Rutgers back up to .500 after winning 2 of 3 at Old Dominion
The Rutgers baseball team continued its hot start to the season this past weekend, were one out away from a sweep and got a milestone victory for its head coach.
The Scarlet Knights (5-5) took 2 of 3 games at Old Dominion (4-7), winning a series against the Monarchs for the first time since 2013. The two teams have played each other every year since 1997.
“We did a lot of good things to be able to win the series,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “This is a series that we’ve lost in the last couple of years, but we came down here this weekend and dominated.”
The team opened the series on Friday with a come-from-behind 7-6 win. It fell behind early, giving up 4 runs in the first, but responded with 3 of its own in the second to pull closer.
The game remained 4-3 until the seventh, when fifth-year senior infielder Chris Folinusz hit a game-tying home run over the right field wall. Rutgers added 2 more runs in the eighth and 1 more from Folinusz in the ninth, and graduate student pitcher Karl Blum prevented a Monarchs rally in the ninth despite allowing a run.
“I was just looking for a pitch to drive, and I got it both at bats and got the job done,” Folinusz said.
The Knights ensured a series victory with a 9-6 win the next day in another comeback victory.
After falling behind 3-0 in the second, they slowly chipped away, scoring a run each in the third, fourth and fifth innings to tie the game. They added another in the sixth to take the lead, but the Monarchs responded with 2 of their own to regain the advantage.
But, Rutgers erupted for 5 runs in the eighth, spurred by a game-tying pinch-hit single from senior infielder Milo Freeman. Old Dominion plated a run in the bottom of the frame, but that’s all they would get.
The win was important for Litterio, as it was his 100th in his five years coaching the Knights. He said it meant a lot to him being an alumnus.
“I played here in the late 80s, and this is (where) I grew up and this is home to me,” he said. “To be able to do it here is extremely special.”
The team looked like it would sweep the series on Sunday, but this time it was the Monarchs who came back, scoring 4 runs all with two outs in the ninth to win 4-3.
At first it was all Rutgers, as they scored 3 runs and were backed by a solid pitching performance from freshman pitcher Eric Heatter. He pitched seven innings, allowed no runs and struck out six.
“I was filling up the zone with three pitches, throwing my fastball, curveball and changeup for strikes in all counts,” Heatter said. “My defense also did a heck of job, made the plays when needed and kept us in the game.”
Junior right fielder Luke Bowerbank led the offense with two hits and two RBI's, and Folinusz collected his fifth hit of the series to pace the team.
Litterio sent out Blum to close it out in the ninth, but he allowed 3 runs to tie the game. He was pulled for freshman Collin Kiernan, who gave up the winning hit on the first batter he faced.
And while Heatter would have understandably been disappointed to see his outing go to waste, he said it was a learning experience for the team.
“I have confidence to turn the ball over to the bullpen 10 out of 10 times and get the job done,” he said. “They’ll absolutely improve on this afterwards, not a doubt in my mind.”
The Knights return to the diamond today when they host Iona. After the recent loss, players and coaches are eager to have a chance to bounce back.
Rutgers will then go back on the road for a three-game series at Army over the weekend.
“When you lose a tough one like this, the best thing to do is have a game the next day,” Litterio said. “We have an off day tomorrow, but I know the guys will be hungry to get back on the field and get back to what we do best, and that’s play the game.”
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