There will not be an undefeated team heading into the Big Ten Tournament title game. Saturday’s second semifinal saw Maryland take down Northwestern, 9-5, ending the Wildcats’ seven-game winning streak and forcing a second-winner-take-all semifinal. With a rematch on deck, here’s a look at the weekend’s first meeting, fourth in the last two weeks, between the Terrapins and Wildcats.
Terps start the game with homer-happy
It’s becoming easier to spot a spotted lion than it is to have a Big Ten Tournament game without a home run. The Terrapins got on the board first with a two-out home run to left field by Marty Costes, in the bottom of the first. The Terrapins doubled their pleasure in the second inning when Will Watson and Kevin Smith started the at-bat with back-to-back home runs to right field, pushing the fourth-seeded Terrapins in front, 3-0.
Smith’s Jekyll-Hyde day
The home run was the 11th of the year for Smith, who heads into the final weeks of likely his Maryland career. The junior shortstop is regarded as the Big Ten’s top positional prospect, capable of being drafted in the first three rounds of June’s MLB Draft. Smith’s stock is based on being a sure-handed shortstop, with some power, but there are questions about his hitting ability. After his second-inning home run, Smith struck out in the fourth and again in the fifth, the latter leaving the bases loaded in a tied game.
Hoscheit’s continued scored Earth tour
Maryland may have had the early lead, but with Joe Hoscheit anchored in the Northwestern three-hole, the Wildcats weren’t out of the game. Lifting his average to .361, Hoscheit went 2-for-4 with a run, two RBI and his second home run of the tournament gave Northwestern a 5-3 lead in the fifth. Leading Northwestern’s offensive attack, Hoscheit is 5-for-13 with five runs and three RBI this week.
Wildcats strike in the fourth
Trailing 3-0, Northwestern found its offense in the fourth, behind Hoscheit. The senior recorded a one-out single to start Northwestern’s rally. After a fielder’s choice and walk, Connor Lind hit a two-out, two-strike, double down the left field line. Lind and Jack Claeys scored in the next at-bat when Leo Kaplan lined a two-strike single up the middle, knotting the game, 3-3. Kaplan would move to second on a stole base and advanced to third when the throw to second by pitcher Ryan Hill was errant, but was stranded 90 feet away.
Umpire injury delay
After Northwestern scored two runs in the top of the fifth of Hoscheit’s second home run of the tourney, any momentum the Wildcats held was halted. Home plate umpire Daniel Jimenez was hit flush on the hand by a pitch from NU starter Josh Davis. The game was delayed forty minutes as Jimenez was tended to and a replacement umpire summoned.
Entering the game in the seventh inning, Maryland right-handed pitcher John Murphy continued to give the Terrapins a boost. For the second time this tournament, Murphy pitched three innings of shutout baseball. Like his appearance against Purdue, the sophomore allowed just one hit in his relief outing. Though he did not strikeout eight batters again, sending two batters down on strike, Murphy was efficient in needing just 44 pitches to cap Maryland’s victory, likely being ready to pitch again in the championship if Maryland were to beat Northwestern one more time.
Wildcats unravel in the seventh
If Northwestern is unable to rebound and knock off Maryland in their rematch, the Wildcats can look back to the seventh and see self-inflicted wounds that doomed their season. As Maryland broke the tie, then open the game, Northwestern filled the box score with free bases, extra opportunities and miscues. The inning featured Northwestern issuing two four-pitch walks, a full count-walk, hitting a batter, unable to field a sacrifice bunt and a throwing error from shortstop. Maryland tacked on four runs to put the game away.
Northwestern’s missed opportunity
Spencer Allen’s team sat in the driver’s seat heading into Saturday’s game. Northwestern had more than 24 hours rest, playing the first game on Friday, while Maryland was coming off of a game that ended very early Saturday morning, shortly after 1:30 a.m. The Wildcats also needed beat twice to prevent a second trip to the Big Ten Tournament championship game. But with the Maryland win, it’s a one-game series, in a contest after NU used six pitchers. Northwestern is not out of the tournament, and the Wildcats have played well over the last month leading up to a spot in the semis, but the road ahead is much more difficult.
Terrapins avoid 2016 repeat
A year ago, Maryland entered Saturday play of the Big Ten Tournament in the same situation, needing to win two games after falling on Thursday. In Omaha, Maryland ran into the tournament’s hottest team, Iowa, and were turned back 11-0, bring their season to an end. On the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, the more wins for Maryland the better and John Szefc’s team did not see an exit from the tournament by Saturday’s dinner time. Maryland can remove any doubt from their regional prospects with two wins and have the potential to make this year’s day four a memorable one.
A game time of 3:27 pushed the start of Saturday’s second game between Iowa and Minnesota to 6:35 p.m. ET. With only two of the tournament’s 12 games played in under three hours, it doesn’t look like the second game between the Terps and Wildcats will start before the tournament’s 10 p.m. ET curfew. Needing to get one more game in before the title game participants are set, it is unsure if the Big Ten will break their curfew, if it is not met, or have Maryland and Northwestern play before the title game. Further puzzling the picture is a Sunday forecast of rain with the potential of lightning. It will either be a long Saturday or long Sunday for the Terps and Wildcats in pursuit of the tournament crown.