Rutgers renews in-state rivalry with Princeton
After a successful opening weekend of Big Ten play, the Rutgers baseball team returns to non-conference play to take on an in-state rival in some midweek action.
The Scarlet Knights (13-8, 2-1) face Princeton (2-10) this afternoon in a battle between two rivals that hasn’t occurred since 2012.
The two teams played each other every year from 2001 to 2012, and Rutgers had a 7-4-1 record against the Tigers during that span. The Knights won the most recent game 12-11 on a walk-off home run, and are hoping for similar results this time around.
“It’s my first time playing Princeton in my college career, so I’m excited to see what kind of team they bring,” said senior pitcher John O’Reilly.
The two teams have a storied history, dating all the way back to the 19th century. While it’s well known that Rutgers played Princeton in the first ever-college football game in 1869, the first intercollegiate sporting event for the university was actually a baseball game three years earlier.
On May 5, 1866, the Rutgers "Base Ball Club" traveled to the Princeton Grounds and lost, 40-2. An interesting note about that game is that the “Queensmen,” as Rutgers athletic teams were called back then, played with only eight players, and lacked a center fielder.
Returning to 2018, the Knights picked up their fourth consecutive series win against Penn State this past weekend, winning 2 of 3 games on the strength of their pitching. O’Reilly pitched a complete game on Friday and freshman Harry Rutkowski pitched 6.2 innings of scoreless ball to pace Rutgers' wins.
Rutkowski was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week for his performance, becoming the second Knights pitcher to win the honor this season after Eric Heatter.
"I am proud of the way Harry approached his first Big Ten start as business as usual," said head coach Joe Litterio. "He did a great job keeping the Penn State lineup off balance."
Despite having a winning record over the weekend, not all went well for Rutgers.
The team scored 8 runs over the series, and lost the final game by a score of 9-3. After the game, Litterio stressed that the Knights would work hard on offense during practice.
“We got to get back to what we’re doing well, and that’s swinging the bats and two-out RBI's,” he said. “ … We’ll be out here on Tuesday swinging and working on what we’ve been preaching all year. We got to get back to playing baseball like we can and hopefully it carries over to the weekend.”
Senior infielder Kyle Walker leads the team in batting average at .426. He is second in hits with 23, behind junior outfielder Luke Bowerbank’s 25.
Freshman outfielder Mike Nyisztor leads the team in RBI's with 19, and junior catcher Nick Matera has the most home runs with 2, including 1 on Sunday.
While Rutgers has won four consecutive series, the Tigers have not won any this season. Princeton has lost 10 of 12 games, and most recently lost 7-3 to Richmond last Monday. It had scheduled a series against Old Dominion and Harvard after that game, but both were canceled due to weather.
Leading the Tigers on offense this season is junior Joseph Flynn, who’s batting .362 with 17 hits, 3 home runs and 12 RBI's, all of which are team highs. He won the Ivy League Player of the Week award for the first time in his career two weeks ago.
The Knights are 5-2 this season in games following a loss, so a game against a team like Princeton is definitely a way to get the team back on track.
“We’ve been bouncing back all year from tough losses and grinding out all nine innings,” Heatter said, “So that’s our plan for Wednesday.”
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