Knights cruise past Columbia in slugfest

<p>Senior catcher Jeff Melillo swings at a pitch against Columbia during Rutgers’ 15-6 victory. Melillo went 4-for-4 with two homeruns and five RBI in the win.</p>

Senior catcher Jeff Melillo swings at a pitch against Columbia during Rutgers’ 15-6 victory. Melillo went 4-for-4 with two homeruns and five RBI in the win.

For the first time playing at Bainton Field in 24 games, the Rutgers baseball team delivered in style during its first home game of the season.

Senior catcher Jeff Melillo crushed two homeruns, junior outfielder Brian O’Grady extended his hitting streak and sophomore outfielder Vinny Zarrillo was a homerun away from the cycle as the Scarlet Knights (12-12, 5-1) cruised to a 15-6 victory yesterday against Columbia (9-15).

“It’s huge as a team,” Zarrillo said. “It’s hard to turn it on and off the way you play, so with midweek games, it’s tough to play at a different level. So it’s important to play on that level all the time no matter who we’re playing.”

Zarrillo extended the lead to 11-5 in the bottom of the sixth when he hit a ball down the third baseline that rolled all the way to the fence. O’Grady, who reached base on his second hit of the day, scored. Melillo than drilled a two-run shot to left center to put the game out of reach for Columbia.

Rutgers has been hot lately, and a big reason is the play from O’Grady and Melillo, but head coach Fred Hill is excited that the whole offense is producing.

“It’s super,” Hill said. “I don’t care who you’re playing — 17 hits is way above the norm. When kids start thinking that way, that’s when you start getting confidence in yourself.”

O’Grady singled in the bottom of the fourth inning to extend his hitting streak to 13 games and went 2-for-4 with three runs scored.

“I didn’t really know until it got to 10 games,” O’Grady said of the streak. “I thought I was doing pretty bad to start the year so I was surprised I had it going. Now it’s always in the back of your mind so I’m just trying to relax at the plate and I feel good right now.”

Melillo drove in two runners himself with a single that was misplayed in the outfield. He advanced to third on the play and finished with five RBI on the day.

Rutgers’ starting pitching did not fare as well, though it did not matter thanks to the Knights’ 17 hits.

Junior righthander Slater McCue made his third start of the season and lasted only three and two-third innings against the Lions.

McCue struggled in the top of the fourth, as Columbia’s Zach Tax drove an opposite field two-run shot over the left field fence to make the score 7-4 in favor of Rutgers. McCue then gave up a walk to David Vandercook while Jordan Serena drove a McCue fastball up the middle to put two on with one out.

Serena’s hit forced Hill to pull McCue in favor of senior righthander Nathaniel Row, who was able to retire the next two batters to get the Knights out of the jam.

Hill wants to see more out of his midweek starters with senior righthander Pat O’Leary set to go today against Iona.

“If you can give me six or seven innings, that would be great,” Hill said of his midweek rotation. “That gives the bullpen a chance to rest during the middle of the week and has them ready for the weekend. But I don’t know if we’re in that position to do that.”

Junior shortstop Pat Sweeney blasted a ground-rule double to drive in senior designated hitter Charlie Law to make the score 6-2 before senior first baseman Bill Hoermann scored on a wild pitch by Tax.

Rutgers generated three runs thanks to Melillo’s first homerun of the game, a two-run shot with blank outs.

With Iona (3-23) set to take Bainton Field today, Rutgers will be confident against the Gaels as far as offense is concerned.

It also helps that Rutgers reached .500 with the victory yesterday for the first time this season.

“It’s really fun when we start playing like we can,” O’Grady said. “When we all play like that that, when we think we can do well and if we keep doing that, I think we are going to have a really good year.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D.

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