Three-run home run backs Rutgers’ ace
Sitting in seventh place in the conference, the Rutgers baseball team can begin to think about its postseason destiny — only the top eight teams in the AAC make the conference tournament.
Facing the Scarlet Knights this weekend is the No. 9 team in the standings, Cincinnati, which played the Rutgers in Game 1 of a three-game weekend series yesterday at Bainton Field.
With an important conference game, the Knights had sophomore ace Howie Brey on the hill to help Rutgers move up the standings.
Although he would need some help, the lefthander earned his fourth win of the season in the Knights’ (16-18, 4-5) 5-4 victory yesterday against Cincinnati (15-21, 3-10).
Brey did not have his best stuff but was able to work through it and accomplish a feat he had not done all season.
“It’s pretty funny actually — I went the farthest I had gone in any game this season and it wasn’t my best start,” Brey said. “I had trouble getting ahead of batters early in the game and toward the end of the game my off-speed pitches started coming along, especially my curveball. I worked off of that and I was working well from the stretch too.”
Brey’s help came from the bat of senior designated hitter Lou Clemente.
With two outs and runners on first and second, Clemente came to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning. After Bearcats righthander Ryan Atkinson worked ahead of Clemente with two strikes, Clemente turned on a fastball and lined the pitch over the right field wall to put Rutgers ahead, 4-3.
It was vindication for Clemente, who missed a similar pitch earlier in the at bat.
“I got a pitch like that, the same pitch actually, earlier, [two pitches before], and I fouled it back. I was like, ‘Oh, there’s my shot’,” Clemente said. “But I got lucky. He came back inside and I turned on it, dropped the head and good things happened from there.”
The three-run home run turned out to be an important turn in the game, as it gave Rutgers its first lead.
Brey, especially, appreciated the run support.
“Oh, [the run support] was huge and Lou has been big for us these past few games now,” Brey said. “It’s great to get runs from hitters like that, especially in a big conference win working into the eighth.”
The conference victory helps Rutgers’ postseason push as it transitions into the second half of the season.
For head coach Joe Litterio, this weekend will play a large role toward the postseason seeding.
“This weekend is big. We are both in the bottom third of the conference. We played Houston and Louisville and got those two big powerhouses out of the way,” Litterio said. “Now we have to play some good baseball to be able to move up in the league standings. Today was a big one. But we have another big one tomorrow and then another big one on Saturday. At least today we got ahead and got the first one.”
For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.