Rutgers avoids repeat collapse, escapes with win over Seton Hall
After suffering an excruciating extra-inning loss the day before, the Rutgers baseball team bounced back on Wednesday afternoon to beat Seton Hall (23-11, 1-2) in another close game by a score of 3-2.
On a crisp and sunny day at Bainton Field in Piscataway, the Scarlet Knights (15-17, 2-4) avenged the previous day’s defeat by winning another close game against their in-state rivals, doing so with a pair of early runs and great pitching throughout.
It was important for the Knights to respond to such a tough loss on Tuesday with a nice win on Wednesday, especially as they are preparing to play at Ohio State over the weekend.
“Finishing it with a win today was extremely important,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “Coming out today was big, and you couldn’t ask for a better game. We needed to win a tight game like this.”
Youth was an integral part of the victory for Rutgers, as it saw major contributions from some of the younger players on the team lead them to the win.
Freshman pitcher Serafino Brito (4-2) was very effective in his sixth start of the season, finishing with five strikeouts and allowing just one earned run in seven innings of work.
He left with a lead and came through by delivering a clutch performance in the biggest game thus far in his young career with the Knights.
“It was huge to win this one,” Brito said. “We had to put yesterday behind us and it was an important game, and we came out swinging, battling, playing defense. It was a good win.”
The Rutgers lineup got a spark early in the game from freshman outfielder Jawuan Harris, who ripped a base hit in the bottom of the second inning and came around to score on an RBI groundout from sophomore third baseman Milo Freeman to give the Knights a 1-0 lead.
The Pirates got on the board to tie the game at 1 in the top of the fourth inning, but Harris and Freeman again came through for Rutgers in their half of the frame to retake the lead for their team.
Harris led off with a single for his second hit of the game and stole a base. It was followed by a line drive double into the right centerfield gap off the bat of Freeman, giving him his second RBI of the game and a 2-1 lead for the Knights.
The underclassmen duo got things going on offense for Rutgers at a much-needed time after they went cold towards the end of the previous game against the Pirates.
“We wanted to come out and put a pounding on them by playing well,” Harris said. “We’re always trying to be aggressive and it worked for us.”
The Pirates threatened in the top of the seventh inning, getting their first two hitters aboard first and second base to start their turn.
After a failed bunt from Brett Fontenelli resulted in a pop-out to first baseman Chris Suseck, Brito induced a groundball double play to end the inning that kept the lead at 2-1 and drew a roar from the 247 fans in attendance.
It ended Brito’s day with seven innings pitched, and preserved a quality outing for him and his team.
“That double play was huge to get me out of a jam,” he said. “I was able to get the hitter to roll over on it and hit a ground ball, and the defense did the rest.”
Junior left-hander Ryan Fleming replaced Brito on the mound in the top of the eighth inning with Rutgers holding a 2-1 lead, and Seton Hall again came close to pushing across the tying run.
They employed a double-steal to put runners on second and third with two outs, but a Zack Weigel come-backer was hit right to Fleming, who flipped it over to Suseck at first for the final out of the inning.
With the Knights looking to add insurance in the top of the ninth, Harris struck again.
He reached after being hit by a pitch and then stole both second and third base to put pressure on Pirates pitcher Zach Schellenger.
Harris took a big lead down the third base line and distracted Schellenger, causing him to balk and allowing Harris to score to increase the lead to 3-1.
For the day, the freshman finished 2-for-3 and scored all 3 runs for Rutgers, along with adding three stolen bases.
He wanted to be aggressive to try to get an extra run for the Knights, especially when it cost Rutgers the previous day when they could not add insurance.
“I was trying to get the pitcher’s attention there,” Harris said. “I wanted to get in his peripheral vision and make him balk, and that’s what he did.”
Seton Hall staged a ninth inning rally again in this game, loading the bases with nobody out and forcing the Knights to bring in senior Reed Shuttle to try to close it out.
He retired the first two batters quickly, but threw a wild pitch that allowed a run to score and cut the lead to 3-2.
But just like the rest of the staff, he quickly recovered and struck out Sebastiano Santorelli to hold on for a 3-2 win for Rutgers.
“Reed Shuttle was excellent getting us out of that jam,” Litterio said. “To have the bases loaded with nobody out and to still win shows how outstanding he was, and we needed that.”