Rutgers Scarlet Knights Baseball won the first B1G series with Penn State last weekend and continued league play with a doubleheader at Michigan State Friday. Rutgers got the victory in the first game by a score of 8-4 behind another outstanding pitching performance from John O’Reilly. Rutgers had a 6-2 lead in the 8th inning of the second game, but as we have seen all too well, no lead is safe in metal bat college baseball. Luckily Rutgers held on for a doubleheader sweep.
Friday (Game 1): Rutgers 8, Michigan State 4
Michigan State got two runs in the second inning on a home run from Zack McGuire. O’Reilly kept the Spartans off the scoreboard otherwise and Rutgers staged a huge rally in the 5th beginning when Carmen Sclafani got the team’s first hit leading off the frame. Hits from Dan DiGeorgio, Luke Bowerbank, and Mike Nyisztor got one run across and the bases jammed for Jawuan Harris. Harris hit the gap in left center for triple that drove in three runs. A sac fly from Kyle Walker put Rutgers up 5-2.
After that, three hits in the 6th plated another run and the score remained 6-2 until the bottom of the 8th. O’Reilly had pitched out of minimal trouble most of the day but allowed three straight hits cutting the lead to 6-4. With the tying run on base, O’Reilly reared back and induced a grounder to short for the 2nd out, and a grounder to second base for the 3rd out of the inning.
Rutgers immediately regained the momentum as Chris Folinusz came up with the sacks full and two away in the top of the 9th. Folinusz doubled in Luke Bowerbank and pinch runner Kevin Blum to regain the four run cushion. That was plenty for Serafino Brito in a non-save situation, as he retired the side to seal the victory.
Decisive stat: 8 more innings. O’Reilly continues to be a workhorse and by eating up so many innings, it saved the bullpen for a very condensed series. He allowed eight hits and only struck out two as he pitched to contact, allowing him to go deep into the game for the second consecutive start. It was a great lesson to the team’s younger starters on how to pitch with a lead.
Notable: Joe Litterio made his first radical defensive change of the year by swapping Kevin Welsh and DiGeorgio. It worked as Rutgers had a clean sheet defensively, while the Spartans ultimately committed three errors in the contest. Walker’s hitting streak came to an end at 17 games as he went 0-2 with two walks and an RBI. Bowerbank went 3-4 with an RBI and two runs scored. DiGeorgio had two hits including the double, a run scored, and a stolen base.
Opponent notables: Zac* Attack. Second baseman Zach Iverson had a triple and first baseman Zack McGuire (3 for 3) had the homer. 3rd hitter Dan Chmielewski had two hits. Leadoff speedster Justin Antoncic had two hits, but did not swipe any bases. Starter Riley McCauley allowed six earned runs in 5.1 innings.
Friday (Game 2): Rutgers 6, Michigan State 4
The Scarlet Knights kept the momentum going with a run in the top of the first when Harris walked on a close pitch then advanced to third on an error. Folinusz knocked him in with a single. Rutgers starter Harry Rutkowski had a shutdown inning, though he did allow two stolen bases in the frame. It would be something to watch because the top three men in the Spartan order had 33 stolen bases combined heading into the game.
In the 3rd, Nyisztor was victimized by a hooking bomb to the warning track in left that he was unable to haul in. After a balk, Litterio decided to play his infield back up 1-0. A grounder to Welsh at second allowed the tying run to score. Hindsight is 20-20 but perhaps Litterio felt it would be risky to play infield in since DiGeorgio and Welsh had so few game reps at their new positions. It didn’t matter nearly as much as it could have because once again, Rutgers responded immediately in their next turn at bat. They kept the line moving with four runs on five hits keyed by a two RBI double by Kevin Welsh. After that Rutkowski was on cruise control as he retired 11 straight hitters at one point.
Rutgers had a chance to blow it open in the 7th. Chris Folinusz, the owner of four hits on the day already, came up with the bases loaded. He put a charge in one to deep center but it was caught. All three runners moved up including Nyisztor coming in to score for Folinusz’s 2nd RBI of the second game. Carmen Sclafani (two hits himself in the 2nd game already) had a chance with the runners in scoring position and two out. He hit a rocket directly to the leftfielder to send the game to the 7th inning stretch with Rutgers ahead 6-1.
McGuire finally broke through against Rutkowski with a long double over the head of Jawuan Harris to begin the bottom of the 7th. A base hit up the middle by Chad Roskelly knocked in McGuire to make it 6-2 and brought up Iverson. A nicely turned 5-4-3 double play stunted the possibly of a major rally. Rutkowski got a punchout to complete his 7th inning of work at 99 pitches which turned out to be his last toss of the game.
DiGeorgio walked to open the 8th but was picked off. After McNamara’s second hit of the game Kevin Welsh went down the right field line for what appeared to be his second double of the day. Oddly, the ball was ruled foul even though everyone in the stadium other than the first base umpire thought the ball was fair by at least a foot. The Knights would not score and still led 6-2 heading to the 8th.
Karl Blum confused everyone by entering the game wearing #14 (previously worn by Eric Reardon). He hit the first batter he saw (8th hitter Will Salter) then allowed a hit up the middle to Ryan King with the top of the order coming up. After a flyout and strikeout, #3 hitter Chmielewski reached on an field single to load the bases. Karl walked in a run and was relieved by Collin Kiernan. Kiernan walked the first batter he faced to force in the Spartans fourth run to cut the lead to two. Kiernan regrouped to get an out that stranded the potential tying and lead runs to preserve a 6-4 lead.
Rutgers failed to add insurance in the top of the 9th and things got interesting for the second consecutive inning in the bottom half. After a leadoff walk, Kiernan was replaced by closer Brito who had already pitched in the first game. Brito whiffed the first batter he faced but then issued a free pass to put the tying runs on base with one out. Serafino bore down though and induced a game ending double play to complete the doubleheader sweep clinching Rutgers fifth consecutive weekend series victory.
SERIES WIN! Brito locks it down for Rutkowski & #RBaseball also claims the nightcap at Michigan State, 6-4. Scarlet Knights with five-straight series victories, 4-1 in the Big Ten & 15-9 overall. pic.twitter.com/DffRHUK1WE— Rutgers Baseball (@RutgersBaseball) March 30, 2018
Decisive stat: 7 more innings. Rutkowski had more than just a quality start to earn his team leading 4th victory, and Rutgers needed it with a struggling bullpen. Harry avoided trouble because he only allowed four hits despite keeping the ball near the plate.
Notable: After a mini-slump, Folinusz seems to be heating up again, as he recorded multiple hits in each game. Matera was not in the lineup after catching 9 innings in the first game.
Opponent notables: Salter (a catcher) is the grandson of 1968 World Champion Detroit Tiger backstop Bill Freehan. Bryce Kelley who did not start the first game either swiped his 18th and 19th bases of the year. Starter Ethan Landon had been a tough luck loser all year (0-4 with a solid 2.52 ERA) but allowed five earned in six innings with most of the damage in the fateful 4th.
NOTEWORTHY: The MSU radio announcers sounded sullen as their team has struggled early in the season. They gave kudos though on good plays by Rutgers including three nice ones from Carmen Sclafani at third base. They referred him as a “good player” several times, one of which was just before he was thrown out stealing. The praise later extended to the entire state, “New Jersey is a baseball state.” “Kids growing up want to play baseball there.”
The series concludes Saturday at 1 pm. Probable starters - RU (Eric Heatter), Michigan State (Mason Erla). Inclement weather is expected though with Sunday as a possible make-up date in the event of a rainout.