Rutgers takes home series against Indiana
Heading into its series with Big Ten opponent Indiana over the weekend, the Rutgers baseball team was hoping to win its first series victory since the last weekend of February.
The Scarlet Knights accomplished what they set out to do by taking 2 of 3 games from the Hoosiers (13-13, 1-2) in front of their home fans at Bainton Field, gaining their first pair of conference wins of the season.
It got started on Friday afternoon for the Knights (11-16, 2-4) behind a complete game victory for senior lefty Howie Brey (2-3), who struck out eight batters and allowed just one earned run in a 7-1 win.
The Middletown, New Jersey, native threw 118 pitches to complete the nine innings and used the strike zone very effectively, not walking anyone in the game.
His dominant outing was much-needed for Rutgers and set the tone for it to win the series.
“Howie dominated with his changeup and throughout the game was able to keep his pitch count down, which was huge,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “He wanted the ball and he wanted to go out in the ninth inning to secure the win, and he did a great job.”
The Knights faced an initial deficit, trailing 1-0 heading into its turn at bat in the fourth inning.
Rutgers then got its first three batters of the inning on board to load the bases and set up a rally.
Freshman Nick Matera came up to the plate and launched a deep fly ball to right field to score senior first baseman Chris Suseck on a sacrifice fly, tying the game at 1-1.
Sophomore third baseman Milo Freeman followed by hitting a hard groundball right up the middle that bounced off the foot of pitcher Kyle Hart (5-2), which allowed junior outfielder Tom Marcinczyk to score on an RBI groundout.
It was then 2-1 to the Knights, and junior second baseman Christian Campbell launched an RBI double and was followed by an RBI single from shortstop Gaby Rosa to make it a 4-1 lead for Rutgers.
The four-run inning gave the Knights the spark they have been searching for in recent games and allowed Brey to pitch with a lead.
He responded by setting the Hoosiers down in order in the top of the fifth, striking out the final two batters of the inning.
It was a big moment of the game, and he knew how important it was to keep Rutgers ahead.
“Scoring the four runs was huge, and the credit goes to the offense,” Brey said. “It took a lot of my shoulders and allowed me to pitch my game and try to keep us ahead.”
The Knights added three more runs in the eighth inning to secure the 7-1 victory.
Brey wanted to pitch aggressively and stay ahead in the count to keep the momentum on his team’s side and to counteract Indiana’s plan of attack.
“Last year, one of the big things for Indiana was trying to attack my off-speed pitches,” he said. “So I tried working my fastball first then mixing in my off-speed pitches, and it ended up working.”
On Saturday, the teams played a doubleheader after Sunday’s game was moved up in anticipation of a rainy forecast.
Rutgers picked up the win in the first game by staging a 3-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning after trailing by 2 runs to come back and win 3-2.
Campbell had the big hit with a two-out, 2-run off Indiana starter Evan Bell give the Knights the lead.
On the mound, junior Kyle Driscoll earned his first Big Ten win by throwing six innings and allowing 2 earned runs.
He was replaced by junior Max Herrmann, who finished the final three innings in shutout fashion for Rutgers to win 3-2.
It marked the 300th career win for Litterio.
The bottom of the lineup was a major story for Rutgers throughout the weekend, as Campbell had 4 RBI’s through the three games, and third baseman Milo Freeman and Rosa each added RBI’s in the first game.
They consisted of the final three batters in the order and were pivotal in the offensive output for the Knights.
“It’s good to see from those guys because we know they can hit,” Litterio said. “They were running into some tough luck early on, but they can hit college pitching and it’s good to see their success because they’re a very important part of our team.”
Rutgers had a chance to sweep the series in the final game but fell behind early and lost 9-2.
But it was happy to win the series and see production from throughout its lineup over the course of the weekend.
It should serve the Knights well moving forward in conference play.
“In baseball, sometimes, things don’t always go your way,” Freeman said. “Then a hit will fall, and you start rolling. I’ve been working hard with the coaches and getting some extra swings in, so hopefully I’m putting myself in a good spot.”