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What went wrong for Rutgers baseball in 2023 Big Ten Tournament?

Despite posting a winning record, the Rutgers baseball team flamed out of the Big Ten Tournament, losing both of its games. – Photo by Mark Kuhlmann /

In the double-elimination Big Ten Tournament, the Rutgers baseball team lost to Nebraska by a score of 9-7 and then fell to Michigan State the following day by a score of 6-4. The Scarlet Knights' (33-23, 14-10) chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament plummeted after both defeats.

So, what went wrong in both losses? The answer is bullpen trouble.

In Rutgers' first game at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska, last Tuesday (33-23-1, 15-9), the Cornhuskers got an early 3-run lead. The Knights' bats were silent until the fifth inning, when they knotted the score up at 3 runs apiece. Rutgers was able to take a 6-3 lead in the seventh inning, seemingly shifting the momentum in its favor and quieting down the Nebraska fans in attendance.

In the next half-inning, though, things started to go wrong for the Knights. Junior left-handed pitcher Grant Besser relieved freshman right-handed pitcher Christian Coppola who had started the game by only allowing 3 runs through six innings. Besser promptly gave the Cornhuskers a base runner with a hit by pitch. Nebraska was able to get two runners in scoring position with a double quickly after.

The Cornhuskers tied the game back up after Gabe Swansen took an off-speed pitch deep for a 3-run home run. Following this home run, head coach Steve Owens pulled Besser and made a call to the bullpen. He brought in junior right-handed pitcher Ben Gorski who was Rutgers' strongest reliever in the regular season. Coming into the game, Gorski pitched for a 2.77 earned run average (ERA) with eight saves and 46 strikeouts through 39 innings.

Gorski was able to retire the first two batters but struggled for command after. The next six batters he faced all managed to get on base as he allowed a single, four walks and a hit by pitch. Two of Gorski's walks came with the bases loaded. By the end of the seventh inning, Nebraska was up 9-6 and was able to keep its lead for the rest of the game.

It was a bullpen collapse that came at the wrong time for the Knights.

The very next morning, Rutgers was set to play against the Spartans (33-22, 12-12) with both teams' seasons on the line. After the top of the fifth inning, The Knights found themselves down 3-1 but scored the next 3 runs in the bottom half of the fifth inning. Michigan State tied the game at 4-4 in the sixth inning.

Junior right-handed pitcher Jake Marshall tossed a scoreless top of the seventh but let up a single and a walk in the eighth. With one out, Owens brought in sophomore left-handed pitcher Joe Mazza who allowed both Spartan base runners to come home after loading the bases with a walk. Owens made another switch on the mound by bringing in junior right-handed pitcher Garrett French, who walked the first batter he saw, forcing a run for Michigan State.

The Spartans got the win off of two run-scoring walks in the eighth inning. While the bats didn't show up for Rutgers, the relief pitchers did not help with their errant command on the mound. The Knights were unable to replicate their success in the Big Ten Tournament last season.

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

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