HONOLULU, HI- With a blistering 10-1 start to the season, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights baseball team entered an 11-game road trip on a seven-game winning streak and with a full head of steam. Rutgers rode a string of blowouts into Hawaii with the strong pitching and powerful bats as they prepared to take on the Rainbow Warriors.
Hawaii wasn't off to the greatest of starts, as they were 4-8 entering the series against red-hot Rutgers. They did, however, have one huge advantage: home field. It wouldn't be traditional home-field advantages like batting last or stadium dimensions; instead, it was the time zone. The massive time zone differences between Hawaii and the East Coast had the Scarlet Knights playing at times they aren't typically accustomed to. Most Rutgers fans watching the first game of the series on the East Coast were likely in bed.
By the final game of the series, fatigue was finally beginning to affect Rutgers. Ultimately, they settled for a series split, dropping the first and last games but taking both games of a doubleheader in between.
March 11: The Series Opener
The Scarlet Knights rallied from a 7-1 deficit with eight unanswered runs in the series opener. But Hawaii took the lead with four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, and Rutgers' comeback attempt fell short in an 11-10 loss. The defeat snapped the team's seven-game winning streak.
Brian Fitzpatrick struggled on the mound for the Scarlet Knights, allowing seven runs on five hits in just three innings of work, although three of those runs were unearned. Hawaii would draw first blood against him in the third inning when right fielder Matt Wong hit a two-run single to right. Rutgers got a run back in the top of the fourth on an unearned run when Ryan Lasko reached second on an error and scored on a double by third baseman Chris Brito.
However, Hawaii blew the game open in the bottom of the frame. First baseman Jacob Igawa led off with a double before an error and a walk loaded the bases. Catcher Nainoa Cardinez was hit by a pitch to force in a run, and shortstop Jordan Donahue followed with a two-run single to chase Fitzpatrick. Sam Bello entered in relief and allowed two unearned runs on a fielder's choice and a sacrifice fly before stopping the bleeding, but the game appeared to be turning into a rout.
But the Scarlet Knights immediately made it a game again in the top of the fifth. Although Hawaii starter Andy Archer held Rutgers to just one run through four innings, he was replaced by Buddie Pindel. Jordan Sweeney greeted him with a double before scoring on an RBI single by Danny DiGeorgio. A groundout by Lasko plated Mike Nyisztor before Brito was hit by a pitch. Nick Cimillo then drove in DiGeorgio with a single, forcing Pindel out of the game for Connor Harrison. The new pitcher faced only one batter, throwing a wild pitch to let Brito score. Blaze Koali'i Pontes finished the inning, but the Scarlet Knights were in striking distance again.
Rutgers rallied again to take the lead in the top of the seventh. After a hit-by-pitch, walk, and single loaded the bases, Tony Santa Maria made it a one-run game with a fielder's choice. Tai Atkins entered the game, but a walk reloaded the bases before Nyisztor put the Scarlet Knights in front with a two-run single. Richie Schiekofer followed with another RBI fielder's choice to make it 9-7.
Unfortunately, Hawaii put together a decisive rally in the bottom of the eighth. Garrett French, who replaced Bello in the seventh, got the first out but then gave up two straight singles, forcing closer Dale Stanavich to enter the game. He was greeted with an RBI single by DH Dallas Duarte before getting the second out, but Wong hit a run-scoring double to tie the game. A passed ball allowed the go-ahead run to cross, while a throwing error on the same play allowed the eventual game-winning run to score. In the ninth inning, the Scarlet Knights threatened when DiGeorgio cut the deficit to one with an RBI single down to his final strike. But with the tying run at second and the go-ahead run on first, Dalton Renne entered and got Lasko to fly out to center to end the game.
Atkins earned the win, while Stanavich was charged with the loss.
March 12: Doubleheader
With their winning streak snapped, the Scarlet Knights started a new one with a doubleheader sweep.
