Pitching woes close out series sweep at UCF
The Rutgers baseball team was supposed to use this weekend in Orlando as a way to climb the AAC standings on its way to the top.
Coming into their series with Central Florida, the Scarlet Knights sat in third place in the conference as they faced first-place UCF.
After the weekend ended, Rutgers was not able to accomplish any of that and only one thing remained consistent in the conference – Central Florida (28-16, 15-3) is still the top team in the AAC.
The Knights (19-22, 6-8), meanwhile, drop three sports to sixth place after being swept by UCF.
The weekend ended with a disappointing 10-3 loss in the final game of the conference series. It was an uphill battle that began after the first inning.
Redshirt freshman righthander Kyle Driscoll left the game before the bottom half of the second inning even began. A calf strain was the source of the injury and put Rutgers in a difficult situation with their staff.
After 11 innings were needed the day before, head coach Joe Litterio had to be careful how he used his relievers.
“We had a chance to win that game yesterday and to lose it in the 11th was deflating,” Litterio said a few hours after the Knights’ loss. “We didn’t have any energy and Driscoll coming out in the first inning put a strain on our staff even more.”
Fellow redshirt freshman righthander Kevin Baxter entered with few warm-up pitches and maintained four innings before being taken out. Baxter allowed four hits and two earned runs in a mop-up duty.
It wasn’t a role that was entirely new for the Waterford, N.J., native.
“It’s the second time I’ve done it this year — I also did it against UConn earlier in the year,” Baxter said. “But it’s more of just being mentally focused because I knew I was physically ready and I was trying to throw strikes because I know I have one of the best defenses in the country behind me, and I trust the guys behind me.”
But the offense struggled to make timely hits to support the staff.
Rutgers only collected seven hits and scattered three runs over the nine innings. The Knights did reach on seven walks and senior shortstop Pat Sweeney also reached on two hit-by-pitches.
UCF pitchers did not allow an extra base hit yesterday, but benefitted from Rutgers leaving 11 runners on base.
Although the Knights dropped each game of the series, they only lost the first two games by a combined three runs. Rutgers even brought UCF to extra innings in the Saturday matchup, but ultimately fell, 4-3, in the 11th inning.
The Knights dropped Game 1 on Friday, 3-1, behind an impressive display from the staff’s ace.
Sophomore lefthander Howie Brey tossed a complete game — the first of his career — but forfeited three earned runs that were not matched by the Rutgers hitters.
But with the sweep by Central Florida and a host of other top-ranked AAC teams winning their games in-conference, Rutgers is again fighting to maintain its seed in a postseason berth.
Litterio expects more from the Knights and had a message for his team after the series.
“The talk after the game today was that I need a little bit more out of these guys then what they have been giving me,” Litterio said. “I told them they have 12 games left — seniors have 12 games left in their careers. Hopefully that hits home a little bit because today we were flat and going into the last few weeks of the season, I hope they realize there’s not a lot more baseball left.”
But junior outfielder Joe D’Annunzio knows that Central Florida is not that much better than Rutgers after this weekend.
If the opportunity to play UCF comes again in the AAC Tournament, D’Annunzio thinks the result will be different.
“They are a good team, obviously, but if we see them again, I’m sure things are going to be different,” D’Annunzio said. “We don’t think that they are three games better than us and overall I think that we can beat them.”
For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.