Young arm wins despite vocal foes
If anyone at Bainton Field could not read the scoreboard yesterday, they might have thought Lafayette consistently held a lead against the Rutgers baseball team.
The Leopards dugout loudly cheered and clapped, only when its team was at-bat.
But Lafayette’s players barely said a word while the Scarlet Knights hit in Rutgers’ 8-3 win.
Lafayette (10-27-1) threatened to break the Knights’ five-game winning streak. The loss would have been from the team with the worst record the Knights (21-15, 7-5) have played in that stretch.
But that was until the bottom of the seventh.
Sophomore shortstop Pat Sweeney began the inning with a walk when the score remained, 3-3. After Sweeney scored thanks to sophomore second baseman Nick Favatella, three more came across in the inning to make it 7-3.
“That kind of broke it open,” said head coach Fred Hill. “It was too uncomfortable until that point. We hit the balls well and right at people. We should have scored earlier, but we’ll take what we got.”
Beginning with Favatella’s double, Rutgers batters recorded three consecutive hits for RBI.
That included junior rightfielder Steve Zavala’s RBI single up the middle, giving him two against Lafayette and six in the past two games.
This time, Zavala hit from the No. 3 hole instead of his familiar No. 5 spot in the lineup as he stood in offensively for junior catcher Jeff Melillo.
“It’s enjoyable,” Zavala said. “You have [junior third baseman Pat] Kivlehan behind you, our hottest hitter right now, so you have some protection.”
Rutgers’ rally dampened Lafayette’s spirits, but that was after sophomore starter Slater McCue was on the mound.
Appearing in only his seventh career game and third start, McCue forced himself to ignore the Leopards’ cheers.
“From the time you’re little, you’re always kind of taught to block everything else out and focus on the catcher and try to get the hitter,” McCue said.
Lafayette was loudest during its most threatening rally in the final inning of McCue’s six-inning start.
A wild pitch and a sacrifice grounder sent Leopards first baseman Tim Lazor from first to third, and McCue faced pinch hitter Eric Anderson with one out.
Anderson had a full count, and McCue gave him a low-inside pitch far out of the strike zone that passed sophomore catcher Michael Zavala.
Lazor ran home on the wild pitch and thought he tied the score, 3-3, but then the call was overturned.
McCue followed to give up his lead on an RBI single, and the Conestoga High School (Pa.) product did not have to pitch out of as many jams as he was used to.
“We’re very encouraged by the way McCue pitched,” Hill said. “He had gotten a lot of work in three starts and work out of the bullpen. He did a real nice job.”
The righthander, who entered with an 11.05 ERA, had his worst inning in the first, when Lafayette took a 2-0 lead.
But Rutgers bounced back in the second. Junior first baseman Bill Hoermann and then freshman leftfielder Vinny Zarrillo hit one run in apiece on fielders’ choices.
McCue pitched three scoreless innings after that, ending with seven strikeouts and two walks. In those innings, the righty’s success blocked out the noise from Lafayette’s dugout.
“You’re always kind of taught to block everything else out and focus on the catcher,” McCue said.