The first game, which lasted only seven innings, was a 13-1 rout. Before throwing a single pitch, starter Jared Kollar was staked to a 6-0 lead. With the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the first, Brito was hit by a pitch to bring in the game's first run before Evan Sleight ripped a two-run double, making it 3-0 Rutgers. Three more run-scoring hits followed to push the lead to six before the inning finally ended.
In the third inning, Rutgers pushed across three more runs. Another hit by pitch with the bases juiced (this one to Schiekofer) forced in a run before DiGeorgio followed with a two-run single. Cimillo launched a solo shot in the fifth inning, and Brito hit a three-run bomb in the seventh to turn the game into a laugher.
Meanwhile, Kollar was masterful, pitching a complete game to preserve the Scarlet Knights' tired bullpen. The only blemish was a home run to Igawa in the third. Besides that, Hawaii was completely stymied as Kollar improved to 3-0 on the season.
The bats cooled off in the nightcap, but what they produced was more than enough as the Scarlet Knights claimed a 6-2 victory. The team scored all the runs they would need in the top of the first against Cory Ronan. Lasko doubled in Nyisztor to open the scoring, and then back-to-back errors allowed two more runs to score to give Rutgers an early 3-0 lead. Hawaii cut their deficit to one in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single and a bases-loaded walk, but that was as close as they would get.
Rutgers' bullpen held the Rainbow Warriors scoreless for the rest of the game. Ben Gorski, who replaced starter Justin Sinibaldi in the second inning, escaped a bases-loaded jam and picked up the win by tossing four shutout innings. The offense added one run in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, while Stanavich slammed the door with a two-inning save.
March 13: The Series Finale
Despite the doubleheader sweep, fatigue was setting in among the Scarlet Knights by the series finale, and they were forced to settle for a split after a 13-7 defeat.
Rutgers once again scored in the first inning when Cimillo drove in Nyisztor against starter Dalton Renne. But Hawaii would quickly get that run back on a fielder's choice by Igawa in the bottom of the inning. Aaron Ujimori gave the Rainbow Warriors the lead with an RBI single in the second.
The third inning was a massive missed opportunity for the Scarlet Knights. Three straight singles loaded the bases for DiGeorgio with no outs, but he would ground into a double play. A run scored to tie the game, but a chance to do damage was squandered. Hawaii scored two unearned runs in the bottom of the third to take the lead back, and this time, it wouldn't be relinquished.
The Rainbow Warriors added on with three runs in the fifth, courtesy of an RBI double by Wong, an RBI single by Cardinez, and an RBI bunt single by Donahue that saw the run score before Cardinez was tagged out at third to end the inning.
The Scarlet Knights got all three runs back in the sixth on a two-run single by Santa Maria and an RBI single by Josh Kuroda-Grauer, but Hawaii blew the game open with five runs in the bottom of the frame. The big blow was a two-run triple by Stone Miyao. Rutgers scored a pair of runs in the top of the eighth to make it 12-7, but Hawaii got one of those runs back in the bottom of the eighth to complete the scoring.
Rutgers used nine pitchers in the game, but none were particularly effective. The pitchers didn't receive much help from the defense as the team was saddled with three errors.
What Does This Mean for Rutgers?
Although the bats remained hot throughout the Hawaii series, as the Scarlet Knights scored at least six runs in each game, the pitching was somewhat inconsistent. In contrast to the doubleheader, where Rutgers only gave up three runs total, the moundsmen gave up a combined 24 runs in the two defeats, both of which undid strong offensive showings. However, it is worth mentioning that Rutgers scored ten runs in their only other loss of the season entering this series. Hence, it appears the offensive production so far has been sustainable. As long as the pitching finds consistency as they did on the first road trip, the bats will put up enough runs to win more often than not.
Next Up for Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights will continue their road trip against the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks in a three-game series. The first pitch is on Friday at 7 p.m. in Omaha.