Knights avoid upset with clutch hit
The Rutgers baseball team entered yesterday’s game against Delaware with a 5-0 record in midweek matchups at Bainton Field.
But the Scarlet Knights have trailed in three of those games, and they trailed the Blue Hens when they had to use the bullpen, a legitimate concern all season.
No regularly used Rutgers reliever has an ERA less than 4.09, so head coach Fred Hill hoped junior righthander Pat O’Leary would pitch longer than six innings.
Hill did not get his wish, but Rutgers still beat Delaware, 6-4.
“I’m always nervous anyway. Was I nervous? Yeah,” Hill said of going to the bullpen, “but I knew we had the capability of striking like we did.”
When the Knights have needed a clutch hit, sophomore second baseman Nick Favatella, who has two walk-off hits this season, often pulled through. They needed that again.
“Going into every at-bat — with runners on or not, not matter what the situation is — it’s always pretty much the same,” Favatella said. “You see some good pitches and get aggressive.”
It did not matter that this time Rutgers was trailing, 4-3, in the seventh inning. Favatella still pulled through with an opposite-field triple that scored junior first baseman Bill Hoermann and sophomore leftfielder Joe D’Annunzio.
Rutgers’ win also required effective relief pitching. Senior righthander Willie Beard was the first and last out of the bullpen in his team-leading 18th appearance.
Sometimes Rutgers (23-17, 8-7) gets the Beard who led the bullpen with 26 strikeouts. But Beard also entered the game with nine walks allowed, the second most among Rutgers relievers.
Beard’s outing began shaky when Delaware rightfielder Nick Ferdinand took a risky lead off first to take the attention off of Blue Hens centerfielder Cameron Travalini at third.
With an instigated run-down and sophomore shortstop Pat Sweeney’s throwing error to first, Ferdinand’s risk paid off and Travalini extended the lead to 4-2.
“Errors happen, it’s not really a big deal,” Beard said. “We’ve made errors in the past, we’ve come back, we’ve done good things.”
Beard (3-0) started the eighth inning looking like his more effective self by locating his curveball, and he ended without an earned run allowed in three innings.
O’Leary left the mound with a combination of good and bad luck in his outing, when he allowed three earned runs.
Third base umpire Bruce Martin was the bad luck when Delaware (20-19) third baseman EJ Stoltzfus hit a line drive toward second base right into Martin’s chest, which allowed for everyone to advance a base.
That set up a RBI sacrifice fly for Delaware shortstop Brock Niggebrugge, giving the Blue Hens a 3-2 lead.
The Rutgers defense brought O’Leary’s good luck by recording 11 flyouts that could have gone for more hits.
Opponents have almost upset the Knights a few times in midweek games, but Rutgers extended its record in those games to 6-0 in the same way it won other close games.
“We just got a couple breaks,” Hill said.