It has been almost a year since the Rutgers’ Baseball team took the field — a 5-2 win over Monmouth on Bainton Field in Piscataway.
On Friday night, the Scarlet Knights prepared to open the 2021 season against Indiana inside U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota.
Rutgers received six innings of one-run ball from ace Harry Rutkowski where he allowed just four hits and struck out eight. Rutkowski, who was expected to be selected in last year’s MLB First-Year Player Draft prior to COVID, was sensational and confirmed what head coach Steve Owens was expecting from his pitchers.
“We pitched very well from start to finish,” said Owens, who picked up a victory in his first Big Ten game. “Harry gave us a great start and struck out the last three guys in the sixth inning. And then, Muller did what Muller does. Now there is a new piece in the bullpen with Fitzpatrick coming in and doing a great job. The key to today was pitching and a couple key hits.”
Chris Brito got the scoring started with a solo shot over the centerfield fence to lead off the second inning. The Scarlet Knights jumped out to a 1-0 lead but the offense was held in check following the home run.
Indiana would tie the game in the top of the fourth on an RBI triple from Sam Murrison. Gabe Bierman picked up the loss for the Hoosiers allowing two runs in four innings. John Modugno provided four perfect innings of relief out of Indiana’s bullpen.
Rutgers stranded six baserunners over the first four innings. They showed their youth at times in the opener. The Scarlet Knights ran out a lineup that included true-freshman Ryan Lasko, along with four redshirt freshman.
In the bottom of the fourth, Grant Shulman delivered an RBI single with one out to put the Scarlet Knights back on top at 2-1. From this point on, Rutgers was able to get it done on the mound. They held Indiana to 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Rutkowski was pulled after 97 pitches in six innings of work. Owens outlined prior to the opener that the extra time to prepare for the season allowed the starting pitchers to be extended a bit.
Kyle Muller delivered a scoreless seventh inning before Brian Fitzpatrick picked up a two-inning save. The 6-foot-7 lefty made his first appearance since 2019 after suffering an injury. Fitzpatrick threw two perfect innings and fanned five of the six batters he faced.
A season-opening win over Indiana, who was picked as one of the favorites in the Big Ten, should give this young Scarlet Knight team some confidence moving forward. They will be back in action on Saturday night for a double-header. Rutgers will face Minnesota at 5 PM before meeting Indiana once again at 9 PM.
“Indiana and Minnesota are traditionally two of the better teams in our conference,” Owens said. “We have a lot of respect for them. We are treating every game the same. There were some great plays today, excitement in the dugout and they played relaxed, not starry-eyed. My coaching staff did a very good job of preparing and it’s great to get this win, better than a loss.”