Without looking too far ahead, the Rutgers baseball team had to have known after winning its opener of pool play that it would ultimately have to get past Louisville in order to have a chance to capture the AAC and its coveted automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals.
And now, after a 5-1 loss to the hands of No. 8 Memphis, the No. 4 Scarlet Knights will have to do just that.
Despite the 10-0 pounding that they gave to South Florida two days ago and the beating that the Tigers took in a 13-3 loss to Louisville yesterday, the Knights couldn't take care of business against the lowest seed in the tournament.
Head coach Joe Litterio sent redshirt-freshman Kevin Baxter (5-8) to the mound and the righty ran into some early trouble. With a 1-0 lead in the bottom half of the second inning, Baxter missed terribly on a 1-2 fastball to Keaton Aldridge, and the Memphis catcher made Baxter pay with a solo shot to right to tie up the ballgame.
In the clip of the home run that can be seen here at the :29 mark, sophomore catcher R.J. Devish sets up low and away but Baxter delivers the pitch high and in -- right in Aldridge's wheelhouse.
And it was just what the Tigers needed to get going.
Baxter's day was cut short after the second inning. He gave up three runs on five hits before giving way to freshman lefthander Ryan Fleming, who held his own for a bit, giving Rutgers five innings of long relief.
Then there was that one wild inning.
A leadoff hit-by-pitch followed by back-to-back bunt singles by the Tigers had Fleming looking like a cat after a mouse with the way he was chasing after the slow rollers in the infield. Freshman righthander Colin Bohnert came on in a tough bases loaded situation with none out and, after getting the first out of the inning, saw freshman third baseman Christian Campbell airmail a throw to home and potential inning-ending double play, giving the Tigers two more runs and a 5-1 lead to eventually close out in the ninth.
Rutgers (30-24) managed seven hits on the offensive side of the ball, but couldn't scratch a single run across after drawing first blood on junior left fielder Vinny Zarillo's RBI-single through the right side. Zarillo (1-for-4, RBI, SB) and senior second baseman Nick Favatella (2-for-2, 2 BB) led the way at the plate for an offense that looked like a shell of what it was against South Florida.
Jon Reed (8-3) gave Rutgers fits all game, striking out six in a gutsy 124-pitch complete game.
Regardless of the win or loss here, however, it pretty much gets thrown out the window. Litterio will likely pull out one of the neuralyzers as seen in Men in Black to wipe the memory of his players.
If they want any chance of taking the AAC Tournament crown and earning a berth to the NCAA Regionals, the Knights need to forget everything they've done up to this point. It's all irrelevant.
Well, everything except for what they did against Louisville earlier in the season.
Rutgers announced that it will send freshman righthander Gaby Rosa out with the season on the line against the tournament's top seed. The last time he met the Cardinals, it was Rosa's coming out party, as he tossed a three-hitter in eight innings against what was then the No. 7 team in the country.
In the 11-2 win, which saved the Knights from a three-game sweep and 0-3 start in conference play, they had the perfect blend of timely hitting and a bulldog performance by Rosa.
The Co-AAC Rookie of the Year and his teammates are going to need lightning to strike twice tomorrow. The fate of their season depends on it.
All tournament games will be streaming online here. Rutgers takes on Louisville tomorrow at 3 p.m.