CINCINNATI, Ohio (April 27, 2012) – In a tightly-contested series opener, Rutgers University baseball came through with effective situational hitting and made several key pitches to edge the University of Cincinnati, 3-1, in 10 innings at Marge Schott Stadium. Senior Willie Beard (Spotswood, N.J.) earned the win with two scoreless innings of relief, working out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extra innings.
The Scarlet Knights (24-17, 9-7 BIG EAST) improved to a season-high seven games over .500 with the victory, while Cincinnati fell to 13-30 overall and 2-14 in the BIG EAST. RU has won 10 of its last 13 games.
Junior Tyler Gebler (Toms River, N.J.) pitched eight strong innings in his best start of the season, allowing just one run and four hits in the outing. The right-hander struck out a career-high eight hitters and recorded his 100th career punchout in the fourth inning.
With the scored tied at one in the bottom of the ninth, Cincinnati had a golden opportunity to win the game after J.P. Jackson doubled to start the inning and moved up on a groundout. However, Beard (4-0) buckled down to get out of the jam and force extra innings with a sharp breaking ball and located fastball in the tight situation. Sophomore Pat Sweeney (Sparta, N.J.) came up with a grounder to short with the infield in to hold Jackson at third to record the second out of the inning. Next, Beard intentionally walked pinch-hitter Braden Kline and then issued a walk to Sam Vandenheuvel to load the bases, upping the drama and leaving no room for error. The count went to 2-1 on the next hitter, but Beard threw two called strikes to send the game to extras on a strikeout.
Rutgers used the momentum to rally for two runs in the next half, with help from two UC miscues in the field. Sweeney reached second on a fielding error to start the inning and sophomore Brian O’Grady (Warminster, Pa.) worked a walk to put two on base. Classmate Nick Favatella (Washington Township, Pa.) then laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt down the first base line, but UC failed to field it cleanly to load the bases for junior Jeff Melillo (Annandale, N.J.) with no outs. The catcher came through with a solid piece of situational hitting, grounding a ball softly to the right side to bring home Sweeney and move the other runners into scoring position. After junior Patrick Kivlehan (West Nyack, N.Y.) was walked intentionally, classmate Steve Zavala (Randolph, N.J.) lifted a fly ball deep enough to center field for O’Grady to come across as an insurance run.
Beard held the 3-1 lead in the bottom of the 10th, getting Jackson to groundout with one on base to end the game and give RU its first extra innings victory of the season.
Kivlehan had two of the Scarlet Knights’ six hits to raise his batting average to .403, while also stealing his 21st bag of the year. Freshman Vinny Zarrillo (Forked River, N.J.) reached base safely in two of three plate appearances after entering the game as a pinch hitter.
Cincinnati scored first in the bottom of the third inning on a sacrifice fly by third baseman Joey Bielek to take the lead. Sophomore Joe D’Annunzio (Scotch Plains, N.J.) made a nice running catch in left field on the ball to prevent further damage, as the bases were loaded.
The Rutgers offense was stymied by Cincinnati starter Zach Isler, who struck out 10 in the game, until finally breaking through in the seventh. Zarrillo sparked the tying rally with a leadoff pinch-hit single up the middle. Junior Bill Hoermann (Toms River, N.J.) then worked to a full count and Zarrillo was sent in motion to push the action. The pitch was low for a walk, but the UC catcher fired the ball to second, hitting him in the helmet and deflecting into short left field just far enough to allow advancement to third base. D’Annunzio immediately struck a grounder to shortstop for a fielder’s choice to bring home Zarrillo as the tying run, which was unearned in the scorebook due to the throwing error.
Gebler ran into some trouble in the eight, but emptied the tank to put another zero on the scoreboard. With one out, the Bearcats put two runners on base with the number four and five hitters due up, but the veteran pitcher struck both of them out to punchout the side and escape trouble. It turned out to be his last inning on the mound, as Beard worked the last two.
Thomas Gentile (1-3) took the loss for Cincinnati despite not allowing an earned run in three innings of work.
Game two of the series has been moved up to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Marge Schott Stadium due to a poor weather forecast. Junior Rob Smorol (Clark, N.J.) will pitch against Zach Morris in a battle of left-handers.
It was the first game at Marge Schott Stadium for RU since May 4, 2008 … Friday marked the first night game for the Scarlet Knights since game two of a doubleheader at Seton Hall on March 23 and ninth of the season (5-4) … Zavala leads the team with 34 RBIs on the season … it was the 13th come-from-behind win and the third last at bat victory of the campaign … RU is now 4-2 in games decided by two runs and 20-11 when the starter works at least five innings … the team has now gone into extra innings five times this season (1-4) … all of Rutgers’ runs were scored on outs … the eight strikeouts by Gebler were the most by any RU pitcher in an outing this season … Melillo made several game-saving blocks behind the plate to prevent the winning run from scoring in the ninth inning … Beard has earned the win in back-to-back games, also defeating Delaware on April 24 … all three of Rutgers’ runs were unearned as UC made four errors in the field … the game was played on a clear evening with the temperature listed at 58 degrees.
Follow Rutgers Athletics on Facebook (www.facebook.com/RutgersAthletics) and Twitter (@RUAthletics) for all of the latest news and updates. For specific updates regarding baseball, follow the program on Twitter @baseballRU. Fans can receive timely information, including special offers and giveaways throughout the year on our social media outlets along with www.ScarletKnights.com.