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Rutgers seizes series before dropping finale

<p>Freshman third baseman Milo Freeman reached base four times, going 2-for-2 with a solo home run and two walks in Rutgers' 16-5 loss to Seton Hall on April 26 at TD Bank Ballpark.</p>

Freshman third baseman Milo Freeman reached base four times, going 2-for-2 with a solo home run and two walks in Rutgers' 16-5 loss to Seton Hall on April 26 at TD Bank Ballpark.

SOMERSET, N.J. — Things did not go as planned for the Rutgers baseball team in the final game of its three-game series against Seton Hall this past weekend.

After winning the opening game of the rivalry series 3-2 at Seton Hall and winning a 4-2 ballgame in the second battle at Bainton Field Saturday, the Scarlet Knights clinched the series and headed to TD Bank Ballpark on Sunday looking to crack the brooms out for a sweep.

With a shortened outing from struggling sophomore right-hander Gaby Rosa and a lack of scoring late in the game, the Knights (15-27-1, 5-10) dropped the closing game of the series, 16-5, against the Pirates (20-17).

Rosa didn't reach the third inning, setting the bar for his shortest outing of the season. Rosa ended up allowing five runs, four of them earned, on seven hits and no strikeouts.

Rosa, the 2014 American Athletic Conference Co-Rookie of the Year, has struggled to replicate his freshman campaign in his second season. 

With a record of 1-5 and an earned run average climbing up to seven, Rosa knows what plagued him Sunday and all season.

“I just didn’t execute enough,” Rosa said. “With two strikes, I left the ball right over the plate. I couldn’t execute my secondary pitches, my change-ups and my fastballs — it just wasn’t working today.”

While Rosa and the rest of the starting pitchers struggled on the mound allowing a combined 16 runs on 17 hits, head coach Joe Litterio doesn’t point to just one aspect of the game to blame.

The pitching was a major part of it, but Litterio identified the poor fielding for Rutgers — three errors — and missed opportunities offensively as the main problem. 

The Knights left 13 runners on base, including three separate occasions of stranding the bases loaded.

“We have to get more consistent,” Litterio said. “We played very good baseball Friday and Saturday, but we kicked the ball around today. You can put it on the pitching staff, you can put it on giving up all those runs early, but weren’t consistent enough to win this ball game. Today was all about missed opportunities — we had bases loaded three times and only had one run. That’s not good enough.”

One of the lone bright spots Sunday for the Knights was the milestone for freshman third baseman Milo Freeman.

Freeman entered the box in the top of the second inning as the leadoff hitter. Seton Hall right-hander Zach Schellenger threw an inside fastball that Freeman turned on and lifted over the left field wall for the first home run of his career.

Freeman also added a single later in the game and walked twice. The freshman exits the series as the Knights' second-best hitter as far as statistics go with a .300 batting average. 

For the Millburn, New Jersey, native, extra work in the cage has led to success at the dish.

“It felt great,” Freeman said on hitting his first career home run. “I felt comfortable in the box today and I got a pitch I could drive — it was an inside fastball. I’ve just been able to get a lot of extra work — getting to the field early, hitting with (assistant coach) Tim Reilly. Now, I feel comfortable at the plate.”

With three weekend series remaining in the season, Litterio and the coaching staff will likely call on Rosa as the Rutgers' third starter.

Knowing he needs to remain consistent on the mound, Rosa acknowledged what he can do better in this outing and on the season.

“I can’t leave the ball over the plate,” Rosa said. “I was always behind hitters (in this game) and that’s big. When you are behind hitters with a 2-1, 3-1 count, they are hunting the fastball and they are hitting it. I have to start ahead and stay ahead —that’s really all there is to do.”

The Knights have three remaining Big Ten series on the season. Sitting in the 10th spot in the conference, Rutgers has collected momentum before the Penn State series next weekend with three out-of-conference wins.

Following up with a series against Illinois and Iowa, the Knights currently sit two games back of the eighth seed — the final spot available for the Big Ten Tournament. 

Litterio knows it’s time to step it up if Rutgers wants to make the postseason.

“We have two more weekends here in the Big Ten — and they are huge,” Litterio said. “We have Penn State and then two more series (against Illinois and Iowa). These are the games that can get us into the tournament, but we have to play consistent baseball.”

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

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