Maryland baseball coach Rob Vaughn was simply hoping for a good — not great — outing from right-hander Mark DiLuia in the first weekend start of his career Friday. Thrust into his first conference appearance due to a concussion to starter Taylor Bloom, Vaughn wanted the freshman to pound the zone and work into the middle innings, nothing Herculean.
With the Big Ten tournament seemingly the Terps' best chance to reach postseason play for the second straight year, Maryland sacrificed Tuesday's non-conference game to preserve DiLuia, its next-best starter, for the Boilermakers.
If it weren't for the second inning, the plan may have worked.
Maryland's offense hasn't scored more than four runs in its last five contests, so despite DiLuia completing six innings, the Boilermakers' four-run second frame was more than enough to push them to a 7-1 win, securing the Terps' seventh straight series-opening defeat.
"Mark DiLuia was an absolute dude tonight. Came in, competed his tail off," Vaughn said. "I'm proud of the way we competed tonight, that's the bottom line. I thought we competed as a team. Guys ran off a pretty good plan at the plate."
DiLuia's outing should have given the Terps every chance to win.
Instead, yet again, a Maryland lineup expected to slug the ball this year but is instead hitting .239 would have required a gem from its starting pitching, not just a serviceable spot start.
Maryland (16-21, 3-6 Big Ten) entered the weekend in ninth place in the Big Ten, one game behind Purdue (17-16, 5-4) for the would-be final spot of the Big Ten tournament. Friday's loss heightens the importance of the final two games this weekend, as the Terps will likely be reliant on winning the conference tournament to reach an NCAA Regional.
When shortstop AJ Lee led off the first inning with a double, it offered the Terps a chance to manufacture an early lead. But Lee left the bag too early trying to tag on a lineout and was called out on appeal.
The double play was only the start of the Terps' difficulties on offense. The Terps had multiple baserunners four times Friday. They scored only once.
"When you have scuffled with it a little bit, it's in the back of your head," Vaughn said. "When you miss a pitch, it's like, 'Well, now I've really gotta do it.'"
Purdue pounded DiLuia's first-pitch fastballs in the second and plated four runs. His outing seemed destined to resemble the March 20 start against North Carolina, when the Tar Heels rocked him for nine runs in six innings.
Other than that frame, DiLuia didn't allow a run and did what Vaughn had asked of him. The first-year coach wanted at least four innings; DiLuia gave him six. Vaughn hoped for a tight ballgame; DiLuia left with the Terps within three runs, after a two-out single from Lee in the sixth inning brought the Terps within 4-1.
"You get down four, I think the mistake offenses make is, 'We've gotta get four back now," Vaughn said. "We had some situations with leadoff doubles, with second and third, to where even if you scratch one run off, you're still down 4-1 or 4-2. But you keep cutting the deficit to where you're a swing or two away."
Right-hander Alec Tuohy entered in the ninth and allowed three runs to blow the game open and raise his ERA to 13.00.
Had the game been closer, Vaughn likely would've used one of his more established bullpen arms late in the game. Instead, Maryland's offense wasted DiLuia's admirable effort and made its road to an NCAA tournament appearance even more perilous.
"Clearly, we've got to do a better job offensively capitalizing on opportunities," Vaughn said. "But I was proud of the way we competed and proud as heck in Mark DiLuia tonight."