Late rally pushes Rutgers past Villanova
Following a weekend in which the Rutgers baseball team won 2 of 3 games against Big Ten rival Penn State, there was little time for the team to rest or revel in its strong performance.
The Scarlet Knights traveled to New York City on Tuesday afternoon and were scheduled to take on Columbia for a midweek game, but only got through one inning before the torrential rain led to the game being cancelled.
This meant they still had to come home on Wednesday for a showdown at Bainton Field against Villanova (15-25, 3-6), but were well-prepared and proved it by picking up another win, 6-4.
The Knights (21-20, 5-7) returned to the Banks with a vengeance, staging a late comeback to emerge victorious after facing an early deficit.
“It was very good to see, especially after some frustrating moments,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “I was excited to see some of our young guys play, and after we got off to a slow start and for them to comeback really shows what they are made of.”
Freshman Dante Scafidi (2-3) made his fourth start of the season for Rutgers, with the coaches continuing to deploy younger starters during midweek games.
His start was pushed back a day after he was scheduled to make his appearance on Tuesday against Columbia, and he turned in an up-and-down performance.
The Washington Township, New Jersey, native threw 4.2 innings and recorded five strikeouts, utilizing an effective mix of his fastball and off-speed pitches.
He struggled a bit in the first inning, giving up a pair of runs after loading the bases as the Wildcats took a 2-0 lead.
Soon after, he settled down and allowed the offense to make their comeback.
In total, he allowed 4 earned runs in the 4.2 innings of work.
“I think he settled down after the first inning and was very good,” Litterio said. “I was pleased with the way he battled and was able to go for it for over four innings.”
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the third inning, sophomore third baseman Milo Freeman lifted a sacrifice-fly to centerfield to get the Knights on the board and make it a 2-1 game.
After sophomore Kyle Walker walked to load the bases again, the Wildcats removed starter Connor McCarthy from the game and brought in Sal Fradella out of the bullpen.
Rutgers continued to show patience at the plate, as freshman catcher Nick Matera walked to bring home a run, and was followed by another walk from freshman shortstop Carmen Sclafani to put the Knights ahead 3-2.
The Wildcats quickly responded in the top of the fifth inning with a pair of runs to retake their lead at 4-3, knocking out Scafidi in the process.
Senior Reed Shuttle replaced the freshman and recorded a strikeout to put an end to the Villanova threat.
The bullpen continued to be a major factor for Rutgers like it has in recent games, as Shuttle proceeded to throw 2.1 scoreless innings and was followed by junior Ryan Fleming, who also tossed a scoreless inning.
Fleming finished with the win to improve to 3-0 on the season and lowered his ERA to 0.92.
They did their job by keeping the Knights in the game, and continued a recent hot streak which has been seen collectively through the bullpen.
“It’s big in a midweek game to be able to come back from a two-run lead,” Shuttle said. “We were able to keep the deficit where it was and not let it get any bigger, and hopefully it gives us some momentum going into the weekend.”
It set up for a chance to make another comeback in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Freeman led off the inning with a walk, and was immediately followed by another walk issued to Walker to set up the Knights with runners on first and second base and nobody out.
After a fly-out from Matera advanced Freeman to third, Sclafani came to the dish with runners on the corners and one out.
With the crowd cheering on the Knights, the first-year infielder came through with an RBI single through the left side to tie the game at 4-4.
It was the biggest hit of his young career, and he was glad to deliver in a spot when his team needed it.
“When coach calls on me, I just want to do my job,” Sclafani said. “The younger guys here just really want to do our jobs and help out the older guys. It’s a big thing that coach preaches, and we just hope to come through.”
The rally continued after junior first baseman Christian Campbell reached on an error to load the bases for junior outfielder Tom Marcinczyk.
Like he has in many games before, the slugger came through with an RBI single through the right side to score 2 runs and give the Knights a 6-4 lead.
Junior Max Herrmann entered the game in the ninth inning to close the game out for Rutgers, and did the job by sitting down the Wildcats and earning the save, allowing his team to hold on for the 6-4 win.
The Knights have been hot in April with a 12-5 record and continue to play solid baseball after getting off to a slow start to begin the season.
Their wins have seen them getting production on both offense and defense, along with improved performances from the pitching staff as a whole.
The win again moves them over the .500 mark, and they hope to stay there as they welcome in Nebraska for a series over the weekend.
“Getting the win was important after we had a slow start,” Shuttle said. “Hopefully it lets us come out strong on Friday and we can keep playing good baseball.”