Rutgers wins 2 of 3 at Bainton against Penn State
At first glance, scoring 8 runs in three games doesn’t sound like it would result in a series win. But the Rutgers baseball team managed to do just that during its first Big Ten series of the season this weekend.
The Scarlet Knights (13-8, 2-1) rode stellar pitching performances to a series win against Penn State (7-11, 1-2) in Piscataway. It marked the first time since 2010 that the team won four consecutive series.
Rutgers won 4-1 in the series opener, but the story was all about senior pitcher John O’Reilly. He pitched his first career complete game, allowing no earned runs on five hits, striking out six, stranding seven runners on base and retiring the last 13 batters he faced.
Despite throwing almost 120 pitches and facing seven batters with runners in scoring position, O’Reilly knew he was never in danger of being removed from the game.
“Throughout the season (pitching coach Phil Cundari) had a lot of trust in me, so he lets me fight my own battles. Our offense has been explosive all year long, so I have confidence that they’ll score the runs when we need them," O'Reilly said.
Offensively the team got two hits from junior Carmen Sclafani and two RBI's from sophomore Kevin Welsh. Seniors Chris Folinusz and Kyle Walker drove in one each. All 4 runs came in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The Knights won due to pitching again on Saturday, but this time it was a team effort. Freshmen Harry Rutkowski and Collin Kiernan and junior Serafino Brito combined to blank the Nittany Lions 1-0, and it was the first time the team won a game by that score in 12 years.
The only run scored in the game was off an error in the second, but it was enough for the pitching staff. Rutkowski pitched 6.2 innings with four hits and seven strikeouts, Kiernan pitched 1.1 innings and stranded a runner on third and Brito closed it out with a perfect ninth. The win improved Rutgers’ record to 13-7, its best start through 20 games since 2001.
O’Reilly and Rutkowski each threw more than 110 pitches, and head coach Joe Litterio didn’t once consider removing them, even when they were in tough situations.
“They’re battlers, and (survived) having runners on early. That’s what coach Cundari preaches. They got to get out there and give us five or six-plus innings to help the bullpen out so we can use them the rest of the weekend. They did a great job doing that," Litterio said.
The series finale did not go as well, as the Knights lost 9-3.
While Rutgers got long outings from its starters on Friday and Saturday, freshman Eric Heatter only lasted three innings. He allowed 5 runs, including a solo home run, and eight hits.
“I didn’t have all three of my pitches, and I was just trying to get outs as best as I could, but I couldn’t do that today … I feel like I let my team down, and I owe them more competitiveness on the mound," Heatter said.
Sunday’s game had rather cold weather, and both Heatter and Litterio both attributed it to his struggles with command. Litterio also pointed out that the fresh bullpen from the two previous games meant that he could afford to pull him early and have rested arms pitch the rest of the way.
Junior catcher Nick Matera hit his second home run of the season in the loss, becoming the first player this season to hit more than 1. But, he then exited the game in the sixth with a hand injury.
Down 7-1 in the seventh, the Knights had a chance to cut into Penn State’s lead by loading the bases with one out. But they were only able to bring across 1 run, and scored 1 more in the ninth, unable to rally.
Despite the winning record over the weekend, Litterio said he was partly dissatisfied, especially with the offense, since the pitching carried the team.
“We didn’t swing the bats well at all this weekend. We had a letdown on the mound today, but that’s no reason for us to lose a game. That’s baseball, sometimes you’re hot and score a lot of runs, and sometimes you have weekends like this where you have to pitch and play defense," Litterio said.
Rutgers takes a short break from conference play with a midweek matchup against in-state rival Princeton on Wednesday after a mostly successful start to its conference slate.
“It was a very big weekend for us. Winning a conference series is always important, and it was a great way to start Big Ten play," O’Reilly said.
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