Infielder Juli Strange led off the seventh inning with a line drive into left field before infielder Anna Kufta ensured the Maryland softball team ended its home opener Saturday with a victory. The freshman knocked Maryland's fourth double of the game past the center fielder, scoring Strange for a 5-4 walk-off win over Binghamton.
Then, in the second game of the day against Buffalo, the Terps grabbed a 6-3 win, marking two triumphs to start the Maryland Invitational and their highest win total for a tournament this year.
"Hitting is contagious," coach Julie Wright said. "When you see someone do it in front of you, it's easier for you to do it, and when they do it, it's easier for the next person to do it, and that momentum just sort of flows."
In their opening victory over the Bearcats, the Terps didn't record more than one run in an inning, but three times, Maryland scored with consecutive hits. The Terps capitalized on power hitting that had been missing from the offense this season.
Catcher Kristina Dillard hit her first home run of the season to lead off the second inning. It was Maryland's first long ball since Kufta blasted her third against Northwestern State on Feb. 17.
Against the Bearcats, Maryland also hit four doubles, including two from designated player Hannah Dewey. Wright said the Terps had focused on finding that rhythm in practice. The Terps out-hit the Bearcats, 12-2, before out-hitting the Bulls, 9-6.
"We had a lot of focus on our offense," Dillard said. "It's all just about execution, whether you need just a base hit, need it in the green or just a bunt. We're here to do what we need to do in the moment."
Binghamton tied the game in the fourth with a two-run homer from infielder Kate Richard. But Maryland retook the lead after Dewey notched a two-out double, and outfielder Amanda Brashear hit an RBI single.
In the sixth, the Terps fell behind, 4-3, after three throwing errors. Binghamton scored twice in the frame without a hit. Former UCLA coach Sue Enquist, who the Terps worked with this offseason, said Maryland has the tendency to slog through one or two bad innings in a game, but she believes eliminating those lapses could improve the team's win total by about 40 percent.
Maryland responded to the adversity, first by tying it in the sixth, and then walking off with a 5-4 win.
"They rebounded well, the energy was great," Wright said. "They never looked backward, which they have done somewhat in the beginning of the season, so I was very impressed with the way they handled that."
On defense, meanwhile, infielder Skylynne Ellazar shifted to second base in both games for the first time this season. After a team-high 12 errors starting at third or shortstop in the team's first 23 games, Wright moved the Hawaiian junior to her "natural position."
But the Terps still struggled in the field with six errors, including two from Ellazar and Kufta apiece. Despite the mistakes, Wright liked the way the infield gelled.
"They're still getting comfortable in spots," Wright said. "It's been a year and a half since [Strange] played third, and Kufta's never played short, and [Ellazar's] never actually played second in college, and [Brigette Nordberg] is an outfielder at first. So, they're getting comfortable but I really like that mix even though they made some mistakes today."
Kufta said the team kept her comfortable at a position at which she didn't have much experience, though she was responsible for one of the errors in Binghamton's two-run sixth inning to take a 4-3 lead.
But she amended that when she came to the plate in the seventh inning with Strange on second. Her double was just out of reach of center fielder's Jessica Rutherford diving reach to cap Maryland's first home game of the season.
"It's a bounce back," Kufta said. "It was kind of a 'So what?' mentality. Yes, they scored, but we're going to have to score more, obviously, to beat them."