Rutgers' bats provide pop for pitching win over Columbia

<p>Sophomore right-hander Kevin Baxter delivers to the plate in the April 15 win over Columbia. Baxter fanned five Lions over six and one third, allowing three earned runs on four hits in the Knights' 7-4 win.</p>

Sophomore right-hander Kevin Baxter delivers to the plate in the April 15 win over Columbia. Baxter fanned five Lions over six and one third, allowing three earned runs on four hits in the Knights' 7-4 win.

For a squad that has been struggling to put runs across when it has mattered most, the Rutgers baseball team took the field Wednesday against Columbia with something to prove.

Sitting in ninth place in the Big Ten Standings, the Scarlet Knights needed to gain momentum offensively in the midweek game and bring it into the weekend series against Michigan State. 

Behind the arm of sophomore right-hander Kevin Baxter, they were able to do just that.

With flashes of excellence and only two hiccups on the mound, Baxter boasted one of his best outings of the season and the Knights offense responded.

Rutgers ended the game with a final tally of eight hits in a 7-4 win against the Lions while Baxter collected his second win of the season with a career-high five strikeouts.

Head coach Joe Litterio couldn’t say enough about the performance from Baxter. Going against a tough Columbia team, Litterio knew the task would be difficult for his midweek starter.

“(Baxter) pitched outstanding,” Litterio said. “That’s a very good offensive team — they have guys who can hit it out of this ballpark with ease. He had only two hits going into the seventh inning. It was impressive how he kept them off-balance and get the amount of fly outs that he did. It’s good to see him get a win.”

Baxter took the challenge and went with it, going six and one-third innings to allow only four hits and three-earned runs on a pair of home runs by the Lions (19-12). Baxter also struck out five batters, breaking a previous high of four that he set earlier this season.

Between the second and seventh inning, Baxter retired 10 batters in a row and did not allow a hit until a homerun in his last frame.

While Baxter pitched effectively on the mound, crediting pitching coach Casey Gaynor with a slight adjustment, he couldn’t keep track of how many punch outs he threw — perhaps the number was too high.

“I didn’t even realize I got a career-high in strikeouts. I thought I tied it with four,” Baxter joked. “I was just trying to get ahead and get the ball to our defense. They make all the plays for me. The offense got a big lead for me — it’s so much easier to pitch with a big lead. I have to thank the offense and defense, they did everything. I didn’t do anything but throw strikes.”

With credit for the win falling on Baxter’s shoulders and gaining praise from Litterio, the Waterford, New Jersey, native deflected some praise to that of his offense and defense behind him.

The Knights (12-23-1, 5-7) made the most of their opportunities on offense, scoring seven runs on only eight hits. Rutgers also walked three times and reached base on four hit-by-pitches.

Senior first baseman Joe D’Annunzio said he felt that the Knights took advantage of every opportunity given to them — a welcome change from the Indiana sweep this past weekend and the tie on Tuesday against Lafayette.

D'Annunzio said the biggest thing for Rutgers was its early attack, allowing enough timely hitting to support Baxter.

“We got runners on, got into good hitter’s counts and we cashed in today unlike other days, he said. "Balls went through and we only had eight hits, but scored seven runs. When we get guys on and we move them over, we got to get them in. We don’t know how many runs we are going to need to score, so we just have to keep putting up. At the end of the day, we just have to score more runs than they do.”

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

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