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Rutgers salvages series with Hatters with shutout win

<p>Junior pitcher Rob?Smorol pitched seven scoreless innings Saturday in the Knights’ 4-3 loss to Stetson.</p>

Junior pitcher Rob?Smorol pitched seven scoreless innings Saturday in the Knights’ 4-3 loss to Stetson.

By scheduling tough teams, Rutgers head baseball coach Fred Hill tested the Scarlet Knights. Now the Knights leave spring break a revitalized squad with five wins in eight games.

Rutgers’ toughest test was against No. 14 Stetson. The team entered DeLand, Fla., without a victory against a ranked team.

The Knights left with Sunday’s 7-0 victory on Stetson’s home field.

Rutgers (8-9) won after dropping its first two games against the Hatters. The bounce-back victory was exactly what the Knights needed before tomorrow’s home opener against Rider.

“Playing against these caliber of teams will only help once we get back home,” Hill said.

Out-of-conference play has allowed Rutgers to make adjustments without consequence to its goal of winning the Big East.

No player entered the season with more unpredictable expectations than senior third baseman Pat Kivlehan.

The West Nyack, N.Y., native began his first season of college baseball after four years on the Rutgers football team. He started the year as a No. 7 hitter. After a month in the lineup, Kivlehan now hits cleanup.

The third baseman is as surprised as anyone.

“I have no idea,” Kivlehan said on why he moved to No. 4 in the order. “I don’t ask questions. I just go ahead and do what Coach [Hill] says.”

In the final game of the Stetson series, the lineup change worked. Kivlehan went 3-for-5 and crossed the plate twice.

Junior pitcher Rob Corsi is another Knight in transition as he continues his first year as a starter. In Sunday’s start, Corsi (3-2) pitched like he had been starting his whole career, ending with a shutout.

Corsi carried the momentum of Rutgers rotation, a day removed from junior lefty Rob Smorol’s seven shutout innings.

But the Knights’ 4-3 loss was credited to junior closer Jerry Elsing (0-1), the pillar of consistency in the Rutgers pitching staff.

Elsing allowed zero earned runs in his previous six appearances, but the Hatters scored four runs off the reliever in his 1/3 innings of work to erase the Knights’ 3-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth.

But Hill was happy with how the dominance of Corsi and Smorol clinched one victory and nearly another.

“I feel like our starters are coming around, and we are getting consistent outings from them each time,” Hill said. “Smorol and Corsi give us two solid lefties.”

The Rutgers lineup also steadily improved throughout the weekend. It recorded 11 hits Saturday and 17 on Sunday.

But in Friday’s 3-0 loss, the Knights notched only six hits and only advanced past second base twice. Junior catcher Jeff Melillo did so in the eighth inning on Kivlehan’s fielder’s choice, and Kivlehan made it in the sixth on a passed ball.

Rutgers displayed flashes in its hitting, especially from March 10-14 in four consecutive victories. The Knights scored six runs or more in two games apiece against Florida Atlantic and Florida Gulf Coast.

It gives the Knights reason to believe they can put it together at Bainton Field and in Big East play.

“I am seeing some really positive at-bats,” Hill said, “but we still need to continue to develop and do the little things necessary to bring in runs, especially in close games.”

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