Despite losing its five-game winning streak to Hofstra on Wednesday, the Rutgers baseball team entered this past weekend's series against Purdue in a battle for possession of one spot in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Scarlet Knights (15-21, 7-5) took 2 of 3 games against the Boilermakers (13-25, 6-8).
Rutgers won the first game thanks to sophomore left-handed pitcher Harry Rutkowski, who gave up zero runs, six hits and accumulated 12 strikeouts in the eight innings he played.
Junior outfielder Kevin Blum reached first base on a fielder’s choice in the second inning to score the game’s first run as true freshman outfielder Victor Valderrama crossed home plate. The second and only run of the game came when senior infielder Carmen Sclafani hit an RBI ground out to bring junior infielder Kevin Welsh home.
The Knights went on to win the first game 2-0.
But Saturday belonged to Purdue. As junior right-handed pitcher Tommy Genuario faced a bases-loaded situation with no outs, the Boilermakers' Milo Beam reached first base on an error by Sclafani, scoring 2 runs.
This made head coach Joe Litterio pull Genuario off the mound for true freshman right-hand pitcher Garrett French. Despite the change, Rutgers trailed 2-0 by the conclusion of the seventh inning.
In the next inning, the Knights were able to notch a run on the board as Purdue relief pitcher Dalton Parker threw a wild pitch, allowing Welsh to cross home plate to make it a 2-1 game.
A potential tie faded away after senior catcher Tyler McNamara and Sclafani struck out to keep sophomore infielder Mike Nyisztor at third.
After French walked the leadoff batter for the ninth inning, junior right-handed pitcher Steven Acosta was put on the mound to give Rutgers a chance at a possible tie. He walked three batters and even allowed a runner to walk home to bring the game back to a 2-run deficit, ending his day.
Junior left-handed pitcher Eric Reardon would walk another Boilermakers batter to home plate and allowed a 2-run single to put Purdue up 6-1. The Knights would go on to lose the contest 6-2.
After splitting Games One and Two of this past weekend’s series, the Boilermakers had a chance to knock Rutgers out of eighth place in the Big Ten standings.
The rubber match started with Purdue in position to strike first as junior left-handed pitcher Tevin Murray faced runners on second and third with only one out. He was able to get out of the jam as he struck out the Boilermakers' catcher Zac Fascia and Ryan Howe grounded out to conclude the first inning on Easter afternoon.
Nyisztor hit a double down the line to get the Knights in position early for a score. The next batter, Welsh, singled down the third base line to set Rutgers up with runners on the corners.
Purdue pitcher James Kulak pitched cautiously as he walked true freshman infielder Chris Brito to load the bases. McNamara was then hit by a pitch to bring home Nyisztor.
Valderrama grounded into a fielder’s choice to get on first. Despite Brito getting out at third, Welsh crossed home plate safety. Sclafani chopped a single to left field to bring home McNamara to make the score 3-0.
Kulak was taken out after recording just four outs with the reigns given to Kyle Wade. In the third inning, redshirt freshman infielder Tim Dezzi put the Knights in business again with a leadoff single up the middle.
Before Brito struck out, the ball went right past catcher Fascia as Dezzi stole second base. McNamara drove home Dezzi on a double to notch Rutgers' fourth run of the game.
Murray had a solid outing as he only gave up just seven hits and walked only one batter in six innings pitched.
In the sixth inning, Valderrama hit a ball over the fence for a ground rule double. The Knights' lowest productive batter, true freshman infielder David Soto, hit a single that hopped toward the middle of the field, allowing Valderrama cross home plate.
An inning later, Brito became the sixth Rutgers player to score, thanks to Valderrama's bat that tallied his second hit of the game with a single up to center field.
The Knights' no-run bid was busted by the Boilermakers' Milo Beam, who hit an RBI single to bring in Howe in the eighth inning. Despite that, Rutgers picked up a 6-1 victory to win the series.
"To come out in the first inning and not let them score and put three on board right away changed the game,” Litterio said. "Tevin didn't have his best stuff like last week, but battled through to give us a chance to win. And it was important to tack on runs late. We talked about taking care of business at home and we were able to do that this weekend."
The Knights' road to the Big Ten Tournament doesn’t get easier, as they will have their next two conference series on the road against Michigan this upcoming weekend and Penn State the following weekend.
Rutgers will be in the tri-state area as it will play Columbia on Tuesday and return to Bainton Field on Wednesday for a make-up game against Iona.
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