Rutgers erupts in fifth to sustain win streak

<p>Senior left fielder Vinny Zarrillo helped the Knights play small ball in the 9-3 win over in-state foe Rider. He laid down a bunt for a single in the fifth inning to load the bases for Rutgers en route to a five-run rally, extending the team's home winning streak to 16.</p>

Senior left fielder Vinny Zarrillo helped the Knights play small ball in the 9-3 win over in-state foe Rider. He laid down a bunt for a single in the fifth inning to load the bases for Rutgers en route to a five-run rally, extending the team's home winning streak to 16.

When senior first baseman Joe D’Annunzio came to bat in the fifth inning, he was probably unaware of the rally he was about to start for the Rutgers baseball team. After he got ahead in the count, he reached on a walk after five pitches.

What ensued was an offensive rally, changing a 3-2 lead in favor of the Scarlet Knights and putting it far out of reach for Rider.

After the base on balls, right fielder Tom Marcincyzk singled and senior left fielder Vinny Zarrillo followed up with a bunt single. With the bases load, Rutgers went to work.

A walk from sophomore shortstop Christian Campbell followed by a sac fly began the run scoring. Three more hits followed, and the Knights opened up the lead to 8-3 — a lead they would not surrender the rest of the game.

When all was said and done, Rutgers exploded to a 9-3 win against Rider – its fourth win in a row and the nation’s second-best home win streak at 16 straight at Bainton Field.

Zarrillo said that in the inning the Knights were able to take advantage of the opposition having command issues. Rutgers used a combination of walks, errors by the opposition and key hits from its offense.

“We took advantage of some walks, and we had some timely hitting in the inning with some guys in scoring position to get the runs in,” Zarrillo said. “We’re definitely capable of putting up some runs, even though a lot of games have been close. All that really matters, though, is winning games.”

The five runs and five hits in the fifth inning turned out to be the difference. Head coach Joe Litterio admitted that while the Knights won’t always win by a 9-3 margin, they are capable of doing so if they play like they did Wednesday.

“We got that big five-run inning in the fifth and before that, it was a tight game,” Litterio said. “It was a 3-2 game, but they gave us some free passes and we took advantage of it. That’s the type of game where we can expand the lead like that. If they give us free bases, we can take advantage with some hits and bring them around.”

Sophomore left-hander Ryan Fleming failed to make it past the third inning for Rutgers. Fleming struggled with controlling his pitches — walking three batters. He allowed just one unearned run, but his pitch count crept too high up.

Litterio and the Knights then had to turn to the bullpen to account for the remaining six innings.

Freshman right-handers John O’Reilly and Ryan Wares, along with sophomore left hander Max Herrmann, effectively at up the innings.

O’Reilly went three innings, allowing three hits, two runs — one unearned — en route to his team-leading third win on the season. Wares blanked Rider in the seventh and eighth innings, allowing no hits and no runs. Herrmann was able to shut the door in a scoreless ninth inning.

Litterio said he was pleased with the combination of young arms and harped on how valuable they have been all season.

“So far those two guys (Wares and O’Reilly) are successful,” Litterio said. “They come in and are confident. They are young freshman, but they are pounding the zone and keeping the game where it is, giving us a chance to get the lead.”

O’Reilly, who has factored into the win column a third time, came in having to keep the game close enough for Rutgers to pull out the win. With his fastball and his command in check, O’Reilly felt his stuff was working well.

“It feels good to get my third win of the season, but I came in, in a good spot,” O’Reilly said. “The offense hit the ball well for me, so it’s easy to win when you get that kind of hitting. Everyone has good days and they have bad days, but for me to go three innings, Wares and Herrmann coming in — everyone threw well. I was going inside on batters and that was working well. Most times batters are looking for an off-speed pitch with two strikes, but it’s surprising what a well-placed fastball will do.”

While the Knights' pitching has done well most of the season, the bats sometimes failed to support. Litterio felt that it was all coming together for Rutgers offensively against Rider. He said it wasn’t the amount of hits the lineup claimed, but the way in which it did so.

“We had 12 hits, but they were key hits," Litterio said. "I think we are finally doing it again, where we are getting the big hits in the big spots. That gets the score to where it is. It’s contagious and guys keep on getting hits. It’s good to see — really good to see.”

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

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