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Rutgers Baseball heads to Florida after walking off Monmouth

10th inning wild pitch wins it, plus Litterio’s thoughts so far, and a Statistical Update.

Seeing the ball has not been easy for the Knights at the plate this year.
David Anderson

After a condensed weekend in Spartanburg that saw two separate one run games in a doubleheader, RU returned to New Jersey and was able to get the home opener in as a tune up for the annual Florida Spring Break Trip. The game was tight in the final innings.

Rutgers 2, Monmouth 1 (10 innings)

With first pitch near 50 degree temperatures, RU was able to play their first home game of the 2019 campaign against in-state Monmouth.

The Scarlet Knights got on the board quickly in the bottom of the first when Mike Nyisztor led off with a single, stole second, advanced to third on an errand pickoff, then scored on a sacrifice fly by Chris Brito. It would be the only offense for quite some time as Rutgers could not score against the starter or three Monmouth relievers. Nyistor and Tyler McNamara each had two hits in the early innings.

Monmouth couldn’t break through for five innings against RU starter Jack Parkinson (2 IP), Steven Acosta (2 IP), or Tevin Murray (1 IP). In the 6th, Kyle Muller began the inning but ran into trouble. After a one-out single, third baseman Carmen Sclafani could not get the out on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Tommy Genuario came in relief and allowed a single to left by JD Andreeson to tie the game. Genuario got two groundouts to end the threat.

With the game still tied 1-1, Monmouth got traffic on the basepaths with two outs in the 8th off Parker Scott, so Coach Joe Litterio elected to insert closer Serafino Brito. Brito got a key strikeout to escape the jam.

The Scarlet Knights caught a break to begin the bottom of the inning when Tim Dezzi hit a chopper and beat the throw to first. He was replaced by Victor Valderrama as a pinch runner. Chris Brito then walked and clean up man Tyler McNamara bunted the runners to second and third. Kevin Welsh hit a rope to left field, but not deep enough to score Valderrama. Sclafani fouled out to end the inning with the game still tied heading to the 9th.

Serafino left a runner stranded at third in the top of the 9th and daylight becoming a factor. Luke Bowerbank whiffed to start the bottom of the inning and his struggles continue, hitting under .100 after leading the team in hitting with a .303 average in 2018. David Soto tried to bunt for a hit and popped out to the pitcher. Kevin Blum also showed bunt early in his at bat before striking out.

Serafino returned for the 10th and quickly disposed of the first two batters, but after back to back singles faced another jam with runners at the corners. With Monmouth cleanup hitter Johnny Zaga at the dish, Brito fielded a slow bouncer near the third base line, and fired off his back foot to retire the side. It was a tremendous play to keep the game tied.

Nyisztor added his third hit to lead off the bottom of the 10th but Valderrama still in the game couldn’t get the bunt down. Chris Brito hit a ball to short that cut down Nyisztor for the second out, but Monmouth’s double play attempt was thrown away allowing Brito to get to second. After pinch runner Alex Russo replaced Brito, McNamara was intentionally walked. With Kevin Welsh at the plate, a wild pitch moved the runners up and pushed the count to 3-1. With a base open, Monmouth freshman pitcher Mason Miler was wild again, allowing Russo to scamper home for the winning run.

Decisive stat: Rutgers pitchers only walked one batter. By keeping free passes to a minimum they only let one run across despite nine Hawk hits.

Notable: Chris Brito also walked twice. Nyisztor stole two bases.

Thoughts on the season so far

Coach Litterio spoke with me this past Sunday about the season up to this point, heading into the annual Florida trip. The Scarlet Knights need to improve all-around.

“Our offense needs to do a better job producing runs and getting on base.” “Starting pitchers need to go out and do their job. Right now they are not doing it, but it’s not all on them, it’s the defensive end of it, too. We are not making the plays and giving extra outs. That’s one thing we did a good job of last year. We preached the 27 outs and when they give you one, you have to take one. You can’t give five outs in an inning.”

Speaking of the bats finally getting going late in Saturday’s doubleheader:

“Hitting is contagious so once guys start swinging the bat, guys start feeling good about themselves and we start going. We have played in some tough conditions to hit, but no excuses. We talk about seeing more pitches and getting good counts ..”

The two players that have been the most pleasant surprises are Tyler McNamara and Kevin Welsh. The biggest difference with McNamara has been the leadership.

“It’s Tyler McNamara, going from a backup guy to a guy who can step in that way, it’s a positive.” Earlier in the conversation coach had already mentioned, “With Matera getting drafted, [Tyler] was sitting behind him for a while and learned a lot. He developed while he was doing that, so now he has taken on a leadership role which we need more of. He can’t do it by himself and when you have 17 freshmen on your squad, it’s tough. We are going to have to go through these games where we’re making these freshmen mistakes.”

“Kevin Welsh is a guy who’s being a little bit more of a leader this year on the field.” Coach continued about Welsh when asked about Kevin’s power from the left side after just becoming a switch hitter while in college. “When I saw him in the cages, the last weekend of the year two years ago, he looked pretty good. So he’s really worked in the offseason, back in the fall, looking real good. He shows that in BP sometimes that he has that power to right field.”

Heading into the Florida trip next week I asked if there were any major adjustments the staff was expecting to make. Coach replied;

“It’s tough to make major adjustments, especially on the defensive end of it when you have a bench of six freshmen. So if the changes were there, we’d be making those changes right now. So we are going out there with the younger guys, i think a couple of the older guys need to be producing. And they haven’t yet. And they’ve known this, so that might come around. The bigger thing is on the pitching end. That’s where we might see some moves and I need to sit down with Coach Cundari and he’s a master at it. He’s going to figure this thing out and we have to figure out who can get us to where we need to get to. Gerace did a pretty good job in his first college start, for three innings. So he (Cundari) will piece it together and again when you change a staff like we have, we have to get the guys we want in our program, so that’s why the big turnaround. We graduated eight and had two drafted. Those young kids are all ones we are bringing in now. We have a good couple recruiting classes behind them so there’s going to be some growing pains this year that we are going to deal with, but hopefully we right the ship before we start conference.”

Thanks to Coach Litterio for his time and good luck to the team on their upcoming trip.

Statistical Review (through 13 games)

Batting leaders (min. 2 PA/G and 75% of games played)

BA: McNamara (.324), Dezzi (.313), Serruto (.304)

Hits: Dezzi & Nyisztor (15), McNamara (11)

RBI: Welsh (7), McNamara & C. Brito (4)

Runs scored: Welsh (6), Blum, Nyisztor, & Sclafani (5)

Stolen bases: Blum (4), Nyisztor (3), Bowerbank & Sclafani (2)

OPS: McNamara (.821), Serruto (.724), Dezzi (.698)

NOTE: Andy Axelson has a hit in his only at bat. Brett Sternberg is 4-6 including a double.

Pitching leaders

W: S. Brito (3), Fitzpatrick (1)

SV: none

ERA: Rutkowski (3.52, 23 IP), Gerace (3.65, 12.1 IP), Acosta (3.86, 7.0 IP)

SO: Rutkowski (25), Murray (21), Fitzpatrick (11)

IP: Rutkowski (23), Murray (14.1), S. Brito (13.1)

Next up:

Ft. Myers, FL trip for a three game weekend set against FGCU March 15th-17th. Friday begins at 6:30 pm.