Rutgers wins 6th straight series over weekend
Trailing 2-1 in the fifth inning on Sunday, the Rutgers baseball team was looking for a spark that would give it the edge against La Salle.
Freshman left fielder Mike Nyisztor gave the team that spark with a leadoff triple, but it was his hustle to home plate when the ball trickled through the infield that ignited a fire, which led to his team’s highest-scoring fifth inning in two years.
“I was just trying to do anything to get the offense (going), and luckily they made an error and I got to score,” he said. “… I was just ready for the ball to get through and knew I was going to score on anything.”
The Scarlet Knights’ (17-11) 11-3 victory over the Explorers (9-20) capped their sixth straight series victory, their most consecutively since 2010. For comparison, the team won four series all of last year.
A hard-fought loss on Saturday meant that Rutgers was playing a rubber game for the first time all season. Of its five series wins heading into the weekend, four saw them win the first two games before dropping the last one, and the team was 2-5 on Sunday games.
But thanks to that fifth inning, the Knights were able to avoid their second series loss of the season.
“We were struggling a bit during the first three or four innings,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “But once we were able to get guys on base, move them over and score runs, we started to relax and the hits kept coming.”
After Nyisztor scored on the error, Rutgers blew the game wide open with hit after hit and run after run. Twelve batters came to the plate in the inning, six got hits and nine scored. Two scored on a wild pitch and another stole home.
When the outburst ended, the Knights had their first 9-run inning since the seventh inning against George Mason in 2016.
“Everyone was hyped up once we started getting runs on the board,” said junior catcher Nick Matera on the atmosphere in the dugout. “Baserunners did a great job with dirt ball reads, getting good jumps and stealing bags. We just kept the momentum going and put the pressure on (La Salle).”
The win came one day after Rutgers collected just one hit in a 1-0 loss, its second shutout in the past three games after none previously this season.
That game was a pitcher’s duel, as freshman Harry Rutkowski went head-to-head with La Salle’s Jackson Ray and Matt Holt. No pitcher allowed a run to score through the first eight innings.
The Explorers finally broke through in the ninth for the first and only run of the game. Rutkowski was removed after a single and a sacrifice bunt, and junior pitcher Serafino Brito allowed a single for what was the decisive RBI. Since the run that scored got on base against Rutkowski, he was the one who saddled the loss.
“It was unfortunate,” Litterio said. “He didn’t let up any runs until someone came in and let it up for him.”
The result was a far cry from what happened a day before, which was quite similar to Sunday’s game.
The Knights cruised to an 11-1 victory behind four hits, 3 runs and four RBI's from Matera. It was the second time in his career that he had four hits, and the fifth with at least four RBI's.
Matera started the early scoring barrage that saw Rutgers plate 5 runs in the first two innings. After junior center fielder Jawuan Harris hit a ground-rule double, Matera scored him with a single, and eventually came around on a sacrifice fly. He drove in his second run of the game one inning later, doubling home a run with two outs.
He was part of the action once again in the fifth, hitting a leadoff double and scoring once again on a sacrifice fly. Both sacrifice flies came from junior third baseman Carmen Sclafani, making him the first Knight with multiple RBI flyouts in a game since 2014.
The sixth saw Matera do more damage, hitting a 2-run home run to left field to cap his four-RBI day. He was removed for fifth-year senior catcher AJ Gallagher, who fittingly enough, drove in the last run of the day in the eighth.
Senior pitcher John O’Reilly complemented the offense with six shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out five. He has won 4 of his last 5 starts.
Rutgers continues its brief break from Big Ten play with a home game against Lafayette on Wednesday, hoping to recreate Friday and Sunday as opposed to Saturday.
“It was good to see us get a Sunday win,” Litterio said. “We haven’t been doing that lately.”
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