By the time shortstop Kevin Smith hit a ground ball to Northwestern shortstop Jack Dunn in the second, he knew how Wildcats left-hander Cooper Wetherbee was attacking the lineup. In the early innings of the Maryland baseball team's 7-1 win Friday afternoon, the Terps described Wetherbee as "sneaky" to the junior infielder.
Wetherbee retired five straight to begin the contest. After third baseman AJ Lee singled to end that skid in the second, Wetherbee retired Smith to conclude the frame.
But in Smith's second at-bat, he adjusted to Wetherbee's approach, singling and scoring in what became a two-run fifth inning. In the sixth, Smith hit Wetherbee's 3-2 fastball over the left field wall, one of his two home runs Friday. Smith's multi-homer day made him the first Maryland player to hit at least 10 in a season since Jose Cuas hit 11 in 2015.
"I've been thinking up the middle all year," Smith said. "I got a pitch to hit and luckily it went out. Trying to put together some good at-bats. [The pitch] was a little down in the middle of the plate."
While Smith's first hit against Wetherbee contributed to Maryland's first offensive burst–center fielder Zach Jancarski's RBI single and a passed ball gave right-hander Brian Shaffer a two-run lead to work with–the first home run came with two outs and extended the lead.
It followed Lee's two-out RBI single, so Lee was on first base when Smith connected with the hanging pitch. The sophomore's adamant it was the farthest he has seen a ball hit at Bob "Turtle" Smith Stadium during his two years in College Park.
"That was a shot," Lee said. "He knew it was gone. I knew it was gone. It was just good to see."
Smith's home run pushed Maryland's advantage to five, though Shaffer wouldn't need the extra run support.
Over eight innings, Shaffer allowed six hits and one run while walking a batter and striking out eight. His lone miscue was a hanging fastball that Northwestern right fielder Grant Peikert drove to left field for an RBI double in the eighth.
Shaffer tossed just 89 pitches in his final home start of the regular season, and if it weren't for Maryland's extended offensive fifth and sixth innings and the fact that Shaffer is scheduled to pitch Thursday against High Point, he would have received the opportunity to pitch the ninth, coach John Szefc said.
"He was in the mid-90s in the seventh probably and there were probably 15 pro guys here to see him," Szefc said. "We were able to keep him below 90 pitches. In this college game, you try to do that so if you need to extend him, you can."
Smith's second homer in the eighth against right-hander Danny Katz extended Maryland's advantage to 7-1, seemingly putting the game out of reach for the Wildcats. Though the ball cleared the left field wall again, in this instance on a hanging slider, Smith said he was "out in front a little bit but got some barrell on it."
It was a notable sequence for Smith, a preseason All-American who has hit toward the bottom of Maryland's order this season. Friday, he helped the Terps build a late lead that right-hander John Murphy secured in the ninth.
"Home runs are always good," Smith said. "Whether we're up or down by a lot, we can put up two, three, four, five runs real quick. We're swinging hard. We're swinging at good pitches. You can't think about it. It's just stuff that happens through your approach."