Rutgers comes back from 4-0 to take down in-state rival Monmouth
The Rutgers baseball team didn’t have that many hits in its showdown with Monmouth at Bainton Field on Wednesday, but the team sure made them count.
After the first game of a two-game midweek series was rained out on Tuesday, the Scarlet Knights (10-14) were back home as they defeated Monmouth by a score of 6-4 to improve their winning streak to four games.
Rutgers scored 6 unanswered runs to secure the win after going down 4-0 early. Head coach Joe Litterio was impressed by his team’s newfound fighting attitude.
“We’re starting to fight a little bit at the plate,” he said. “We’re not an easy strikeout which I think we were at times in previous weekends.”
Despite only getting eight hits on the day, the Knights only left three men on base, meaning the hits came when they needed them the most. One of those hits came off the bat of sophomore second baseman Carmen Sclafani in the fifth inning — and it was a big one. Sclafani launched a pitch right over the 410-foot wall — the deepest part of the ballpark — to cut the deficit in half. Sclafani finished the day going 2-for-3 with a run batted in while scoring 2 runs.
His second home run in his last three games, Sclafani credits a new approach at the plate for his recent success.
“I’m really trying to stick with this mental approach that I kind of picked up over spring break,” he said. “I’m just trying to make everything as simple as possible because my job is to get on base for the team so my teammates can knock me in.”
On Wednesday, he decided to take matters into his own hands and knock himself in. After a clean top of the sixth by freshman left-handed pitcher Eric Reardon, Rutgers would score twice more in the bottom of the inning — this time with junior first baseman Milo Freeman legging out an infield single to take a 5-4 lead. Sophomore Mike Martinez, who had just come into the game as a pinch runner, made a great heads up play and scored all the way from second base on the play.
Martinez would later score again leading off the eighth inning after the Monmouth right fielder, Chris Gaetano, dropped a fly ball off his bat. Running hard all the way, Martinez ran the bases and slid home to give the Knights a 6-4 lead.
The bullpen pitched five and one-thirds scoreless innings, giving up just two hits and walking one. Senior left-handed pitcher Ryan Fleming (1-0) earned the victory after going two and one-thirds innings and striking out five. Reardon came in to start the seventh, followed by freshman right-handed pithcer Joe Neglia with senior closer Max Herrmann slamming the door in the ninth. The bullpen bailed out senior right hander Christian Campbell, who started the game and only went three and two-thirds innings.
“Our bullpen is absolutely crucial for this team,” Herrmann said. “I love our bullpen because it’s a great mix of young and old guys who are starting to gel together at the right time, right before Big Ten play. We have a bunch of guys out there that did the job today and everyone did their part. It’s a great feeling because it shows the strides that we’ve taken from the beginning of the season until now.”
Rutgers goes into its first conference series against Maryland this weekend playing its best baseball of the season. The Knights have even adopted a new mantra for the season.
“We have this new little slogan right now called ‘Battle Mode,’” Sclafani said. “Whenever we get to two strikes we just want to fight, foul balls off and work our way on base any way we can whether it’s a walk or a hit so we can get on base and score some runs for the team and pick each other up.”
Litterio was happy with how his team fought on Wednesday and has been pleased with how his team has responded to its slow start and expects that same momentum to carry over for the Maryland series, especially since it will be at home.
“It’s good to get that tough game in because now we know how to handle that situation going into the weekend,” he said. “We’re all starting to come together with the same plan right now and it seems like for the last four games we’ve put it together.”
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