled in the center of Maryland’s campus was also an asset for the Huskies’ hitters. Maryland used nine pitchers in a pair of victories Sunday to extend the regional to a winner-take-all game Monday, leaving its staff on fumes in the finale.

To start, the Terps turned to freshman left-hander Andrew Johnson, who pitched a scoreless 11th inning against Connecticut on Sunday. He retired the first two Huskies, then walked four in a row to force in a run and bring an abrupt end to his outing.

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Things didn’t go better for Sean Heine, who plunked T.C. Simmons with his first pitch, then yielded Matt Donlan’s grand slam — Connecticut’s only hit in the inning — to make it 6-1.

Vaughn mixed and matched all night, sending nine pitchers to the mound. David Falco Jr., who pitched a season-high 3⅓ innings a day earlier in an elimination game against Wake Forest, was understandably not as sharp but still coaxed two innings out of his right arm. So did Saturday night starter Jason Savacool, who worked the fifth and sixth.

Long a baseball afterthought, Maryland was in its second straight NCAA tournament and its fifth since 2014. And with only two seniors in their slugger-happy lineup, the Terps’ window to make a deep June run remains open.

But Connecticut slammed it shut for this season.

“Now that it’s over, I think we’ll be able to look back at a team that broke every record, from wins to homers,” Vaughn said. “Records were shattered this year by this group, and they set the standard for what it means to play here. My job is to help this next group realize that, appreciate that and take as much as pride in this program as these guys have here, and we’ll build this thing and be back.”

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