Knights win opening conference series
The rain picked up at Seton Hall, and junior pitcher Jerry Elsing of the Rutgers baseball team had the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning.
As up and down as relief pitchers are, one bad pitch could not have been more consequential for the Scarlet Knights.
It could have meant blowing an 8-6 lead, not getting the chance to bat in the ninth inning because of weather and losing the series to the in-state rival Pirates.
Seton Hall rightfielder Will Walsh popped out to junior first baseman Bill Hoermann, and the Knights got out of the jam that nearly prevented Saturday’s 9-6 victory.
After Friday’s doubleheader in which the Knights dropped the first game, 3-0, and won the second, 10-2, the final win clinched the series.
“It is always our goal to take two of three when we go into a series,” said head coach Fred Hill. “Especially going against one of our rivals, we were not going to give in.”
The Knights (11-10, 2-1) won under unexpected conditions. One week removed from a shutout, junior lefthander Rob Corsi left in the second inning because of an undisclosed injury.
But the Rutgers tides abruptly turned with a six-run second inning to take a 6-1 lead.
Sophomore centerfielder Brian O’Grady and senior third baseman Pat Kivlehan accounted for five RBIs.
O’Grady hit a triple with the bases loaded, and Kivlehan hit his second home run of the season.
Seton Hall freshman pitcher Jose Lopez left the mound after that inning, and the Knights took advantage by changing their approach.
“You definitely don’t want to chase pitches,” Kivlehan said, “but that’s what we did given our matchup.”
The Knights’ 10-2 victory in Game 2 was a bounce-back win, the type of win they have focused on this season after tough losses.
“We had to move forward knowing we had to win the next two games to win this series,” Hill said. “I think our guys have that mentality to quickly forget what happened and go to the next game.”
The Knights’ bats heated up for 13 hits despite lineup changes. Sophomore Michael Zavala played catcher for junior Jeff Melillo, who shifted to designated hitter.
But Zavala maintained the offensive production at the position, going 2-for-5 with a walk and three RBI.
Junior righty Rob Smorol maintained the Rutgers lead with one run allowed in six innings to earn the first Knights win in Big East play.
“You lose the first game, and obviously you don’t want to lose the series, so the middle game is the most important game in the series,” Smorol said.
The final game of the doubleheader was the first game in which a Seton Hall (10-12, 1-2) pitcher left early. Junior lefty Rick Mangione departed after 1 2/3 innings after allowing four runs and putting seven on the base paths.
That was not the case for junior righty Jon Prosinski, who shut out the Knights in their Big East opener. Prosinski struck out five and did not walk a single batter.
“He was hitting his spots. He could locate his pitches,” Kivlehan said. “We were just a little nervous the first game.”
Hill said the improvement throughout the series was promising for the rest of Big East play, but the Knights are still a work in progress.
“All the teams in this conference are tough,” he said. “I am pleased with this weekend, but we have to put it behind us and keep working to get better.”