Rutgers splits series opener against Minnesota
Up until the last inning of the second game of a double-header Saturday, junior left-hander Howie Brey was up on the railing of the Rutgers baseball team’s dugout trying to rally the Scarlet Knights.
When Brey left the game in the fifth inning, Rutgers was down, 9-3, with the two runners on base his own responsibility. After freshman right-hander Ryan Wares ate up the innings, the Knights had an 11-3 hole to climb itself out of.
And they did just that.
With a pair of runs scored in the fifth and sixth innings, the Knights exploded in the bottom of the seventh inning for three runs on two hits to bring the score to 11-8.
Rutgers balked at the opportunity to put more on the board in the eighth, but came back ready to rally in the ninth with Brey still looking on from the front of the dugout and cheering the loudest.
After a groundout from senior left fielder Vinny Zarrillo, junior second baseman Chris Suseck reached on a throwing error. After a fielder’s choice by sophomore catcher Chris Folinusz, freshman designated hitter Kyle Walker extended the two-out rally with a single to left field.
Sophomore Christian Campbell belted a double with two strikeouts and two outs to come within two runs of a tie game with the tying run at the plate. Junior shortstop John Jennings came to the plate with the opportunity to win the game.
But Jennings went down looking on a fullcount to end it as the Gophers beat Rutgers, 11-9, after 3 hours and 35 minutes of baseball.
Brey fell to 1-4 on the season, and by the time the game was over was responsible for nine earned runs and 11 hits in four and one-third innings. Brey commented on the importance of staying focused on the game as a spectator after not having his best stuff in his outing.
“I was getting behind a lot of batters,” Brey said. “Once I got behind, they knew I was coming with the fastball and none of my off-speed stuff was fooling them. They hit me up pretty well today, but coming back in the 7th and 9th was huge — especially after a start like I had today. It’s important for me to stay with the team and be positive. We stayed positive throughout the game and we came back because of it. We came up on the short end, but we still fought.”
Head coach Joe Litterio said postgame in the team huddle that the Knights should not be disappointed with the way they competed in their comeback.
After a 13-6 win in the opening game of the series, the Knights came down to the last out in the second-straight game of the afternoon on Saturday.
“That’s what we were talking about after that game, ‘Sometimes when you lose, you can do good things,’” Litterio said. “I thought we did a good thing of being down, 11-3, and then put ourselves within one swing of walking off with a win. I thought that was great on offense to do that. Even though it’s a loss and you are disappointed, I was happy that they kept battling.”
The main issue that has plagued Rutgers all season has been the lack of production offensively, but the Knights experienced no such hitting slumps Saturday.
In the first game, Rutgers forwarded 13 runs on 11 hits while also stranding only seven runners. The Knights also followed up that performance with 11 more hits in the second game with another nine runs.
Rutgers started to feel more comfortable offensively, Zarrillo said, but drew the short end of the stick.
“We definitely showed some fight after we got down early, so we just had to chip away,” Zarrillo said. “Playing two games is always tough, it’s a long day and you are on the field for hours. I think our hitting is contagious and we got a couple guys going. Then everybody else seems to catch on and get hot. It was great to put up 13 runs and then nine again after that. We just have to keep rolling.”
For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.