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Rutgers baseball comes from behind in three straight games to sweep Indiana

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The Scarlet Knights own the nation’s longest winning streak with 15 consecutive victories.

Jordan Sweeney (No. 32) was the hero in wins on Saturday and Sunday.
Ben Solomon/Rutgers Athletics

No. 22 Rutgers baseball continues to roll as they swept Indiana this past weekend and hold the nation’s longest winning streak at 15 straight victories. The Scarlet Knights trailed in the 8th inning or later in all three contests against the Hoosiers but were able to overcome each deficit with clutch hitting. RU is now 30-6 overall and sit atop the Big Ten standings with an 11-1 record in league play.

In the series opener on Friday, the biggest improvement with this team showed up in a big way. Rutgers made three tremendous defensive plays that kept them in the game. Chris Brito turned a double play from first base in the first inning, while third baseman Tony Santa Maria snared a rocket down the line to end the third inning which prevented a run from scoring. With the Scarlet Knights trailing 3-2 in the eighth inning, Ryan Lasko threw out a runner at the plate to escape with the Hoosiers just scoring once after loading the bases with no outs.

RU responded in the bottom of the eighth with 3 runs to clinch the victory in the series opener. After loading the bases with no outs just like Indiana just had, Josh Kuroda-Grauer tied the game with a sacrifice fly. With two outs, lefthanded batter Evan Sleight beat the lefty reliever for the Hoosiers for a game winning, two-run single.

“He had a great approach on that at-bat and that was the at-bat that counted for him today,” Rutgers head coach Steve Owens said. “You can’t be great in every at-bat. They’re good pitchers and they’re a good team. He came up with a big hit at the right time.”

Starter Jared Kollar produced a quality start with allowing just one earned run over 6 innings along with five strikeouts. He left with two runners on in the seventh and turned it over to Sam Bello, who allowed a run to score on a sacrifice fly. however, Bello was able to hold the Hoosiers with help on Lasko’s throw to earn the win on two innings of relief. Closer Dale Stanavich earned his Big Ten leading eighth save of the season with a perfect ninth inning of relief.

Saturday’s game was another tight one as Indiana led 2-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, Jordan Sweeney came to the plate for just the second time after entering the game in the sixth inning. After lining out in his first at-bat, this time Sweeney hit a game winning bases clearing triple to give RU a decisive 4-2 lead.

Starter Nate Florence had allowed 2 runs in four innings on the mound, but the bullpen delivered with five scoreless innings of relief. Garrett French pitched three scoreless innings and allowed just one hit. Sam Portnoy pitched a scoreless eighth inning to earn his second win of the season. Sam Bello closed out the game with a perfect ninth inning to earn his first save of the season.

“Our guys threw the ball great,” Owens said. “It was a little rocky at the start for Nate. He got through it, got us into the middle of the game. Garrett kind of carried it on and then Sam got us the big double play ball.”

In the series finale on Easter Sunday, Rutgers trailed the entire game falling behind 4-0 early and the 8-3 after Carter Mathison hit a grand slam for Indiana in the top of the fifth inning. It did not deter the Scarlet Knights, who cut the lead to one run after Josh Kuroda-Grauer delivered a two-run single with the bases loaded. Evan Sleight and Nick Cimillo also knocked in a run apiece earlier in the inning.

Chris Brito’s solo homer in the seventh cut the Hoosiers lead to 9-8 before a dramatic bottom of the ninth unfolded. With one out, Tony Santa Maria fouled off four pitches, including three with two strikes, before tying the game on the eighth pitch of the at-bat with a solo blast inside the left field foul pole. Soon after with two outs, Jordan Sweeney played hero for a second straight game. After running the count full, Sweeney hit a walk-off home run over the left-center field wall.

After starter Justin Sinbaldi allowed three earned runs in three innings, the Rutgers bullpen finished the game with recording 12 outs without allowing a run. Sam Portnoy pitched a perfect 1 23 innings of relief while Sam Bello won his second game of the weekend and third of the season in getting out the last two Indiana batters of the game.

Earlier in the game, Mike Nyisztor had an infield single to become just the 18th player in program history to produce 200 hits in his career.

“This was a crazy game,” Head coach Steve Owens said. “We weren’t really sharp on the mound or on defense, but we got back in the game in the middle of it. We handed the ball off to eight different guys who did the best they could to keep it right where it was and pitched out of some tough spots.” “It’s just a great team win,” Owens said. “It would have been very easy to give up after the grand slam. Most teams give up when you give up a grand slam in the middle of the game and go down 5. This team doesn’t give up. I’m really happy with the toughness that we’re showing.”

There is no better story in college baseball right now than what Steve Owens’ club has accomplished so far this season. Not even picked to finish in the top six in the Big Ten, Rutgers holds a half game lead in the Big Ten standings over Illinois and holds the longest winning streak in the nation. This team took steps forward last season but have blossomed into as good a team this program has had in years.

The Scarlet Knights moved into the national polls last week for the first time since 2010 at No. 22 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper rankings. They jumped all the way to No. 8 on Monday in their latest poll. No other traditional national outlet ranked Rutgers this week, although they received 103 votes in the Coaches Poll and are the last team out of the Top 25. Regardless, RU looks to continue to build off their program best start to the season with five more contests this week.

Rutgers (30-6; 11-1) will host Iona (1-29) on Tuesday at Bainton Field before traveling to Princeton (4-24) on Wednesday. The first pitch for both contests is at 3:00 p.m. The Scarlet Knights then host another important three game series against Big Ten foe Iowa this coming weekend. The Hawkeyes are 20-12 overall and 6-3 in league action after sweeping Minnesota this past weekend.