RU drops four-game series behind youth on rubber

Losing all four games, and only scoring a combined 11 runs, was not exactly the start the Rutgers baseball team was looking for in its opening weekend at Florida International.

Allowing 30 runs to the Panthers in the four-game series did not help the cause.

But positives could be taken from the weekend.

The Scarlet Knights’ performance Sunday was perhaps their best of the series, as they closed out the weekend on a more positive note.

Rutgers had a chance to tie it up in the top of the ninth inning.

Down 5-3, junior designated hitter Joe D’Annunzio and senior second baseman Nick Favatella reached base, allowing to them advance into scoring position on freshman pitcher Tom Marcinczyk’s sacrifice bunt.

After D’Annunzio scored on a groundout and Favatella advanced to third, freshman outfielder Mike Carter had the chance to even the score with two outs.

Carter grounded out, but the stranded Favatella was the Knights’ fifth runner in scoring position left on base.

The lack of production taking care of the runners in scoring position was the downfall, after redshirt freshman Kevin Baxter pitched a quality start.

Baxter, pitching in the first game of his Rutgers career, allowed four hits in five innings. The Waterford, N.J., native allowed only two unearned runs on two errors.

For Baxter, success in his first game in over a year and a half would not have been possible without some help.

“[My first start] was pretty awesome. It was my first time competing in a game in a year and seven months, so it was good to get out there with the team,” Baxter said. “They really picked me up playing behind me. Without them it wouldn’t have been a quality start.”

The Knights lost their doubleheader games Saturday by a combined score of 18-1. FIU outhit Rutgers in those two games by a combined 26 hits to 6.

Rutgers opened up its weekend with a 7-6 loss against the Panthers.

The Knights led 6-2 after sophomore Howie Brey left the game to start the sixth inning.

After senior righthander Slater McCue allowed two hits and a walk, senior righthander Charlie Lasky relieved him.

Lasky walked in the run after McCue loaded the bases, registered a hit-by-pitch and allowed a sacrifice fly before allowing two more runs on a double and a wild pitch to give the Panthers the 7-6 lead.

Before the sixth inning collapse, Brey led Rutgers with five strong innings. The Middletown, N.J., native only allowed one hit and registered four strikeouts, but struggled with his command, walking five batters.

The Knights opened up their scoring and took the 6-2 lead in the top of the sixth when senior first baseman Brian O’Grady collected one of his four hits on a two-out, three-run home run.

The struggles for the Knights this weekend were evident in the bullpen, as 19 out of the 22 earned runs were allowed by relief pitchers.

“We have a pretty young [pitching] staff, but we are definitely heading in the right direction,” Baxter said. “We are going to be alright. We are getting where we want to be, I’m pretty positive about that.”

While its pitching was inconsistent at times during the weekend, Rutgers was anchored by strong performances from their hitters.

O’Grady led the team with a .533 slugging percentage and three RBI. Senior outfielder Lou Clemente had an on base percentage of .636 with three hits and four walks.

Carter was the only Knight to hit in all four games, the first four games of his Rutgers career.

“The older guys are definitely doing a really good job helping me out and I’m starting to feel really comfortable at the plate,” Carter said. “I just want to build off of this and continue to get better every day.”

While the weekend was not a success in terms of wins, acting head coach Joe Litterio believes the team did accomplish solutions to some issues entering the season.

“I think the biggest thing I can say of the team is that we are starting to get some answers to a lot of the questions we had going into the season,” Litterio said. “The biggest question was that we had a lot of young players. I thought as a whole, every young guy that got out there did a great job doing what was asked of them and competed.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.

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