Rutgers ends vacation with 6-1 spring break record
The Rutgers baseball team headed down to Florida for spring break, but it wasn't there to enjoy the beach like most other college students. It was there to play, and play it did, coming away with favorable results.
After sweeping Army and beating Florida International in a mid-week game, the Scarlet Knights (11-7) ended the road trip by taking 2 of 3 from Florida Gulf Coast (14-5) this weekend, winning their third series in a row.
“It was a quality week, and it’s something that we can build off of going forward,” said head coach Joe Litterio.
Rutgers won the first game of the series 13-9 in a game that it had to fight hard to win. The Knights found themselves in an early 6-2 hole after three innings, but clawed back, scoring 3 runs in the fifth and 1 in the sixth to tie the game.
They then broke the game wide open with 6 runs in the top of the seventh, and hung on for the win despite 3 runs in the bottom of the frame for the Eagles.
Freshman left fielder Mike Nyisztor had four RBI's in the win, including the game-tying sacrifice fly in the sixth, while junior right fielder Luke Bowerbank went 4-4 and had the go-ahead single in the seventh. Nyisztor leads the team with 19 RBI's, although he credited his teammates who bat before him for allowing him to amass that total.
“The whole team has been hitting really well, and I’ve just been lucky enough to get on with guys in scoring position, so the guys in front of me are really the one who are doing a great job,” Nyisztor said.
Rutgers' win the next day was easier to come by, as this time it never relinquished the lead once it took it, and won 6-3.
After four scoreless innings, the Knights struck in the fifth with a 2-run single by Nyisztor, and added 1 more in the sixth. After Florida Gulf Coast got 1 back in the bottom of the frame, Rutgers responded with 3 in the seventh to widen the gap.
The Eagles managed to cut the deficit to 3 in the eighth, but were unable to get any closer, as junior pitcher Serafino Brito shut the door in the ninth for his second save of the year.
The Knights also got a solid outing from freshman pitcher Harry Rutkowski, who earned his second win by pitching six innings with 1 run and seven strikeouts. He credited his offense for backing him up and taking stress off of him.
“Anytime our team gets an early lead it makes a pitcher’s life 20 times easier,” he said. “We got that 2-0 lead, so going back to the mound and having that luxury was very nice.”
Rutgers returned to the diamond on Sunday looking for the sweep, but suffered a 9-8 walk-off loss in a game that featured big innings from both teams. Florida Gulf Coast had a 3-1 lead after the second, but the Knights plated 7 runs in the sixth to make it 8-3.
The Eagles answered with 5 in the seventh to tie the game, and eventually won on a throwing error by Rutgers in the bottom of the ninth.
“It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth to have the game won late and not being able to pull it out,” Litterio said.
Bowerbank, fifth-year senior first baseman Chris Folinusz and sophomore shortstop Kevin Welsh each had two RBI's in the loss, and freshman Eric Heatter struck out seven in six innings of work.
One of the highlights of the weekend was the Knights’ ability to produce with two outs. They scored 6 runs with two outs, which was part of the reason why they were able to claw back from deficits multiple times.
“We were chipping away each inning and (doing) as much as we can, and once we got our opportunities to take the lead we took advantage,” Nyizstor said. “We knew the pitchers would hold up because they’ve been doing really well the whole week.”
Rutgers faces Rider on Wednesday in its final game before Big Ten play begins.
The Knights will kick off conference play with a series at Bainton Field against Penn State this weekend.
“I think everyone did their part over spring break,” Nyizstor said. “Everyone succeeded in their own role, nobody tried to do too much and everyone did what they could to help the team win. We all contributed equally, which led to our success.”
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