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Rutgers baseball two games out of first place heading into Illinois series



Photo credit Tom Gilbert/Rutgers Athletics

After a 15-15 start to the 2023 season, Rutgers baseball is on a tear. The Scarlet Knights have won 15 of its last 18 games. After starting 2-4 in Big Ten play, RU has gone 9-3 over the last four series. With just two weekends of league action remaining, Steve Owens’ club is just two games back behind first place Maryland.

Last weekend, Rutgers swept Penn State by a combined score of 26-3. Chris Brito broke the program’s 16 year home run record previously held by RU great Todd Frazier. In addition, freshman Christian Coppola was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for striking out 13 batters and allowing just one earned fun over seven innings. Drew Conover threw seven scoreless innings the following game. Ben Gorski pitched four scoreless inning to earn his sixth save to complete the sweep.

The turnaround has been a combination of the lineup becoming more consistent and the starting pitching stabilizing.

A month ago, Owens switched Coppola to the top of the rotation as the regular Friday starter. In four starts since, Coppola has allowed one run or less with at least six innings pitched three times. During this stretch, he has allowed just seven earned runs in 26.2 innings for an ERA of 3.29. He has struck out 33 batters in the four starts while allowing just 19 hits.

At the same time, Owens also moved Conover to the second starter spot behind Coppola. After a rough patch earlier in the season with Conover converting from a reliever to a starter, he went back to the bullpen. After having more success, Owens gave him another opportunity as a starter and it’s paid off. Other than one poor start at Purdue in which he allowed four earned runs over 2 2/3 innings, Conover has allowed just one earned run over 21 combined innings in his three other starts. In the four starts, he’s thrown 27 strikeouts while he continues to work on his control, having walked 13 batters.

In Big Ten play, Rutgers leads the league with a 4.16 team ERA. Conference foes are hitting just .236 against the RU pitching staff, second lowest in the Big Ten.

After a slow start at the plate this season, the Scarlet Knights have scored 43 runs during its current five game winning streak. Rutgers is third in Big Ten play with a .290 batting average.

Chris Brito just broke the program’s 17 year long home run record last weekend. He passed RU great Todd Frazier and has 11 homers on the season along with 43 for his career.

Ryan Lasko leads the RU offense and is atop the Big Ten leaderboard in multiple categories. In league action, Lasko is first with 33 hits and third with a .434 batting average. In addition, he is also fifth with a .506 on base percentage, sixth with 8 doubles and 6 stolen bases, seventh with a .763 slugging percentage and a 1.269 OPS as well as tenth with 21 runs scored. Leadoff hitter Josh Kuroda-Grauer is also among league leaders and is ninth with 27 hits, 7 doubles, and 21 runs scored while also tenth with a .370 batting average. Freshman C/DH Hugh Pickney has really come on in Big Ten play. He is eighth in the league with a .377 batting average and tenth with a .476 on base percentage.

With just six games left in Big Ten play, the Scarlet Knights hope to keep playing well. After a second place finish during the regular season last year, RU lost to Michigan in the Big Ten title game. While they were surprisingly left out of the NCAA Tournament with a 44-17 record, winning the conference tournament this season is likely their only way to earn an elusive bid. While catching Maryland for the regular season title will be difficult, maintaining their performance level heading into the postseason is the most important thing for Owens’ team.

Rutgers (30-18; 11-7) hosts its final series at home this weekend against Illinois (22-22; 11-10). Friday and Saturday’s games will begin at 6 p.m. at Bainton Field. Senior Day ceremonies will take place on Saturday. Sunday’s game will be played at ShoreTown Ballpark in Lakewood, NJ at noon. Admission is free all weekend and you can register for parking at Rutgers here.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. FlaRef

    May 13, 2023 at 7:54 am

    Big win in game one vs Ill to take over third place. Md drops to second and Indy now up front by one game. Keep the streak going this weekend and take control of the conference!

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