Rutgers seizes home series against Penn State
The Rutgers baseball team (20-10, 5-7) hosted Penn State (24-17, 9-6) this weekend for a three-game series at Bainton Field, the first time the Nittany Lions have played on the Banks since 1987.
There was excitement surrounding the series heading into the weekend, as the Scarlet Knights entered having won their previous two midweek games to give them some momentum.
They took advantage of this recent wave of strong play, as the Knights won the series by taking 2 of 3 games.
Playing in front of their home fans for three straight games gave Rutgers some confidence, and it parlayed that into reeling off some crucial Big Ten victories over a rival.
“Looking at the positive side, we came out and won the series, which is always the goal,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “To get greedy, you want to also take the last one, but we just came up a little short in the last game.”
Senior lefty Howie Brey (5-3) took the mound for the Knights in the series opener on Friday afternoon and put together another dazzling performance.
He commanded the strike zone from the first inning throughout the entire game, firing a complete game shutout to lead the Knights to a 5-0 win.
The southpaw struck out seven batters and walked only one, while lowering his ERA to 2.61 on the season.
He has become a model of consistency for the Knights, providing the ace they have been looking for atop their rotation.
“It’s getting scary because now this is kind of what we expect from Howie,” Litterio said. “He’s been doing it for years now and you go out with a good feeling when he’s on the mound. It doesn’t matter who he’s playing against, because he just goes out there and does his thing. He’s very capable.”
After a few scoreless frames from both teams to start the game, the Knights got the scoring going in the bottom of the third inning as junior outfielder Tom Marcinczyk launched a 2-run triple to deep right field to give Rutgers a 2-0 lead.
The Nittany Lions threatened in the top of the fifth inning by putting runners on second and third base with only one out, but Brey ended the threat by striking out the final two batters of the inning to preserve the 2-0 lead.
In Rutgers' next time at-bat in the bottom of the fifth, senior first baseman Chris Suseck laced an RBI single up the middle to increase the Knights' lead to 3-0.
They added a couple of insurance runs in the seventh inning via RBI singles from freshman outfielder Jawuan Harris and senior second baseman John Jennings to bolster their lead to 5-0.
It was the first complete game shutout of the year for Brey, and his third consecutive complete game in Big Ten play.
He believes he has been able to go farther in games because of improved stamina, which has enabled him to feel more comfortable as he progresses through games.
“Last year, I felt a little lackadaisical with some of my training, so I wanted to improve that this year,” Brey said. “This year I’ve made sure to stay on top of my conditioning and to stay in shape, and it’s helped me go longer in games this year.”
The middle game of the series was more competitive, but the Knights prevailed again.
Behind a solid start from sophomore pitcher John O’Reilly and some timely hitting, they emerged victorious, 6-4, to go over the .500 mark for the first time all season.
O’Reilly put together one of his better starts of the year by throwing 6.2 innings, striking out six and allowing just 3 earned runs.
Rutgers led 4-0 heading into the seventh inning, but the Nittany Lions plated four runs in the frame to tie the game at 4-4.
With the Knights looking to prevent a comeback from Penn State, Litterio sent freshman outfielder Mike Martinez to pinch-hit for Christian Campbell, and the move paid off as he launched a go-ahead, 2-run double to give Rutgers a 6-4 lead.
Junior relievers Ryan Fleming and Max Herrmann teamed up to close it out, earning the win and save respectively.
The win showed how the depth of the lineup has improved in recent games, as Martinez provided the game-winning hit after coming off the bench.
“We’re starting to click now as a lineup,” Marcinczyk said. “We’ve been improving in practice and taken that out to games now, and we’re really starting to do our thing out there.”
Rutgers then entered Sunday looking for a sweep and sent Campbell to the hill to make the start but fell, 7-5.
After he threw a scoreless first inning, the Knights exploded with 4 runs in the bottom of the frame to take a 4-0 lead.
The lead did not last long, however, as the Nittany Lions scored once in the second inning and four more times in the third to take a 5-4 lead.
Campbell was replaced after allowing 5 earned runs in three innings and replaced by freshman Serafino Brito, who also threw three innings and gave up two runs.
On the sunny finale from Bainton Field, Rutgers faced a 7-5 deficit heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.
Kyle Walker came in the game to pinch-hit for Gaby Rosa, and drew a walk to start the inning and spark a roar from the crowd of 407.
Senior catcher R.J. Devish followed with a walk to setup the Knights with runners on first and second with nobody out.
After Penn State pitcher Jack Anderson recorded a strikeout, he walked Suseck to load the bases with one out for Marcinczyk.
Anderson recovered and preserved the win for the Nittany Lions, as he struck out both Marcinczyk and Harris to end the game.
Campbell took the loss and Justin Hagenman earned the win for the visitors, as they were able to escape Piscataway with a lone win.
Despite the ending, Rutgers played solid baseball throughout the weekend against one of the better teams in the Big Ten and hope to build from it moving ahead.
“Penn State is a good team and they’ve been doing very well in conference play, so we knew coming in that it would be tough,” Devish said. “Winning the first two was huge and hopefully we can continue to push forward up the standings.”