July 16, 2018 | ° F

Knights take two of three from Lions

Photo by The Daily Targum |

Senior lefthander Rob Smorol looked strong in his second start, improving his ERA to 1.93 this season in two games.

Of the three games against Miami on Feb. 16 and 17, the Rutgers baseball team collected 20 hits in the series.

In the Scarlet Knights’ 17-7 win Sunday against Old Dominion, they nearly matched that with 16 hits.

The surge in offense was somewhat of a relief for senior catcher Jeff Melillo, who hit 2-for-4 with four RBI in the victory.

“It’s definitely a good thing to have all of that hard work pay off and to see the results on the field,” Melillo said. “I know a bunch of us started off slow, but we just kept working all week — and the results paid off.”

Photo: The Daily Targum

Senior catcher Jeff Melillo drove in four runs in Sunday’s 17-7 win against  ODU.

For a team that had a hard time bringing in runners in scoring position the week before, all nine starters touched home plate in the contest.

The game was put away in the fourth inning, when Rutgers brought in five runs on three hits.

Melillo drove in two runners with a double off of the fence — while junior designated hitter Lou Clemente brought in the last run of the inning on a double himself to put the Knights up, 11-5.

Rutgers had no problem generating offense early. It drove in five runs in the top of the first as well.

Though Ross Costello has struggled in the Knights’ first six games of the season with a .125 batting average, the junior third baseman blasted a grand slam to put the Knights up, 5-0, in that first inning.

Head coach Fred Hill said the offensive production was a positive because of the quality of the opponent.

“I thought they were a pretty sound club,” Hill said. “It would be different if you were playing a poor team, but they’re pretty decent.”

That was evident in Game 2, where Rutgers lost in the final innings.

The Lions broke up a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the eighth when catcher Michael Perez drove in outfielder Ben Verlander with an RBI single.

Part of Rutgers’ problem in the second game was the eight runners left on base.

“I think we had our opportunities to score,” Hill said. “We only had two errors on the weekend, so we’re not giving them runs. … I don’t think there was too much going on in terms of bad play. I think we thought the weekend went really well.”

One of those errors occurred in the first game, but clutch hitting and a strong performance on the hill from senior lefthander Rob Smorol produced a 3-0 shutout for the Knights’ (2-4) first win of the season against Old Dominion (2-3).

Smorol sprinkled four hits through eight innings, an effort he credits to his command in his second start.

“I felt good. After about the second inning I got into the groove with all my pitches,” Smorol said. “I was able to throw my fastball, changeup, cutter, curveball — all over for strikes. When all of your pitches are working, you feel pretty good.”

For his effort, Smorol was named to the Big East Honor Roll, an acknowledgment that can only make Hill more confident in his No. 1 starter.

“It’s extremely important,” Hill said on Smorol’s performance. “Obviously, you need a guy on your staff like that — and a guy you send out there, who is going to start the series out for you and beat almost anyone he gets.”

Though Smorol pitched the Knights’ best game of the season, it was not until the eighth inning when the Clark, N.J., native could feel safe with his performance.

With one out, junior second baseman Nick Favatella drove in fellow classmate shortstop Pat Sweeney with an RBI double to break the 1-1 tie. Junior outfielder Brian O’Grady brought in Favatella later in the inning for the insurance run.

With the first win away, Hill said the team could relax.

Smorol shares that feeling.

“It’s definitely getting the monkey off of your back,” Smorol said. “When you lose three, you’re just looking to get one, and we did.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @BradlyDTargum.

By Bradly Derechailo

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