Rutgers was the hottest team in college baseball last week after winning 16 straight games and having won all four Big Ten series’ of the season so far. The streak ended for the Scarlet Knights against in-state rival Princeton (6-26) last Wednesday. After RU held a 7-6 lead midway through the game, the visiting Tigers scored two runs in the ninth inning to win 9-7. Iowa (23-13; 8-4) then came to Bainton Field this past weekend and won the first two games before Rutgers was able to end the three game skid with a 10-4 victory on Sunday. The win keeps the Scarlet Knights (32-9; 12-3) in first place in the Big Ten with a 1⁄2 game lead over Illinois (20-16; 11-3).
The series between Rutgers and Iowa featured the two best pitching staffs in the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes led RU 2-1 on Friday before tacking on two more runs to win the series opener. Starter Jared Kollar (6-1) suffered his first loss of the season in allowing 2 earned runs over 4 1⁄3 innings along with 4 hits, 4 strikeouts and 3 walks. The Scarlet Knights only mustered 6 hits in the game but it was one more than Iowa. However, two errors in the field along with 6 total walks doomed them. Garrett Callaghan drove Mike Nyisztor in the second inning on a triple for the only run in the game for the home team.
On Saturday, Iowa scored 12 unanswered runs before Rutgers added on two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Scarlet Knights committed another two errors in the field and the pitching staff walked nine Hawkeye batters. Starter Nathan Florence allowed just one earned run in four innings pitched with 8 strikeouts, 3 walks and 4 hits surrendered. The offense generated just four hits all day with two coming in the ninth. Danny DiGeorgio had an RBI double and run scored.
The shortstop was able to carry that into Sunday, as DiGeorgio led Rutgers to a 10-4 victory behind with a big day at the plate. He went 4 of 5 with a double, 3 RBIs, 3 runs and stole home in the decisive fourth inning that put the game out of reach.
POURING IT ON!!!— Rutgers Baseball (@RutgersBaseball) April 24, 2022
Danny DiGeorgio steals home, Josh Kuroda-Grauer hits an RBI single and Tony Santa Maria crushes an RBI triple! It's a 9-3 lead over Iowa! pic.twitter.com/K0L94enlbK
Josh Kuroda-Grauer was 2 of 5 with a double, 2 RBIs and a run scored. Cameron Love was the third Scarlet Knight with a multi-hit game (2 of 3), Tony Santa Maria was the third player to drive in multiple runs (2 RBIs) and reserve catcher Andy Axelson had a RBI double. Rutgers delivered a 13 hit game against an Iowa pitching staff that leads Big Ten play with a 2.95 ERA.
“We got hits through the lineup today,” head coach Steve Owens said. ”Danny DiGeorgio had a special day and Josh Kuroda-Grauer was awesome today. Andy Axelson and Cameron Love gave us a spark. We played errorless defense and we were able to score in multiple innings with a really good offensive approach. We ran into a tough week with a lot of issues and we’re through it. We’re in first place and we’re looking forward to next week.”
Starter Justin Sinibaldi allowed three earned runs and five hits in three innings while also striking out four. The star out of the bullpen was Sam Bello, who improved to 4-0 on the season with four scoreless inning of relief.
Owens added, “Sam Bello was awesome today. He gave us length and was really good, especially with his slider. He pitched with conviction.”
While the Scarlet Knights dropped their first Big Ten series of the season this past weekend against Iowa, they maintained their lead in the conference and are still in a strong position to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years.
An important piece moving forward for this team is to regain its health. Starting catcher Nick Cimillo, who leads the Big Ten in slugging percentage, on-base percentage, OPS and is second with a .404 batting average, has missed the past four games due to a minor injury and is considered day-to-day. Outfielder Richie Schiekofer remains out but is also day-to-day with an upper body injury. Four different players made their return Sunday after being out due to various minor injuries. They were Andy Axelson, who replaced Cimillo, Evan Sleight DH’d following a lower body injury that kept him out the first two games of the series, closer Dale Stanavich pitched for the first time since getting hit with a line drive against Indiana and Cameron Love was back after an extended absence.
Rutgers is tied for the second most overall wins this season in the nation and will host Hofstra (18-16) on Tuesday before traveling to Ohio State (13-23; 3-10) for a three-game series next weekend.