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Rutgers Baseball defeats Butler on walk-off single

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Knights notch first victory of the season Friday.

West Virginia v Rutgers Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images

Rutgers began the season with losses at the hands former Big East foe Miami a week ago and returned to action in the All State Sugar Bowl baseball classic in New Orleans today. The round robin format featured RU, the University of New Orleans, Butler, and Chicago State. Mardi Gras may not officially begin until March 5, but RU had some excitement from the start.

Friday: Rutgers 3, Butler 2

The tournament opening start went to Harry Rutkowski. Rutgers served as the home team and the Bulldogs aided by a Rutgers error (Rutkowski fielding a bunt) put up a quick two runs in the top of the first. After that, Harry settled in and was simply dazzling; pitching into the 8th inning without allowing another run.

Unfortunately, Rutgers was unable to score off Butler starter Ryan Pepiot, though they did manage to chase him from the game in the 6th as his pitch count was already at 105 for the day. Finally in the 7th inning the Scarlet Knights caught a break as freshman shortstop David Soto scampered home on a wild pitch to slice the deficit in half.

Rutkowski began to tire in the 8th, but Tommy Genuario came in and was able to strand two inherited runners. Rutgers was unable to score in the bottom of the 8th as Butler brought in closer Zach Pilcher, one of the Big East’s best with 10 saves in 2018, who struck out Kevin Blum to end the frame. After a rain delay in the top of the 9th, opening day starter Serafino Brito was called upon to preserve the lead. Brito, who closed last year, inherited two runners and issued one walk, but retired the side with the bases loaded to keep it a 2-1 deficit heading to the bottom of the ninth inning.

Pilcher remained in the game after the rain delay and surrendered a hit to Mike Nysiztor to lead off the inning. Pilcher lost command after that, committing two wild pitches to get the tying run to third base in Nyisztor. Walks to Kevin Welsh and Chris Brito loaded the bases for designated hitter Tim Dezzi. Dezzi had been the Knights’ hottest hitter entering the game and had added two more hits already.

With nobody out and the tying run at third, Butler elected to play their corner infielders even with the bag and their middle infield back. Dezzi would have been ok with a sacrifice fly or even just a grounder up the middle to plate Nyisztor and tie the game. Instead, Dezzi did one better and drove the ball to the left centerfield gap that scored Nysiztor and Welsh without a throw for a Knights walk-off victory.

Decisive stat: Seven and a third innings, ZERO walks. Rutkowksi’s stat line was impressive, but the zero walks is probably the best data point of them all. It allowed his pitch count to remain at a comfortable 95 even when he departed the game having allowed just one earned run into the 8th inning of play. In total he allowed just five hits (two in the first inning alone) and struck out four.

Notable: Rutgers only had six hits, but received nine walks including three issued to Carmen Sclafani. Soto was 0-2 with two walks and a run scored, making two errors at shortstop. Blum’s return to the lineup produced a golden sombrero. Rutgers did not have a walk-off victory in 2018.

Next up:

Saturday: University of New Orleans at 3 pm.

Sunday: Chicago State at 11 am.