Tonight's contest was the annual meeting between Florida Atlantic head coach Kevin Cooney, who served as an assistant under Rutgers head coach Fred Hill when Hill coached at Montclair State in the early 1980's, Cooney won his fifth-straight game over the Scarlet Knights, but it wasn't without its tense moments.
Trailing 9-5 in the ninth, Rutgers' Jeff Grose (Iselin, NJ) led off with a single and advanced to second on a walk to Jeff Frazier (Toms River, NJ). Vinny Esposito (Middletown, NJ) then ripped a run-scoring single to center, his fourth hit of the game and, after a pitching change, Matt Wolski (Hamilton, NJ) banged out his fourth single of the night, scoring another run to close the gap to 9-7. With runners at the corners, Johnny Defendis (Staten Island, NY) drove in another run with a sacrifice fly to center, but the tying run was stranded on the base paths after two groundouts to end the game. The loss comes less than 24 hours after Rutgers left the tying run on second base in a 12-10 loss to Florida International.
Rutgers fell behind early when FAU scored four times in the bottom of the first. The first two hitters in the Blue Wave lineup singled and Mike Fiorentino reached on a throwing error to load the bases with no outs. The first run scored on a double play and the second scored when Jim Jansen (Pascack Valley, NJ) knocked down a line drive, but threw errantly to first. After a pair of walks loaded the bases, Evan Brannon singled through the left side, plating two more runs.
Rutgers chipped away immediately in the second, as Esposito led off with a line-drive double to right-center and scored on a single to right by Wolski. The Blue Wave onslaught continued in the second, using a hit batsman, a double and a two-run single by Rusty Brown to score two more runs for a 6-1 lead. FAU threatened for more, but reliever Erik Dial (Basking Ridge, NJ) entered the game and induced an inning-ending double play.
In the top of the third, Rutgers made two quick outs, but Grose and Frazier singled, setting the stage for Esposito, who hammered a double to left, scoring both runners. Wolski then hit a hard grounder to short, which Brannon threw away, allowing Esposito to score and close the gap to 6-4.
In the bottom of the fifth, FAU loaded the bases with no outs and used a sac fly to score a run and increase its lead to 7-4. A walk by Dial loaded the bases, but reliever Matt Pustay (Hamilton, NJ), who fared well last night vs. FIU, induced a 5-4-3 double play from the first hitter he faced to end the inning. RU recouped a single run in the top of the sixth when Alberto Vasquez (Jersey City, NJ) led off with a single and scored a sacrifice fly by Graig Badger (Union, NJ).
FAU came right back in the bottom of the inning, scoring two more runs to increase its lead to 9-5 on an RBI single from Rusty Brown and a throwing error on a pick-off attempt by OJ Dechristofano (Pequannock, NJ). DeChristofano pitched a scoreless eighth inning, while Sean Atchison (Florham Park, NJ) shut down the Blue Wave in the ninth.
"If you look closely at our last seven ballgames, we have been competitive in all but one of them and had a chance to win all of those," said Hill. "We are a young team right now and we are continuing to improve with each game. The biggest things for our guys are to remain optimistic right now and keep working hard. If they do those two things, the wins will come."
Jansen (0-1) allowed six runs (three earned) in 1.1 innings of work, while Dial gave up just one run in three innings of strong relief, allowing Rutgers to creep back into the game in the early to middle innings of the ballgame. Esposito led the offense with a 4-for-5, including two doubles and three RBI, while Wolski was 4-for-5 as well. Grose added two hits.
Rutgers will practice during its off day tomorrow, preparing for a two-game series with the defending Ivy League Champion, Harvard University, which starts with a single game on Friday at noon. Sophomore Jack Egbert (Rutherford, NJ) and junior Shaun Parker (Westampton, NJ) will start on the mound vs. the Crimson.