PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The Rutgers baseball team split a doubleheader with New Jersey rival Seton Hall Saturday afternoon at Bainton Field with the Scarlet Knights winning the first game, 4-2, and the Pirates edging the Scarlet Knights in the series finale, 2-1. RU took two out of three games from Seton Hall to win the series.
With the split, Rutgers remains atop the BIG EAST standings with a 9-3 league record, improving to 20-14 overall. Seton Hall moves to 5-7 in the conference and 16-16 overall. RU's loss in the series finale was its first in 11 home games in 2007.
A two-out rally gave Rutgers a run in the first for the early lead in game one as Ryan Hill (Hillsdale, N.J.) drilled a ball to the gap in right-center field and Dave Williams (Franklin, N.J.) singled him home on the next play.
RU threatened to add to its lead in the third, loading the bases with two outs, but SHU starter Keith Cantwell struck out Jon Gossard (Harrington Park, N.J.) to end the inning unscathed.
RU pushed across a second run in the fifth inning when Mike Bionde (Pompton Plains, N.J.) drilled his team-leading 10th double of the season down the left-field line and scored two plays later on a Williams blooper to right field. Later in the inning, Gossard came to the plate with the bases loaded and Cantwell got the better of him again with a strikeout. The Pirate pitcher then got out of the inning on the next play with a comebacker to escape without any further damage.
Rutgers starter Steve Healing (Brick, N.J.) was sharp again with just two hits through the first five innings, retiring nine-straight at one point. The Pirates finally got a run across on the RU senior righty with a Mike Young RBI single to left field in the sixth to cut the Scarlet Knights' lead in half. Seton Hall then tied it up in the seventh with a two-out RBI single to left field from Dan Lopez.
Rutgers came right back in the bottom-half of the seventh, however, scoring a pair of runs off newly-inserted Pirate pitcher Luis Fernandez. With Hill on first (walk), the Pirates' shortstop made a costly error to put sophomore Tom Edwards (Caldwell, N.J.) on board. Gossard followed with a single back up the middle to plate Hill as RU re-took the lead. Edwards then scored from third on a sacrifice bunt that rolled to the second baseman to give RU a two-run cushion.
With Healing in line for the win, sophomore Jason Downey (Ballston Lake, N.J.) started the seventh on the mound for RU, working 1.1 shutout innings. With a pair of runners on with one out in the ninth, Downey handed the ball over to closer Chris Lillis (Fair Haven, N.J.), who induced a fly out and a groundout for his second save of the year. Lillis is now tied with Ryan Molchan (1999-2002) for fifth place on the school's all-time list with 10 career saves.
Healing improved to 5-3 on the year with six strikeouts and just two runs on nine hits. Fernandez (1-2) was charged with the loss after giving up the two runs in the seventh inning.
The second game featured a pitcher's duel between Rutgers freshman righty Casey Gaynor (Toms River, N.J.) and Seton Hall junior lefty Dan Merklinger.
Rutgers manufactured a run in the first when Todd Frazier (Toms River, N.J.) led off with a single, was sacrificed over to second, stole third and scored on a Hill infield groundout to give RU the 1-0 early edge.
Gaynor, meanwhile, retired nine of the first 11 batters of the game but ran into trouble in the fifth, loading the bases without recording an out. With the bases loaded, Gaynor hit Mike Morano with a pitch, allowing one run in and Matt Smedberg followed with a sacrifice fly to center to plate the second run. Gaynor settled down to get the next two batters out to prevent further damage.
That was all the Pirates needed, however, as Merklinger rebounded from the first-inning run with six shutout innings the rest of the way and handed the ball over to reliever Dan McDonald, who struck out one in two innings of no-hit relief.
Merklinger (4-4) got the win with one run on five hits to go along with five strikeouts and five walks in seven innings, overshadowing Gaynor's (2-2) complete game stellar effort. The Scarlet Knight freshman struck out five with one walk and allowed the two runs on seven hits in the tough loss.
Frazier stole three bases in Saturday's doubleheader to move into sixth place on the Rutgers career list with 56 for his career.
Rutgers returns to action on Wednesday, April 18, hosting Iona at Bainton Field at 3 p.m.