RU takes Cincy series to recover from losses
Following a Big East series loss to South Florida, rainouts of two midweek games delayed the Rutgers baseball team's best opportunity to right the ship until this weekend's matchup with Cincinnati.
But despite any possible rust that collected in five days without playing, the Scarlet Knights flipped their record from last weekend to take two of three from the Bearcats in Piscataway.
"Anytime you win a series, even though you don't win all three, at least it's an accomplishment," said sophomore southpaw Rob Smorol, who improved to 3-4 after winning his Saturday start. "It's nice to win three, but it's not always going to happen and we know that."
With victories in the series' first two contests, the Knights (14-19, 6-6) entered yesterday looking for their first Big East series sweep of the season.
But a solo shot by Cincinnati's Braden Kline off sophomore reliever Rob Corsi's second offering in the top of the 10th allowed the Bearcats to finally suppress a resurgent Knights squad.
Head coach Fred Hill's lineup had plenty of opportunities to score in the contest, but stranded 12 runners on base, and their biggest opportunity came in the eighth.
The inning started with a pair of walks, with the Knights plating their first run off an RBI single by senior Brandon Boykin, who went 2-for-5 in the game, and cutting the deficit to 6-4.
Two batters later with still nobody out, freshman outfielder Joe D'Annunzio sent a fly ball to right field, appearing deep enough to score Boykin from third. But Cincy rightfielder Justin Riddell had other plans, and sent a one-hop laser to home and barely beat Boykin at the plate.
"I was sent and I was looking to go myself," Boykin said. "It's one of those things where you're kind of banking that he's not going to make a perfect throw. If the throw's not perfect he's not getting me out, so you've got to take the risk."
Smorol earned his second consecutive win in a complete dismantling of the Bearcats in Game 2, when the Clark, N.J., native struck out a career-high 12 in seven innings of work.
The lefty allowed just two runs and four hits in the outing, which gave the Knights plenty of room to let the bats loose on each of Cincinnati's four pitchers in the game.
"[Saturday] was the first game of the year where every single pitch was working for me," said Smorol, who allowed one earned run. "When everything is going good, it's tough to beat that."
Due to heavy rain at Bainton Field on Saturday afternoon, the contest was suspended until noon yesterday, when the squads completed the final three innings of play.
But with a 15-2 lead following the delay, it was more than clear the Knights were headed toward a Big East series victory.
A colossal fifth inning gave the Knights all the runs they needed to make it two straight over the Bearcats, as Hill's lineup tacked on just three hits in the seven-run frame. Much of the scoring occurred as a result of four Cincy errors — six total in the game — which the Knights took full advantage of in the 17-2 victory.
"We haven't been hitting as well as we should, but lately we've been more aggressive swinging the bats," Boykin said. "When you swing at good pitches, good things happen."
Unlike Game 2, both squads needed extra frames to decide the series opener, but thanks to two key performances by a pair of Knights, Rutgers rallied to topple the Bearcats, 3-2, in 11 innings.
Sophomore righthander Tyler Gebler once again provided a spark from the No. 1 slot in the rotation, going a full nine innings while allowing eight hits and striking out three. It was the third time this season that the Toms River, N.J., native went at least nine innings in a start, as the Knights' ace kept it close after Cincinnati tied the game at 2 in the sixth.
But when it came time for a clutch hit, a senior took hold of the reins, as Boykin stepped to the plate in the 11th with one out and two men in scoring position.
The Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) product took the first offering from Bearcats reliever Brian Sand and sent it deep to right field, plenty deep enough to plate Hopkins and walk off with the win.
The Knights now stand tied for sixth in the conference with Louisville after the series win, but can gain some serious ground and make a huge statement by toppling second-place Pittsburgh next weekend in their three-game set.
But for Hill, it has to happen one series at a time.
"We're in the middle of the pack, so if we can win every series and keep going like this I think we're going to be alright," Hill said. "It was very important to win this series."