Pair of close Rutgers losses inspires team’s confidence
The Rutgers baseball team was outscored, 31-9, and struck out 32 times, and a struggling pitcher took a batted ball to the neck.
But the Scarlet Knights still left Georgia this weekend with their heads high.
They improved throughout the series, culminating in Sunday’s 6-3 loss to No. 9 Georgia Tech. Compared to Saturday’s 9-4 shortcoming and Friday’s 16-2 defeat, that meant progress.
“We were that close to winning the game [Sunday],” said head coach Fred Hill. “Our pre-conference schedule, we have been over .500 once in the 29 years that I’ve been here. That’s not done on purpose, but we play those teams on purpose.”
The Knights (3-6) are on that same pace. But in its 6-3 loss, Rutgers kept up with the southern powerhouse.
Until the Yellow Jackets’ (10-2) three-run seventh inning, the Knights received production from an unlikely source.
Freshman Vinny Zarrillo broke out in the series finale with a two-RBI double off the wall in the fifth inning. The hit was 2 feet from becoming a grand slam and the outfielder’s first-career home run.
Rutgers walked only six batters all weekend, but Georgia Tech also hit the ball 49 times, including 12 times in the finale.
“When you say ‘throw strikes,’ you can throw it down the middle of the plate or you can throw it at the corner,” Hill said. “We probably threw too many down the middle of the plate.”
Much of Georgia Tech’s offensive production came off of the Rutgers bullpen. Ten Yellow Jackets runs were off of Rutgers relief.
But junior righthander Jerry Elsing was an anomaly. The closer pitched multiple innings twice in the series, allowing no runs in 3 1/3 innings.
Elsing threw two innings in the 9-4 loss in the middle of the series. He needed to enter the game early because of junior reliever Dan O’Neill’s struggles. O’Neill allowed two runs without recording an out.
“I started last year, so I’m used to [pitching multiple innings],” Elsing said. “I’ll do whatever I need to do.”
Georgia Tech only led, 6-4, in the sixth inning, but the Yellow Jackets’ pitching shut down some of Rutgers’ hitters.
One of them was sophomore second baseman Nick Favatella, who ended an 18-game hitting streak from last season, going 0-for-7 in the final two games of the series.
“I wasn’t very concerned about the streak,” Favatella said. “They have very good pitching. They were getting a lot of off-speed stuff over the plate.”
But the Knights were at least competitive in the loss. That was not the case in the series-opening 16-2 defeat.
The first loss was when the bullpen struggles began, as the unit gave up seven earned runs in the final 6 2/3 innings.
“We have to get our bullpen squared away and find out who can and who can’t [produce],” Hill said.
Senior pitcher Ryan Fasano filled in for junior righthander Tyler Gebler, scratched because of arm tightness.
Fasano departed in the third inning with an injury of his own.
The Stony Point, N.Y., resident took a line drive off of his neck from Georgia Tech first baseman Jake Davies.
“It shook us up pretty good,” Hill said. “He was down on the ground, looked like he was in bad shape.”
But that was the low point of the weekend, and all the Knights did was progress from there.