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Three takeaways from Rutgers baseball's 1st conference series win against Michigan

Senior infielder Chris Brito helped the Rutgers baseball team get its first conference series victory of the season against Michigan. – Photo by Rich Graessle /

The Rutgers baseball team won its first Big Ten conference series of the season this weekend after taking 2 of 3 games against Michigan. The Scarlet Knights (20-16, 4-5) improved their win percentage and showed off their bats against the Wolverines (19-16, 7-5).

Shining under the Friday night lights

For the first time in program history, Rutgers played in a game under the newly installed lights at Bainton Field on Livingston campus during a midweek victory against Marist. A few days later, the Knights faced off against Michigan with the sun setting and the stars shining. For Rutgers, the bats were the ones doing the most shining.

Before Friday's opener, it was announced that the Wolverines' pitcher Connor O'Halloran would start. O'Halloran was coming into the matchup with the best-earned run average in the Big Ten, but the Knights drove O'Halloran out of the game after the first inning, as the pitcher let up 4 earned runs, three hits and a walk.

Junior outfielders Ryan Lasko and Evan Sleight and junior infielder Cameron Love drove in multiple runs in both the bottom half of the first and second frames. After two innings, Rutgers led 7-0.

That lead would grow to 10 runs as senior catcher Andy Axelson hit a 2-run home run on a line drive over the left field wall, followed by a solo home run by sophomore infielder Josh Kuroda-Grauer. The Knights would tack on 3 more runs later in the game as they combined for a 13-run, 18-hit performance.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Christian Coppola dazzled on the mound, delivering eight shutout innings along with 12 strikeouts and only five hits allowed in the 13-0 win over Michigan.

Rain dampens the Knights

Rutgers jumped out to a 6-run lead in the second game of the series, courtesy of a grand slam by senior infielder Chris Brito and a 2-run shot by Sleight. Soon after, though, things started to fall apart for the Knights.

In the fourth inning, Ted Burton hit a 3-run home run to tie the game up at 6. Shortly after, the game was suspended due to a rain delay and was pushed to Sunday morning. When play resumed, Michigan continued its fourth-inning rally as Joe Longo sent a 2-run blast to the seats, which gave the Wolverines their first lead of the day.

Rutgers tied the game up at 8, but Michigan scored 5 unanswered runs to close the eighth and ninth innings on the road to its 13-8 victory.

The bullpen struggled immensely in the loss and allowed 11 runs, 9 of which were earned.

Sunday's series salvation

Thirty minutes after the series' second game, the Knights and the Wolverines met for the last time. Rutgers looked much better in the final game, earning a 6-3 victory.

Junior right-handed pitcher Drew Conover had his best start of the season, firing seven scoreless innings, six strikeouts and only three hits and walks allowed each.

Freshman outfielder Trevor Cohen drove home 2 runs on two separate singles in the contest, while Brito had two hits of his own along with 2 runs scored.

After the game, Brito spoke about the importance of the team earning their first conference series victory of the season.

“It was really exciting playing in front of the fans,” Brito said. “It was a good crowd, and we gave them what they wanted. We got a series dub for them, and we’re doing what we can to get rolling to get to the top of the Big Ten right now.”

The Knights will next meet with Monmouth in West Long Branch, New Jersey, at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Afterward, they will travel to Evanston, Illinois, to face off against Northwestern for another crucial Big Ten weekend series.

For more updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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