Rutgers fights Lafayette into extra frames before darkness forces tie

<p>Sophomore left-hander Ryan Fleming held Lafayette at bay in his relief outing, but couldn't earn his first win of the season in a tie.</p>

Sophomore left-hander Ryan Fleming held Lafayette at bay in his relief outing, but couldn't earn his first win of the season in a tie.

Sophomore left-hander Ryan Fleming ended the game Tuesday against Lafayette with four strikeouts in a row after retiring six-straight Leopard batters. But when the game ended, there was no losing pitcher and Fleming didn’t have the chance to earn his first win of the season.

The Rutgers baseball team desperately needed offense going into the two midweek games this week against Lafayette and Columbia. And for a team that has struggled all season to score runs and support the starting pitchers, the Scarlet Knights wanted to pick it up before the weekend.

Against Lafayette (7-18-1), the Knights sought to gain some momentum in the midweek before the weekend series against Michigan State, but they didn’t quite accomplish that goal.

With the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 12th inning, Fleming entered his second inning of relief. After seven straight Leopards were retired by Rutgers’ pitchers — including three batters being struck out in order by Fleming in the final frame — the game was over.

The Knights (11-23-1, 5-7) did not win or lose — they tied Lafayette 3-3 Tuesday in the first game of a midweek back-to-back. The game ended with an even score in the 12th due to darkness because Karmine Stadium, Lafayette's home field, does not boast lights.

A tie is rare in college baseball, especially for Rutgers. The last time the Knights ended a game tied was against Fordham in a home matchup way back in 2008. It’s a downer for the Knights that they didn’t have the opportunity to finish out the game, senior left fielder Vinny Zarrillo said.

“It’s definitely frustrating. You never want to tie and you always want to win the game,” Zarrillo said. “We were ready to go in that last inning to take our at-bats, but they called it and we were all frustrated. But they don’t have any lights, so what are you going to do.”

Not being able to finish out the game upset Rutgers, but even more troubling for head coach Joe Litterio was the opportunities the Knights left on the field. Litterio said he thought that Rutgers should not have even been in that situation late in the game.

With nine hits stretched out over the 12 innings, the Knights are still searching for momentum offensively entering their second midweek Wednesday against Columbia.

“We’re trying to win that game and at the same time we are fighting the clouds and the darkness,” Litterio said. “It feels like every inning is almost the last inning. When you don’t win a ballgame, it’s not really a good thing. I was disappointed — we had our opportunities early in the game, we didn’t really run the bases well and that cost us an extra run. We took it too lightly and I think early on we had a chance to put the team away and it didn’t happen. We let them stay in the game.”

Litterio went on to say that the outings from senior closer Jon Young and Fleming were the lone positives to take from the game.

Young and Fleming combined for five shutout innings of relief to close out the game. Young allowed three hits over three innings pitched, while Fleming put up nothing but zeroes in his appearance.

For Fleming, it was his best outing of the season and he hopes he can build on the performance. Litterio said Young and Fleming impressed, but the Churchville, Pennsylvania, native felt he had more in him if the game kept going.

“I’m just happy I was able to extend the game,” Fleming said. “I was happy the coaches had faith in me to put me into that spot and gave me the opportunity to do that. It worked out for me, but it kind of sucks we didn’t get the win. It feels good to have a good outing because lately I’ve been struggling and I’m starting to do better now, but for a few weeks I wasn’t pitching my best. I knew I had more pitches in me, but I’m more bummed we didn’t get the win.”

When the Knights face off against Columbia, the feeling will be different. Rutgers planned to pick up the offense against Lafayette and ride the momentum, but that didn't happen.

Zarrillo said the Knights now have a chip on their shoulder while they finish out the midweek games.

“I think this game fires us up a little more,” Zarrillo said. “It’s very frustrating to get a tie knowing that we should’ve won. I think (Wednesday) we are going to come out swinging from the get-go and try and get the win.”

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

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