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Rutgers baseball enters final weekend with Big Ten title on the line

The Scarlet Knights are on the road at Michigan with the series set for primetime.

Laney Ortiz/Rutgers Athletics

No. 25 Rutgers baseball won their last home game of the 2022 season on Tuesday in a 12-2 romp of St. Joseph’s. The Scarlet Knights improved to 40-12 on the season, joining the 2001 squad as the only teams to win 40 or more games in program history. They finished 19-5 at Bainton Field, their best mark since 2014, a season before joining the Big Ten.

With a breakthrough season in head coach Steve Owens third year at the helm, Rutgers enters the final weekend of Big Ten play tied with Maryland atop the league standings. While some may look at that as disappointing in a way because RU has been in first place alone most of the season, that view would be lacking context. The program’s eighth place finish last season was the best since joining the Big Ten and they’ve never even qualified for the eight team Big Ten Tournament (last season it was not scheduled). They’re guaranteed to be at worst a top four seed when the event takes place on May 25-29 in Omaha, Nebraska.

Rutgers is in Ann Arbor for a three-game series against Michigan (26-24; 10-11) beginning tonight at 8:00 p.m to conclude the regular season. RU will also face the Wolverines at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, May 20 followed by a 5:00 p.m. first pitch on Saturday, May 21. All three games will be televised live on the Big Ten Network.

Maryland (42-10; 16-5) will travel to Purdue (29-17; 9-10) for a three-game series Thursday through Saturday. The Terps need to just match Rutgers this weekend with wins and losses to earn the Big Ten regular season title due to owning the tiebreaker after winning two of three against the Scarlet Knights earlier this month. The only way RU can win the title is if they play a game better this weekend.

Anything is possible. An example is Rutgers sweeping eventual Big Ten champion Nebraska in Lincoln last season. Both Purdue and Michigan are in the top 8 of the Big Ten standings, so this weekend won’t be easy for RU or Maryland. One thing to consider is the only power five team in college baseball with 20 or more road wins is Rutgers and they are 8-1 away from Piscataway in Big Ten play. Last season, they took two of three in Ann Arbor against a ranked Michigan team at the time.

Expect Rutgers to be confident in their ability to take this series and if they do, they’ll at worse finish in second place in the conference. Both Illinois and Iowa linger two games behind Maryland and RU but also play top 8 teams in Penn State and Indiana, respectively.

A key for Rutgers is to bring their bats against a Michigan team that has allowed 8 or more runs in its last eight games. They’re averaging 11.1 runs allowed over that stretch and just gave up 43 runs in a three game sweep by Maryland last weekend. This is good news for the Scarlet Knights, who lead the Big Ten with a .321 team batting average and RBI’s as well as second in home runs.

Catcher Nick Cimillo leads the Big Ten with a .749 slugging percentage, a .514 on-base percentage, a 1.263 OPS and is second with a .406 batting average. Centerfielder Ryan Lasko leads the Big Ten with 82 hits and 72 runs scored, is second in doubles, seventh in slugging percentage and OPS, while also eighth in batting average. Chris Brito leads the Big Ten with 69 RBI’s, is fourth in OPS, and fifth in slugging percentage. All three sluggers are in the top ten in home runs, as Brito is tied for fifth with 16 while Cimillo and Lasko are tied for seventh with 15 apiece.

The Scarlet Knights pitching staff features Jared Kollar and Nathan Florence as the top two starters. Kollar enters this weekend with a 8-2 record, a 3.65 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 69 innings pitched. Florence is 6-2 with a 3.23 ERA and 78 strikeouts over 55 23 innings this season. In the bullpen, RU features one of the best closers in the country in Dale Stanavich, who is second in the Big Ten with 10 saves and has a 1.37 ERA with 39 strikeouts over 26 13 innings pitched.

It should be an entertaining weekend of Big Ten baseball and all three games for Rutgers will be aired live on BTN. This program has come a long way and is on the brink of making history.

UPDATE:

On Thursday, Rutgers lost to Michigan 9-6 and Maryland defeated Purdue 14-7. They lost again on Friday as the Terps clinched the Big Ten regular season title. The Scarlet Knights salvaged the series with the Wolverines with a 18-12 victory on Saturday to finish 17-7 and earn the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament.