PISCATAWAY, NJ- After a weekend series full of dramatic, come-from-behind victories, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights baseball team needed a stress-free game to recharge.
While ranked No. 8 on Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's rankings and boasting a 15-game winning streak that is the longest in Division I baseball currently, the Scarlet Knights did get a little banged up against Indiana. Several key players and bullpen pieces were in need of well-deserved rest, and catcher Nick Cimillo, arguably Rutgers' best hitter and one of the most fearsome bats in the Big Ten, suffered a minor injury in the Easter Sunday finale and is reportedly day-to-day.
Fortunately, the Scarlet Knights had a very weak opponent coming to Bainton Field on Tuesday, allowing them to rest some players and keep their win streak alive.
The Iona Gaels weren't just bad; they were Bad News Bears bad. Their record of 1-29 entering Tuesday's game was even worse than it looked. They started the season with 27 straight losses, with the one win coming against Saint Peter's (another very bad team) in the first of a three-game set that they still lost. The team had an ERA over 10, a very poor .217 batting average, and an abysmal .945 fielding percentage. In short, this team was awful and was being outscored by over 250 runs.
There was one positive about Iona, though. Rutgers sophomore third baseman Tony Santa Maria had played with the Gaels as a freshman last season, where he was named to the MAAC's All-Freshman team. Santa Maria clearly showed his talent with Iona, and it is on full display with Rutgers, having further developed into one of the team's most important players.
So what happens when one of the worst teams in the country goes up against the hottest team in the country? The answer to that question is "a predictable result".
This game was over by the second inning. Rutgers scored 11 runs in said inning to increase their lead to 14-0, and the lead would continue to grow. By the time the 27th out was recorded, it was a 19-1 drubbing.
Despite Cimillo and center fielder Ryan Lasko not playing, the lineup went wild with eight extra-base hits, including a pair of triples and four home runs. The Scarlet Knights put up 18 hits, with an additional eight walks.
"There was some good stuff through the lineup," Rutgers manager Steve Owens said. "We didn't really chase balls today. We got in good counts and we got a lot of hits early in the game."
Just like in Rutgers' blowout victories against Wagner, Saint Peter's, and Lafayette, freshman Wyatt Parliament toed the slab for Rutgers. Unlike in those games, Parliament did not allow a run in the first inning. He did allow a hit to third baseman Nick Carnevale, the game's first batter, but backup catcher Jason Shockley foiled a subsequent stolen base attempt. The freshman had the longest and best outing of his young career, hurling 5 2/3 shutout innings with only two hits and tallying five strikeouts. The sixth inning was uncharted territory for Parliament, who capped off his career day with a strikeout of his final batter.
"His command was better again, he threw more strikes and he's continuing to progress and get better," Owens said of Parliament. "He was able to get out there into the sixth inning which was good progress for him."
It didn't take long for the Scarlet Knights to knock around Iona starter Loncey Conyers, who received no additional help from his defense. Shortstop Danny DiGeorgio started the bottom of the first with a walk and a stolen base and scored on designated hitter Chris Brito's "Little League Home Run". Brito had tripled to right field to drive in DiGeorgio, but while he rumbled to third, second baseman Bowman Phoenix airmailed the throw into the Rutgers dugout, and Brito was awarded home plate for an unearned run.
Rutgers took advantage of Iona's atrocious defense again in the inning. Santa Maria hit a seemingly harmless popup near the backstop, but catcher Chris Mariani lost sight of the ball and dropped it in fair territory for an error. The former Iona infielder then swiped second and scored on a two-out single by first baseman Jordan Sweeney.
In the bottom of the second, Rutgers effectively ended the game with an 11-spot. Right fielder Garrett Callaghan led off the inning with a triple and scored on Shockley's RBI single. After DiGeorgio singled, left fielder Evan Sleight and Brito hit back-to-back RBI singles to make it 6-0 and knock Conyers out of the game, with still nobody out.
New pitcher Michael Untracht wouldn't fare any better. After hitting into a fielder's choice for the first out, Santa Maria victimized his former teammates with another theft of second base. Second baseman Josh Kuroda-Grauer then hit a nubber into no man's land to drive in Sleight from third. Sweeney was the next batter. The hero of the Indiana series remained hot with a tape-measure three-run home run that landed near a pickup truck behind the picnic area. Rutgers now led 10-0.
After the second out, Callaghan came up for the second time in the inning and hit an opposite-field home run in a lefty-lefty crime. After a single by Shockley and a walk to DiGeorgio, Sleight hit an RBI single before Brito's two-run double made it 14-0 Rutgers.
With the game already well out of reach, the Scarlet Knights continued to increase their lead. In the third inning, Sweeney greeted new pitcher Matt Zguro with another tape-measure shot to the picnic area. In the fourth inning, Sleight reached on a fielding error, moved to third on Brito's ground-rule double, and scored on Santa Maria's RBI single for an unearned run. Rutgers concluded their scoring in the eighth inning with three unearned runs off Vicente Mendoza. Bradley Norton, who replaced DiGeorgio in the third inning, led off with a walk. A throwing error then allowed Brito to reach and moved Norton to third before Kuroda-Grauer hit a three-run home run to left field to provide an exclamation point on the day.
Relief pitchers Matt Rowe and Jayson Hoopes combined for 3 1/3 hitless innings to end the game, allowing only a meaningless unearned run in the seventh inning.
What Does This Mean for Rutgers?
Like the Lafayette game, this game meant very little to the Scarlet Knights outside of padding stats, resting players, and extending the winning streak. Iona is one of the worst teams in the country, and Rutgers barely had to try.
Next Up for Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights play the Princeton Tigers on Wednesday. Originally scheduled to be played in Princeton, the game will instead be played in Piscataway, thus extending Rutgers' homestand. First pitch is at Bainton Field at 3:00 PM.