RU earns season’s most lopsided win
Rutgers head baseball coach Fred Hill essentially replaced junior catcher Jeff Melillo — the usual No. 3 hitter — with freshman outfielder Matt Ackerman, who had stepped to the plate once this season for the Scarlet Knights.
It was common for sophomore Michael Zavala to catch for Melillo while Melillo served as designated hitter or first baseman.
After a series of lineup changes before yesterday’s game against Fordham at Bainton Field, junior rightfielder Steve Zavala hit third, Melillo got the day off and Ackerman was the new lineup addition.
After two RBI from Ackerman and three from Zavala, Hill has no regrets on his changes in Rutgers’ 15-4 win, the Knights’ largest margin of victory this season.
“We hit the ball very well,” Hill said. “The weekday pitching isn’t the best either, so we can’t get too excited about it. But we did what we were supposed to do — that’s the best thing.”
Hill chose a risky game to switch around his lineup. Fordham had won five of six, including last weekend’s sweep of Temple. Rutgers (16-15, 4-5) lost three of four before facing the Rams.
The eighth inning of Saturday’s 17-10 loss to St. John’s was fresh in the Knights’ minds. Rutgers used three pitchers and allowed seven unearned runs off of three errors in the defeat. They walked off of Bainton Field losers of their first home Big East series.
The Knights wanted to leave home differently against Fordham (14-19). They only took two innings to change the impression.
“We were disappointed in the one inning we had against St. John’s,” Hill said. “We’re pretty resilient. We’ve had a number of games … where the next game we bounced back and played pretty well.”
Zavala and Ackerman assured this game would be different.
Ackerman stepped up for his second career at-bat when Rutgers led, 2-1. The Pope John XXIII High School product lined one to right center for a two-run double to begin his 3-for-4 game.
“[I was] just working hard, seeing the pitchers,” Ackerman said. “I started out with that big hit, so I just went out there to get more.”
A four-run lead was not enough for the Knights. Rutgers loaded the bases for Zavala’s second at-bat, and Zavala’s double cleared them.
The eight-run second inning was Rutgers’ greatest offensive output in an inning all season.
“You don’t get that very often, and that kind of changes the complexion,” Hill said of the inning.
Zavala and Ackerman were not finished producing, and neither were the Knights. After four innings in which the Knights scored only one run, they added six in the seventh.
Ackerman and Zavala recorded their third and second hits of the game, respectively. Both scored, but it took an effort from the entire Knights lineup — no play drove in more than one run except a two-RBI triple from sophomore pinch-hitter Joe D’Annunzio.
Rutgers pitchers also had bad memories from last week, when they gave up 42 runs in five games.
Junior righty Pat O’Leary was on the mound for 5 1/3 of those innings. He allowed only two runs in his starting debut against Columbia, but he left New York with a no-decision.
O’Leary (1-0) had another successful start against Fordham, allowing two earned runs in five innings.
“With a big lead like that, you just try to throw strikes and not get people on base to try to get the game moving,” O’Leary said. “You don’t want to blow a lead like that.”
With a secure lead, Hill put in replacement players on offense and defense. After nearly clearing his roster, the Knights still finished with Melillo on the bench.