Rutgers squanders lead in late innings against Villanova
The issues piled up for the Rutgers baseball team Wednesday against Villanova when the team traveled to Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.
The Scarlet Knights had previously won five out of the last five games against the Wildcats and sought to keep the streak going against their former Big East Conference rival –– but that didn’t happen.
The Knights (15-28-1, 5-10) dropped their only midweek series between the Seton Hall series and the Penn State series. Despite a strong performance from freshman right-hander John O’Reilly, Rutgers fell, 7-2, to Villanova (18-22) in a fashion that has become far too redundant in this season's losses.
With a down game in the field — committing two errors on defense — an offense that did not support the pitching staff with timely hitting and a bullpen that struggled late in the game, the problems snowballed for the Knights.
Head coach Joe Litterio could only point to one aspect for a silver lining.
“John O’Reilly was able to go out there for five innings and allowed only one run –– which was unearned,” Litterio said over the phone following the game Wednesday. “That was probably the only bright spot for us. But, when he came out of the game, their offense picked it up a little bit.”
While O’Reilly shined in his five innings –– allowing only four hits against his 21 batters faced –– Litterio knew he had to limit the amount of innings the rookie could throw.
Litterio said after a weekend where he threw and a midweek game, he didn’t want the pitch count to get too high for the weekend when Rutgers plays the Nittany Lions.
O’Reilly, pleased with the amount of innings he has been throwing, said he was able to get ahead with his fastball and follow it up with his slider and other secondary pitches.
“I was able to throw my fastball pretty well today and my slider was working some of the time,” O’Reilly said. “Overall, my outing was good and I was happy to get through the five innings. The more they use me, the better, in my mind. That’s what I came to Rutgers for and the more I pitch, the happier I will be.”
Rutgers committed two errors Wednesday in the loss and Litterio partly attributed the misplayed balls to dirt field that the Knights played on. Bainton Field, Rutgers home park, boasts a turf field and is where the team practices.
Senior first baseman Joe D’Annunzio said he might attribute the two errors to the dirt infield they are not used to, but says they were plays Rutgers has a chance to make.
“I know the one error was on a bad hop on a double-play ground ball to (junior second baseman Chris Suseck) –– it just hopped up and hit his chest,” D’Annunzio said. “On turf, it might have been a little different. But the second one was just on a steal to second where the ball went into centerfield.”
When it comes down to it, the biggest series of the season is coming up for the Knights when they play Penn State this weekend with the chance to make the Big Ten Tournament on the line.
With only eight teams accepted into the playing field, the Knights sit outside the bubble in the 10th spot behind Indiana and Minnesota.
Rutgers hoped a midweek game against Villanova would provide some momentum, but the Knights now ride a two-game losing streak into a weekend where they cannot afford to lose the series.
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