Rutgers earns first series victory in Big Ten

<p>Sophomore Gaby Rosa will continue to see time at the plate, but his three-hitter Sunday at Purdue proved his worth on the mound for Rutgers.</p>

Sophomore Gaby Rosa will continue to see time at the plate, but his three-hitter Sunday at Purdue proved his worth on the mound for Rutgers.

It took the Rutgers football team nearly half of its season to win its first game against the Big Ten as a member of its new conference. 

And it took three more games for the Scarlet Knights of the gridiron to win their second game against a Big Ten opponent.

For the Rutgers baseball team, the wait wasn't nearly as long. 

In only their second game of its first conference series at Purdue, the Scarlet Knights collected their first win in the Big Ten Saturday and waited just a day to duplicate.

The 4-1 win Saturday and 5-2 win Sunday also marked the first series win of the season for Rutgers — a feat showcasing the team can put together wins and consistently support their starting pitching with productive offense.

But the most impressive element for head coach Joe Litterio was how the Knights rebounded after losing Friday 9-5 on a late mistake in the game.

“On Friday night, we played a real good game,” Litterio said. “We gave up one bad pitch and missed a pop up — so that put a lot of pressure on the pitcher and defense — and then we gave up a grand slam. But other than that, we played well and carried it over in the next two games and I was impressed by that. I think that is something we are learning to do — not let things affect us and learning how to rebound.”

Another first for the team was victories from their ace, junior left-hander Howie Brey, and their No. 2 starter from a year ago, sophomore right-hander Gaby Rosa. Brey notched his first win of the season Saturday while Rosa followed Sunday.

Brey went seven innings, allowing only one earned run on three hits with five strikeouts. Brey was happy with the location of his pitches and said it was a relief to get his first win of the season out of the way.

“It was really great to get that first win, finally,” Brey said. “It was definitely locating my off-speed. I had trouble later in the game locating my fastball, so locating my changeup kept them off-balance. I definitely feel I can keep moving now that I got my first win of the season, but — not only me —  the whole team. After getting our first series win now, we feel we can just go ahead and cruise now.”

Rosa proved effective for Rutgers in the rubber match on Sunday. The sophomore went six quality innings for the Knights, allowing only one earned run on three hits.

Rosa, who had made only three appearances on the mound during the season, had been splitting time playing second base, designated hitter and occasionally pitching.

Litterio said a change in his role is likely in order after he showed flashes on the mound similar to last season. Rosa had been one of the key pitchers for Rutgers in 2014, posting a 6-3 record and an earned run average under three.

“On Saturday, Howie Brey gave us the opportunity to win that game,” Litterio said. “We finally have our pitching rotation set up with the starters and relievers — they all did a good job. Gaby Rosa had good, quality pitches (Sunday). Last year, he basically did it on his fastball. Today, he had a changeup and a slider working for him. We’re still going to use him hitting-wise, maybe a pinch hitter or designated hitter, but he’s going back to the starting role on the mound.”

The offense for the Knights was vital to the wins over the weekend. Rutgers outhit the Boilermakers in each game of the series — 12-9, 10-5 and 11-6 — and combined that with effective pitching on the mound.

Milo Freeman burst onto the scene, going 8-for-14 in four games dating back to March 18 at Ball State. In the series finale against Purdue, the freshman infielder went a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate with an RBI and three stolen bases.

According to junior infielder Chris Suseck, when one member of the lineup hits well, the rest of the team follows suit. Suseck was able to bolster the lineup Sunday by going 3-for-4 and scoring two runs.

“We were all just feeding off of each other,” Suseck said. “Hitting is really contagious. When you see one of your teammates have a quality at-bat, you kind of just want to outdo them. We strung a few quality at-bats together, and that led to a lot of runs for us. I was seeing the ball well. I just wanted to get ahead in the count. When I did that, I could just hunt for fastballs and fortunately I put some good swings on them.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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