Loss in ninth inning completes Panthers sweep
After senior righthander Charlie Law left in the bottom of the ninth with one runner on in a 3-3 ballgame, freshman reliever Howie Brey was called in for the Rutgers baseball team to duplicate his late-game heroics from earlier last week.
But Pittsburgh centerfielder Stephen Vranka connected on a three-run, walk-off homerun off of Brey, clinching the series sweep of the Scarlet Knights (18-19, 8-7) and solidifying itself behind Louisville for second place in the Big East.
“Today was a real tough one,” said junior second baseman Nick Favatella. “It’s always important to get the third one when you lose the first two, and come back and fight the way we did towards the end and to come up a little bit short, it hurts.”
With one out in the bottom of the ninth of Pittsburgh’s (29-10, 9-3) 6-3 victory, Law (3-4) allowed third baseman Sam Parente to reach on a double, forcing head coach Fred Hill to pull the Mainland, N.J., native for Brey.
A single by pinch hitter Boo Vasquez put two on for the Panthers before shortstop Evan Oswald lined out to junior shortstop Pat Sweeney.
That brought Vranka to the plate against Brey, who pitched three and a third innings against Monmouth on Wednesday to secure a 7-6 victory against the Hawks.
But unlike his success at Bainton Field, Brey left a hittable pitch for Vranka to drive over the fence for his fourth homerun of the season.
“Howie came in and threw strikes, and that’s all we asked him to do,” Law said. “I let up that double with one run on a bad pitch and Howie came in and got another out and he was just another pitch away from getting us out of there and keeping the game going, but the kid had a good swing. There’s not much you can do.”
Law scattered eight hits and four earned runs through eight and a third innings — the longest outing of his career — while striking out five Panthers in the process.
Hill has been most pleased with Law’s appearance in the later part of games.
“I was impressed by how Charlie Law pitched and kept us in the game,” Hill said in a statement. “He has gotten better as the year has went on, working deep into games.”
But one of his few miscues gave Pittsburgh a three-run lead in the bottom of the sixth. With a runner on and two outs, Law gave up an RBI single to left fielder John Peluso and a two-run double to Parente to put the Knights in a 3-0 hole.
Rutgers came up with eight hits in Game 3 — a fall-off from its recent offensive production — though a three-run eighth inning that gave the Knights hope to go home with at least one victory from the series.
Sweeney scored on a wild pitch, while an RBI single by sophomore leftfielder Vinny Zarrillo brought in freshman third baseman Matt Tietz. Senior catcher Jeff Melillo delivered an RBI on an error by the Panthers to make it a tie score.
It was enough to make Favatella confident Rutgers could avoid a sweep
“Any time you score three runs in one inning — we did have some bad breaks in the earlier part of the game — but we definitely felt like we held the momentum,” he said.
It did not help that the Knights dropped a doubleheader Saturday against the Panthers either, as they combined to allow 23 runs in the first two contests of the series. Pittsburgh beat Rutgers, 14-5 and then 9-4.
Rutgers gets seven games outside of Big East play before a pivotal three-game home stand with Connecticut beginning May 3, and Law knows the time between now and the Huskies gives his team time to regroup.
But the sting of being swept by a team Rutgers felt it was on par with talent-wise will hurt for a while.
For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D. For general Rutgers sports updates follow @TargumSports.