Rutgers reverses pitching woes in Jacksonville
Sitting in the visitor’s dugout Sunday in Jacksonville, waiting for the umpire’s ruling on whether the Rutgers baseball team’s game would be cancelled due to a torrential downpour was probably the low point of the weekend for head coach Joe Litterio.
But sitting there gave him a chance to review the hectic and rewarding previous four days for the Scarlet Knights.
First, Litterio received a vote of confidence Thursday from Athletic Director Julie Hermann. Then the Knights swept their doubleheader Saturday, making it seem like missing out on the third game was not that bad for the new skipper.
After Litterio was named the 12th head coach in the program’s 144-year history, the Knights found everything they missed in the opening weekend.
The last run that Rutgers scored in the second game of the doubleheader came on a sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth inning by senior first baseman Brian O’Grady, which drove in senior second baseman Nick Favatella, who tripled in the at bat prior.
The run did little but push the Knights to their final tally of 10 runs, winning, 10-2, in the second game against the Dolphins.
A strong first inning propelled the Knights, where they plated seven runners after 11 batters received a chance to hit.
After two singles, a double, a walk, two more singles and then another two doubles, Rutgers officially found its hitting.
“One through nine hit very well. Going into the year, that’s what we planned on having — that kind of game,” Litterio said. “It was good to see everyone swing it this weekend.”
In the opening game of the doubleheader, the Knights sparked the hitting trend early, scoring all of their six runs in the first three innings.
Leading off in the third inning, senior outfielder Lou Clemente saw a mistake and put the ball over the right-center field wall.
Six hits and five runs the first two innings helped Rutgers win, 6-2, in the opening game.
In total the Knights out-hit the Dolphins, 23-14, and outscored them, 16-4.
Clemente attributes the team’s success in hitting to the practice they had during the week.
“I wanted to put myself in good counts and the best situation possible. The home run was a mistake by their pitcher and I capitalized on it,” Clemente said. “[As a team] we put in a lot of work during the week. We spent most of Thursday hitting the ball. [That extra hitting] jumpstarted us for Saturday’s game.”
Behind an effective hitting team and wide margins of victory was an impressive pitching staff.
While the staff was a sore spot in the previous weekend’s losses to Florida International, the Knights rebounded effectively this weekend.
Sophomore lefthander Howie Brey opened up the weekend with a strong outing, pitching six innings and only allowing three hits. Brey struck out five and allowed no runs in the 6-2 victory.
The Middletown, N.J., native earned his first win as the ace of the staff.
“It felt really good to get the first win under my belt,” Brey said. “The first time we came out last weekend we had some butterflies and I was really nervous, so I walked a few guys. This weekend I settled in and didn’t really worry about the nerves. I pitched like I know I can.”
A few changes in the staff also aided Rutgers.
Junior righthander Jon Young, who started last weekend, relieved Brey in the seventh inning. Young allowed one earned run in three innings pitched, earning his first save.
Redshirt freshman right hander Kyle Driscoll earned the first start of his career in the second game Saturday, pitching four innings and allowing two runs on four hits.
In six innings of relief for the weekend, the Knights allowed only one earned run. Rutgers allowed 12 runs in relief last weekend.
While there is no question the pitching changes sparked the team, those changes were not necessarily that drastic, according to Brey.
“Jon [Young] had a tough start last weekend, but we know that’s not who he truly is. He is a great pitcher, whether it’s in relief or as a starter,” Brey said. “It’s just too early for us to set roles for everyone. No one is really set in stone yet and everyone has to fight for a job.”
While sitting on the bench shortly after Sunday’s game was called, Litterio expressed satisfaction with the team he is managing.
He knows the weekend provided a good look into the future of the program.
“We came down here this weekend and we did what I was hoping for. We came out aggressive and set the tone early and scored a bunch of runs early in the first three innings,” Litterio said. “Our pitching staff kept our leads. [This weekend] really gave us confidence and a glimpse at what we could be.”
For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.