Rutgers secures first win, takes series from George Mason
The Rutgers baseball team was able to quickly rebound from a tough opening series against No. 4 Miami, as it won two of three games on the road against George Mason this weekend.
The Scarlet Knights (2-4) played three closely contested games down in Virginia against the Patriots (1-5), but were able to emerge victorious twice behind their pitching and timely offense.
In the first game of a Saturday doubleheader, the offense exploded for nine runs in the seventh inning to give the Knights an 11-1 lead in the seventh inning.
“The first game was a close game until we broke it open, and I was glad to see our bats come alive in that game,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “We started out early on where we left off in Miami, but then something clicked and the guys started swinging it. Hitting is contagious, and we put up a nine-run inning, and that relaxed the entire team.”
Rutgers won the first game 11-5, with senior lefty Howie Brey earning his first win of the season in the process.
He lasted six innings, striking out six and giving up eight hits on 113 pitches.
Senior catcher R.J. Devish was a catalyst in getting the offense back on the right track.
He belted his first career home run and had four RBIs in the win, which played a big role in him becoming the first Knight to earn Big Ten Player of the Week honors Monday.
Another veteran in senior second baseman John Jennings sparked the offensive barrage, as he added two hits and two RBIs.
Devish led off for the Knights in the game and felt it was important for him to try to set the tone for the rest of the lineup by getting off to a quick start.
“It’s important to try to get things going from the top of the order, because that helps everyone throughout the lineup,” he said. “Hitting can be contagious, and everyone can start hitting.”
In the second game of the Saturday doubleheader, Rutgers was unable to hold an early lead and lost a tough one, 6-5.
Junior outfielder Tom Marcinczyk launched a grand slam to give the Knights a 4-2 lead in the fifth inning, marking the first Rutgers grand slam since the 2013 season.
But George Mason would quickly respond by scoring a run in both the fifth and sixth innings, before adding the two go-ahead runs in the seventh inning to take a 6-4 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
Junior Kyle Driscoll was the starting pitcher for the Knights and earned a no-decision after leaving with the lead after completing five innings and giving up just two earned runs.
It was a tough game to drop, but Rutgers knew it had its work cut out for it against a formidable opponent.
“I thought we let the second game slip away from us,” Litterio said. “It’s a long day out there playing for 18 innings, and I think we lost our focus a little bit … After the grand slam, we weren’t able to hold the lead and let it slip away. But (George Mason) is a good ball club, and that happens.”
In the rubber game of the series, the Knights showed resiliency by overcoming a four-run deficit to come back and win, 8-6.
Rutgers trailed 6-2 early on, but the bullpen closed the door on the Patriots by tossing 6 2/3 scoreless innings.
Junior Kevin Baxter, freshman Dante Scafidi, junior Max Herrmann and senior Reed Shuttle combined to throw the shutout innings out of the bullpen, with Shuttle earning his first career save by retiring four of the five batters he faced.
The prowess from the relievers allowed the bats to once again come alive.
Freshman Nick Matera led the offensive charge on Sunday, driving in four runs, including a three-run double and scored twice.
With the game then nodded at 6-6 in the seventh inning, he came to bat with the bases loaded and hit a grounder to third base, which allowed the go-ahead run to score and gave the Knights a 7-6 lead.
Rutgers later added an insurance run in the eighth inning, and the bullpen kept throwing scoreless frames to let the Knights hold on for the win.
The weekend was filled with clutch hitting and pitching, which allowed for comebacks, and should serve Rutgers well as it moves forward.
“These games showed how getting some hits can quickly change your mindset,” Marcinzyk said. “After every hit, you get another at-bat and a chance to do something with it. We never gave up and that was a key point for our success this weekend.”