Rutgers swept clean in series with No. 13 Virginia

<p>Senior Christian Campbell has contributed as both a pitcher and infielder this season.</p>

Senior Christian Campbell has contributed as both a pitcher and infielder this season.

After beating then-No. 17 Miami in its season series opener, the Rutgers baseball team was itching for more as it headed down south to take on No. 13 Virginia. It was the first meeting between the Scarlet Knights (1-5) and the Cavaliers (7-0) since 1962 and the first time Rutgers opened the season against two consecutive top-25 teams since 2009.

Coming into the weekend, the Knights led the all-time series 5-1. Virginia made a huge dent in that record as it took all three games in emphatic fashion and swept Rutgers right out of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Despite what the final scores say, the Knights remained competitive in each game over the weekend until the Cavaliers would finally break things open.

“I was happy with the fact that in every game by the fifth and sixth innings, it was a one-run ballgame,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “(Sunday) left a bad taste in the mouth because it was a one-run ball game through five (innings) and (James Torres) got out of there just giving up that two-run home run, it’s still a 5-2 game and then we just kind of imploded.”

Rutgers would go on to lose Sunday’s game by a final score of 18-2, experiencing exactly what they had done to Miami last weekend.

“We just got to figure out how to finish games,” Litterio said. “That’s one of the areas that has stood out so far in these first six games. Guys coming out of the pen, someone has got to step up and want to throw and be able to hold a team where they are and give us a chance to come back late in the game.”

The bullpen struggles have been enough to overshadow what has been a considerably strong offensive unit.

In the first two games, the Knights struck first — notching early leads in the first inning. It seemed whenever Virginia would score, Rutgers would come right back and score in the next half-inning. In fact, in their first six games of the season, the Knights have hit six home runs, the most this early in the season since 2009.

Coach Litterio thinks the “castle” may be behind this mid-season form offensive production.

“This preseason I think we’ve gotten a lot more swings in the new facility,” he said. “We’re much more game ready early on than we’ve ever been so I think that has something to do with it.”

Despite the plethora of long balls, Litterio is hesitant to call his ball club a home run hitting team.

“We do have power in the lineup, but I don’t want to say we’re a home run hitting team,” he said. “I just think the early live at-bats in the new facility have really shown that we’re probably four or five weeks into where we normally are when we step out against Miami.”

On Saturday, Rutgers lost by a score of 12-4, but when going into the bottom of the fifth, it was only a 4-3 deficit. The Knights were only down 4-3 going into the sixth inning on Friday before ultimately losing 7-3.

Junior third baseman Milo Freeman, who enjoyed a nice weekend, going 5-11 with two runs batted in (RBI) — part of an offense that collected 21 hits over the three-game series —  is looking at the bigger picture.

“Sunday’s game was tough,” he said. “But it’s baseball and the good thing about it is we got another game on Tuesday, a midweek game to get back on track and get ready for next weekend.”

Rutgers will play Wagner on Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Bainton Field, the earliest home game in program history.

After playing such a strong team in Virginia, senior first baseman Christian Campbell is confident that tough competition will only make the Knights a better team and will help them have success this season.

“Just playing against a skilled team is great for a team that is learning how to beat great teams just like them,” he said.

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

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