Rutgers offense struggles vs. top pitching
With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning yesterday, and the Rutgers baseball team was more than optimistic down 2-1 against No. 10 Houston.
Two base hits by junior outfielder Joe D’Annunzio and third baseman Christian Campbell, followed by a sacrifice by outfielder Tom Marcinczyk, put runners on second and third.
With players on their feet cheering in the dugout, the Scarlet Knights sent Lou Clemente to pinch hit. Six pitches and a strikeout later, freshman centerfielder Mike Carter came up as the last chance for Rutgers.
Carter was unable to beat out a ball hit to the right side, and the Cougars (25-6, 4-2) took the rubber match of the three-game series at Bainton Field, 2-1, against the Knights (11-16, 3-5).
After a split in Saturday’s doubleheader, where Rutgers won the first game, 7-3, and lost the second, 9-1, redshirt freshman righthander Kyle Driscoll headed out for the Knights to start Game 3.
Driscoll, who normally starts mid-week games, earned the start after winning last Tuesday against Iona.
Driscoll repeated his performance against Houston — allowing only one hit in five innings – but struggled with his command, walking six batters and throwing 102 pitches, leaving him in line for the loss.
Unlike last game, Rutgers did not support Driscoll offensively, only forwarding three hits by the time he had left the game.
“We had our opportunities and we’ve got to capitalize,” D’Annunzio said. “They’re the 10th-best team in the country and they pitch. They held us to only seven hits and one run.”
With the score 2-1 in Houston’s favor, junior closer Jon Young entered for the Knights to keep the game from slipping away any further.
Young threw a perfect ninth inning in his role that he loves.
“I’m coming in and just trying to hold the score where it was and hopefully tie or win it in the ninth. If we tied it I would’ve kept going, but I tried to not give up any runs and win the game,” Young said. “I love the [closer] role. I like that I’m the guy to go to at the end of the game when you really need a win. It fits me well with my personality.”
Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth, Carter led off with a double for the Knights. But he was left stranded as the Knights failed to capitalize on the runner in scoring position after three-straight outs.
Carter was one of nine runners left on base in one of the few failed opportunities that head coach Joe Litterio could point to.
“[Leaving runners in scoring position] hurt us. We had opportunities to score runs in more than a couple innings,” Litterio said. “We didn’t cash in the opportunities that we had.”
D’Annunzio reached on a double in the bottom of the seventh.
The Knights would have an opportunity with a runner in scoring position — the Cougars previously stranded senior shortstop Pat Sweeney after he reached on a one-out triple.
Campbell sacrifice-bunted D’Annunzio to third and Marcinczyk collected the RBI after grounding out to tie the game, 1-1.
The game was close throughout, with Driscoll, redshirt freshman Kevin Baxter and Young combining to allow only three hits.
“They kept us in the game. Both of those guys pitched really well,” Litterio said. “Kyle didn’t have his great stuff today, but he had enough of it to keep them off balance and keep us in the game.”
For now, the Knights know they need to work on scoring runners when they have an opportunity against one of the top teams in the nation.
“This shows us that we are capable of playing with teams like [No. 10 Houston],” D’Annunzio said. “If we play at all four phases — pitching, hitting, running and fielding — we can play with anyone.”