Last weekend, the Rutgers baseball team finished the 2021 season with a series win over Illinois. Playing an all Big Ten schedule was a major challenge, but the Scarlet Knights completed with its best finish since joining the league seven years ago. They went 21-23 for a .477 winning percentage, which saw them finish in 8th place in the Big Ten and had at least one victory against every team in the conference.
In his second year on the job and first season competing in the Big Ten, head coach Steve Owens had this team challenging for the program’s first NCAA Regional appearance since 2007 after a five game winning streak. That included a weekend, three-game sweep of Big Ten champion Nebraska. After winning just one of its next ten after a 17-13 start, RU won three of its last four to end the season.
“To come back and win a home series, which we hadn’t done since March, and win our 21st Big Ten game is a pretty good accomplishment and a good step forward for our program,” said Owens after Saturday’s season ending win over the Illini. “We played every other Big Ten team and beat them this year. A good stepping stone for the future.”
Rutgers had three reliable starters this season on the mound led by Harry Rutkowski and backed by two effective transfers in Ben Wereski (Columbia) and Brent Teller (Sacred Heart). Their steadiness led to RU having a 6-4-1 record in series of at least three games this season.
”Brent (Teller) and Ben coming in as grad transfers, they had a huge impact on our season,” Owens said. “I’m not sure we’re even close to the situation we are now without them as key weekend starters.”
Replacing all three starters next season will be the top priority for Owens this offseason. Rutkowski had a solid career, finishing with 221 strikeouts and 4.33 ERA in 44 starts. Wereski led the team with 8 quality starts and a 0.99 WHIP on his way to winning six games, the most by a Rutgers starter since 2016. Teller sparkled in a seven shutout inning performance against the Cornhuskers, finishing with a 4-4 record and a 4.56 ERA. All three starters finished in the top 23 in ERA in the Big Ten.
The bullpen was led by redshirt sophomore Dale Stanavich, who registered team best marks with a 3.13 ERA and 5 saves, also struck out 30 batters in 23 innings of work spread over 17 appearances.
Chris Brito earned Third Team All-Big Ten honors after leading the team with with a .923 OPS, 33 runs scored, 43 RBIs, 89 total bases, a .527 slugging percentage and 23 walks drawn. He was fourth in the Big Ten in RBI’s and tenth in homers. The redshirt sophomore moved to third base this season and handled the transition well, becoming the first at his position to earn all-conference honors since Patrick Kivlehan made First Team All-Big East in 2012.
Ryan Lasko made the All-Big Ten Freshman team in leading Rutgers with 11 homers, as well as finishing with a .474 slugging percentage, 28 runs, 22 walks and 30 RBIs. His versatility in playing all three outfield positions led to 122 putouts as well.
Lasko and Brito hitting ten or more homers in a season is the first time Rutgers had multiple sluggers do that in the same season since Pat Biserta and Michael Lang did it in 2010. They give the offense some real weapons to build on for the future.
Owens will have plenty of production to replace for next season both at the plate and on the mound. However, with the progressed made and ground work laid in his first full season at Rutgers, it is clear the program is on the rise.