It took more than 24 years, but the Rutgers baseball team finally avenged a three-game sweep by the Bulls back in March 1983.
After starter Matt Quevedo surrendered five runs in just two-thirds of the first inning Sunday, the Bulls (27-15, 9-9) were unable to capitalize on scoring opportunities throughout the contest and fell for the fourth time in five games.
USF had the bases loaded with no outs twice, but managed to score only one run. Shortstop Walter Diaz hit a sacrifice fly to center field, but catcher Brad Karns was thrown out while trying to advance to third on the throw.
“When that happened, we knew we weren’t going to win the game,” third baseman Addison Maruszak said. “It’s not the deciding factor during the game, but when you look back on it and you only get one run with the bases loaded twice – that can’t happen.”
Even though the Bulls trailed by five runs before having a chance to bat, reliever Yuri Higgins kept USF in the game by surrendering only four runs in seven innings despite entering the game with the bases loaded.
Higgins allowed one run in the second, but the Bulls trimmed the lead to 6-4 after Maruszak’s RBI double down the third-base line.
“It was a bad start on our part, but we had chances to get back into the game,” third baseman Dexter Butler said. “We had plenty of opportunities, but we didn’t cash in. That was the story of the game.”
Rutgers clinched the series finale when Todd Frazier belted his 14th home run of the season and extended the Scarlet Knights’ lead to three.
USF lost its first three-game series of the season and was swept for the first time in conference play since falling three straight to Notre Dame more than a year ago.
Rutgers (23-14,11-3) has won 11 of its past 13 games and remains in sole possession of first place in the Big East Conference. Friday was the first meeting between the two teams since March 24, 1983 when the Bulls swept the Scarlet Knights by a combined score of 35-14.
Saturday, starting pitcher Chris Delaney saw his chance to improve his record to 9-0 thwarted as brothers Kevin and Chris Lillis threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings of relief and allowed Rutgers an opportunity to slice into the Bulls’ two-run lead.
Rutgers designated hitter Frank Meade hit a game-tying two-run home run over the right field wall off closer Shawn Sanford and the Scarlet Knights tacked on two more runs in the 10th inning to clinch the series.
“Sanford has been clutch for us all year and that was his first bad outing,” Maruszak said. “We were getting a little antsy at the plate and we should have just remained patient and let the game come to us.”
Karns accounted for all of USF’s offense in the opener, as his two-run home run tied the game in the fifth inning. Rutgers rallied for three runs in the seventh and Jason Downey earned his first save of the season, pitching three scoreless innings.
Diaz finished the series 4-for-13 at the plate and extended his hitting streak to a season-high 24 games. Coach Lelo Prado is looking forward to seeing how his team responds for the rest of the season.
“You have to give them credit; their big players stepped up when they had to and ours didn’t,” Prado said. “We’re not doing enough to get the wins we need. We’re falling behind early, and it’s tough to recover. But we’ll find out what kind of men we have in the locker room and see how they step up for the rest of the season.”