FULLERTON, CALIFORNIA — It appeared Sunday's game between the Terrapins baseball team and Cal State Fullerton would remain scoreless headed to the top of the sixth inning.
Titans catcher Chris Hudgins received an accurate throw to the plate and went to apply a tag to Terps catcher Justin Morris. The Titans crowd cheered and starting pitcher Colton Eastman pumped his fist.
But then the ball squirted out from Hudgins' glove and rolled behind him; Morris' slide jarred the ball loose, and the Terps took a 1-0 lead. That was all the offense the Terps needed as right-hander Brian Shaffer threw a complete-game shutout to give coach John Szefc's team a series win over the No. 23 Titans.
"The story of the game is clearly [Shaffer]," Szefc said. "The guy shuts out [Cal State Fullerton] at home on a Sunday and doesn't walk a batter."
Other than Shaffer, Szefc said, the biggest factor was his team's defense. On that front, perhaps the biggest moment was another play at the plate involving the two catchers.
In the bottom of the second inning, it seemed as though the Titans would break open the scoring. With a runner on first and one out, Terps right fielder Madison Nickens tried to make a sliding catch charging in on a sinking line drive.
The ball got by Nickens and trickled to the wall. Senior Anthony Papio raced over from center field to retrieve the ball and get it into the infield. The relay throw to the plate was in time to catch Hudgins trying to score on the triple.
For a moment, it also seemed the next batter had given the home team a lead when he smacked a Shaffer pitch back up the middle.
But the hard ground ball kicked off Shaffer's feet directly to second baseman Nick Dunn, who threw to first to end the inning.
After that, Shaffer found a groove.
"The first two or three innings, it was kind of shaky," Shaffer said. "But after that it was almost like I put it in cruise control and all my pitches started to come together."
The sophomore retired the next 10 batters, tallying four of his five strikeouts, until the Titans hit a one-out single in the bottom of the sixth. After another single put runners on the corners, Shaffer induced a chopper to the right of Dunn that the Terps defense turned into a double play, ending the inning.
"It was like, I've got to get this out," Shaffer said. "And it just so happened they hit it in the completely perfect spot."
Eastman also found a rhythm during the game's middle innings. After a double from Papio to lead off the third, Eastman retired 10 straight batters before putting Morris on with a walk.
The rhythm was broken by the sound of Nickens turning on a fastball and sending it off the top of the wall in right-center field to drive in the game's only run.
Shaffer breezed through the final three innings — using fewer than 10 pitches in each frame — for the first complete game of his career. The Pylesville native's previous career high was seven innings.
"He made some pitches early in the count and got some [batters] that got themselves out a little bit," Szefc said, "but if he's not making quality pitches early, that's probably not happening."
The 6-foot-5 righty is no stranger to big performances, having thrown seven strong innings against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament last year to end the Illini's 27-game win streak and keep the Terps' postseason hopes alive.
Still, Shaffer said his outing Sunday was special.
"I've never thrown a nine-inning game," Shaffer said. "It was pretty surreal."