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Two takeaways from Rutgers baseball's home sweep of Penn State

Freshman right-handed pitcher Christian Coppola set the tone in Rutgers baseball’s home sweep of Penn State with a 13-strikeout performance in the series opener. – Photo by Tom Gilbert /

The Rutgers baseball team swept Penn State at Bainton Field on Livingston campus this weekend. With three more conference wins under their belt, the Scarlet Knights (30-18, 11-7) have vaulted up to the fourth spot in the Big Ten standings. Here are the two biggest takeaways from the weekend.

Magnificence on the mound

Pitching has been Rutgers' biggest problem this year. While their batting has kept them in games, the Knights' pitchers have let games stray away. In this series, the pitchers were finally able to shine on the mound in a big conference series.

Just weeks removed from a dominant performance against Michigan, where he pitched eight scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts, freshman right-handed pitcher Christian Coppola pitched another gem against the Nittany Lions (24-18, 6-11). This time, the freshman tossed seven innings of 1-run ball while striking out a season-high 13 Penn State batters. He only allowed four hits and two walks.

Coppola lowered his earned run average (ERA) to 3.29 and his walks and hits per innings pitched rate (WHIP) to 1.19.

The very next day, junior right-handed pitcher Drew Conover had a spectacular performance of his own, pitching seven scoreless innings with nine punchouts. Conover lowered his ERA to 4.08 and has put together strong starts after a slow start to the season.

It was a bullpen day for Rutgers today, but each pitcher contributed in their own way. Junior right-handed pitcher Ben Gorski closed the game out with four scoreless innings and four strikeouts. Gorski will continue to be one of the main relief pitchers out of the bullpen for the Knights as the season reaches a close.

With the Big Ten Tournament looming and a potential national tournament bid at stake, Rutgers' pitchers showed out this weekend in Piscataway.

Bats on fire

While the Knights' pitching was a key factor in the sweep of the Nittany Lions, their bats were equally as important in the victories.

In Friday's game, Rutgers earned the 8-1 victory, getting 11 hits on the day. The win was sealed thanks to a grand slam from senior infielder Chris Brito as part of a 5-run sixth inning.

The Knights' bats remained on fire in yesterday's 10-0 shutout of Penn State, exploding for 10 runs in the first three innings of the game, along with 11 total hits again. In the opening inning, Rutgers scored 6 runs with run-scoring doubles from junior outfielder Evan Sleight and freshman designated hitter Hugh Pinkney and run-scoring singles from junior infielder Jordan Sweeney and senior catcher Andy Axelson.

In the series closer today, the Knights again flourished in the first inning, jumping out to a 5-run lead on the way to an 8-2 victory over the Nittany Lions.

It was a special day at the plate for one Rutgers batter. In the fifth inning, Brito sent a shot over the left field wall for his 11th home run of the year. It was Brito's 43rd home run on the Banks. With his solo blast, Brito passed former Knights great Todd Frazier in program home runs.

Rutgers' pitching and hitting will look to stay hot next weekend as it will return to Bainton Field on Friday for its last Big Ten homestand of the year against Illinois.

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

Editor's note: This article was edited to correct grammatical errors.

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