After squandering a 6-2 lead by allowing four runs over the final two innings, including the tying run with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, Rutgers played evenly with Miami for the first two extra frames, as Atchison fired blanks in the 10th and 11th innings. With two outs and no one on base in the top of the 12th, Cory Rodriguez (Bridgewater, NJ) hit a check-swinger roller to third, which Ryan Braun bobbled, allowing the inning to continue. Normane made the Hurricanes pay for the miscue, when he hammered a two-run blast to left-center, his first of the season, to give RU an 8-6 lead.
Miami came right back in the bottom of the inning, when Braun partially atoned for his fielding miscue by homering to lead off the inning and cut the lead to one, 8-7. Jim Burt then doubled to left-center, putting the tying run at second with no outs. At that point, Atchison regrouped and used a groundout, strikeout and popup to end the game after four hours and 34 minutes of tense baseball action.
The game began as a pitchers’ duel, as Shaun Parker (Westampton, NJ) and UM starter Vince Bongiovanni exchanged scoreless frames into the fifth, when Miami scored its first run, while also breaking up Parker’s no-hit bid after four innings. The Canes added another in the sixth to take a 2-0 lead, which looked good enough based on Bongiovanni’s performance.
In the seventh, however, Normane opened the seventh with a single through the left side against Bongiovanni, who then walked Jeff Grose (Iselin, NJ) to end his day. With runners at first and second, Alberto Vasquez (Jersey City, NJ) failed on two sacrifice bunt attempts, but redeemed himself by lining a 1-2 offering from Shawn Valdes-Fauli down the line in left, scoring Normane. After a fielder’s choice produced the inning’s first out, Graig Badger (Union, NJ) lined a single to right, plating Vasquez to tie the game at 2-2.
At that point, UM head coach Jim Morris summoned side-arming lefty Andrew Cohn to face lefty-swinging Johnny Defendis (Staten Island, NY). Cohn uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Mike Bionde (Pompton Plains, NJ) to score the go-ahead run and proceeded to walk Defendis to put runners on first and second. Cohn was replaced by Alex Blanco, who forced a flyout from Jeff Frazier (Toms River, NJ) for the inning’s second out, but then coughed up an RBI single to Vinny Esposito (Middletown, NJ) and a two-run single to Rodriguez before finally ending the inning. In all, Rutgers sent 10 hitters to the plate, batting around for the first time this season, and scored as many runs in one inning as it has in any single game in 2003.
The Canes made it interesting in the eighth, scoring two runs against RU reliever OJ Dechristofano (Pequannock, NJ) to cut the lead to 6-4. After pitching a 1-2-3 seventh and recording the first out of the eighth, DeChristofano allowed an RBI double to Ryan Braun and a run-scoring single to Jim Burt. Freshman Chris Lillis (Fair Haven, NJ) entered the game at that point and recorded a strikeout and groundout to forestall further damage and leave runners stranded at second and third.
In the ninth, Lillis recorded the first out before running into trouble. Erick San Pedro doubled to begin the rally and, three batters later, Adam Ricks singled him home to make the score 6-5. Lillis then got ahead of Braun, 1-2, but allowed a game-tying single just one strike short of victory. That became inconsequential when Normane took UM relief ace George Huguet deep in the 12th and final inning.
“We’ve played so many close ball games that we were bound to win one,” said head coach Fred Hill, who has now won five of his last eight meetings with Jim Morris’ Hurricanes. “Although we have a young team, it was our seniors, Normane and Atchison, who gave us the lift we needed. I am very happy for our kids – they battled back quite a few times today and it paid off for them.”
Parker allowed one hit and two runs over six innings, walking three and striking out four. Atchison (1-1) worked 3.1 innings, allowing four hits and one run. He walked two, one intentionally, and struck out four. Badger was 1-for-3 with an RBI, two stolen bases and reached base in four of six plate appearances from the leadoff spot. Normane finished the day 3-for-6 with two RBI and two runs scored, while Esposito and Vasquez each had two hits.
Rutgers’ third game with Miami has been cancelled due to scheduling conflicts for the Hurricanes. RU will be back in action Tuesday night, when it faced Florida International at 7:00 p.m. in Miami. The team will practice tomorrow morning during the first of two off-days on the trip.