Spartans sweep Rutgers in pivotal home series
The Rutgers baseball team sat in ninth place in the Big Ten Conference standings heading into this past weekend.
With only eight teams eligible to make the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State was the team sitting in the last spot of the conference keeping the Scarlet Knights on the bubble. The Spartans also were the team coming to Piscataway this weekend to take on Rutgers in the weekend series.
On Friday, the Knights sat a half game out of the final playoff spot held by Michigan State and went into the weekend needing a series win or a sweep of the Spartans.
But showing inability to score and keep home runs from flying over the wall, Rutgers (12-26-1, 5-10) was swept by Michigan State (22-16, 7-5) over the weekend.
After dropping the first two games by scores of 10-4 and 15-7, the Knights went into the final game looking to rebound.
After the third straight game allowing at least one home run, Rutgers dropped Sunday’s series finale, 6-2.
Head coach Joe Litterio acknowledged how the Knights faced a streaking Michigan State team that ended up plating nine home runs on the weekend, going with three Friday, five Saturday and one Sunday.
“We have to get back to work — that’s the bottom line,” Litterio said. “The best thing about baseball is you get a chance to play again on Tuesday — we don’t have to wait a whole week. We just need to improve. We ran into a very hot team, and with the wind blowing out the first two days, they hit it out of the yard. That was a ballgame that we just lost today.”
After lacking some of his best stuff in previous appearances, sophomore right-hander Gaby Rosa flashed some improvements with five earned runs on seven hits in six innings pitched. He added two strikeouts but also walked four batters.
Rosa struggled in the first inning, allowing three runs on two hits, but managed to improve with each inning pitched. After scattering two runs over the next five innings pitched, Rosa figured out what worked and what didn’t.
“I started to change it up a bit after the first inning,” Rosa said. “In the beginning, I was trying to get them off-balanced with my off-speed stuff. Afterwards, I just started attacking with my fastball — my best pitch. I was struggling with two strikes. Every time I got someone to two strikes, I tried to put them away with fastballs, but they took it the other way and one kid hit a home run. I just wasn’t hitting my spots.”
What remains the large issue for Rutgers is the inability to plate runners in scoring position and take advantage of runners on base. In four innings, the Knights had runners reach at least second base and were unable to plate them.
When Rutgers did score their two runs in the bottom of the fourth, senior left fielder Vinny Zarrillo grounded out to end the inning with the bases loaded.
“We just couldn’t get the key hit in the big situation,” Zarrillo said. “We had bases loaded, runners on second and third a couple times, and we just didn’t do much to cash those runners in.”
Litterio echoed what Zarrillo said, noting how the Knights had the chances to score but couldn’t do it.
That’s what he points to as the reason why Rutgers is dropping close games.
“We had bases loaded, a runner on third with one out and other opportunities with runners in scoring position,” Litterio said. “We had the big opportunities in the big parts of the game where we needed a clutch hit and we weren’t able to do that this game. That’s part of the game — you aren’t always going to come through, but we need to start coming through.”
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