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Rutgers is two games back of B1G lead entering final series



Justin Sinibaldi delivered for the Scarlet Knights on Sunday. Photo credit Rutgers Athletics

Rutgers baseball won its series against Illinois this past weekend with wins on Friday and Sunday. While its six game winning streak came to end on Saturday, the Scarlet Knights have now won 17 of its last 21 games. That includes 11 of 15 Big Ten contests.

RU won the series opener over the Illini 5-4. Freshman Christian Coppola pitched his fourth quality start in five outings since taking over the top spot of the Rutgers rotation. On Friday, he allowed just one run over six innings while allowing eight hits and striking out six batters. Catcher Andy Axelson hit a three run homer and closer Ben Gorski stopped the bleeding to earn his seventh save of the season.

Saturday was Senior Day at Bainton Field but Illinois spoiled the fun with a 9-7 victory. The visitors scored all of its runs by the third inning. Rutgers battled back and scored five unanswered runs before just falling short.

History was made in the loss as Chris Brito broke the program’s all-time RBI mark, passing Jake Daubert and Pete Zoccolillo. His 192nd RBI came on a sacrifice fly and one week after becoming the program’s home run king.

Sunday’s series finale was played at ShoreTown Ballpark in Lakewood, New Jersey. Rutgers won 3-0 behind the return of starter Justin Sinibaldi. Making his first appearance since April 18, Sinibaldi pitched five shutout innings while striking out a career high seven batters. He did walk four along with surrendering four hits, but despite bending, he never broke. The bullpen backed him ably as Jake Marshall tossed three scoreless innings on two hits allowed. He struck out five and didn’t walk a batter. Gorski delivered a perfect ninth inning for his eighth save of the season to complete the series victory.

Rutgers was scheduled to host Albany on Tuesday but the two schools mutually agreed to cancel the game. The Scarlet Knights now prepare to go on the road with the season’s ultimate fate on the line. They’ll conclude the regular season with a three game series at Minnesota (15-33; 8-13). They take on the Gophers beginning on Thursday, May 18 at 7 p.m. Friday’s game will also start at 7 p.m. followed by Saturday’s finale at 3 p.m. All three games will stream live on B1G+.

As for the Big Ten standings heading into the final weekend, Indiana owns the tiebreaker over Maryland as the two programs hold 15-6 records. Iowa is alone in third place at 13-7 while Rutgers is in a three-way tie with Nebraska and Michigan at 13-8. How this weekend plays out will have a big impact on seeding for next week’s Big Ten Tournament. It begins Tuesday, May 23 in Omaha, Nebraska. Rutgers will head there immediately following the conclusion of this weekend’s series against Minnesota.

Despite playing very well over the last month and now with a 32-19 record overall, it’s likely that the only path to the NCAA Tournament for Rutgers is to win the Big Ten Tournament next week. They lost to Michigan in the title game last year and were considered the biggest snub by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. The Scarlet Knights don’t want to leave it to chance again. Hopefully, they close out the regular season strong against the Gophers and position themselves as well as possible for the league tourney. I’ll have more ahead of the postseason later this week.

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