CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The No. 23-ranked Rutgers baseball team fell to defending National Champion, No. 25 Oregon State, 5-2, in the NCAA Championship Charlottesville Regional Semifinal Monday afternoon in front of 1,984 fans at Davenport Field, ending the Scarlet Knights' historic season.
Rutgers finished the year 42-21 overall, tying for the most wins in school history, while finishing with some of the best offensive numbers all-time. In its second NCAA Championship in five years, RU finished 1-2 in its three-games in the tournament.
"It was an outstanding year," said Rutgers head coach Fred Hill, who finished his 24th season at the helm of the program. "I am sad it ended this way, but I can't thank these kids enough for the tremendous success we had this year. "We achieved a lot of great things this season. Making the NCAA Regionals is no easy task. This is a team I will not soon forget. I wish our seniors the best of luck."
Second-seeded Rutgers, who dropped a 5-1 decision to third-seeded Oregon State on Friday, defeated fourth-seeded Lafayette, 11-10, in its first elimination game on Saturday to reach Monday's Regional Semifinal against the Beavers. Needing a win to stay alive and face top-seeded Virginia in the Regional Final, the Scarlet Knights waited through a rained-out Sunday session before getting their rematch with the defending National Champions.
Rutgers nearly jumped on top in the first when Dave Williams (Franklin, N.J.) doubled down the right-field line with Mike Bionde (Pompton Plains, N.J.) (walk) on first. Bionde raced around for home but was tagged out at the plate to end the Scarlet Knights' scoring threat.
Oregon State capitalized on a Rutgers error in the bottom of the first to take a 1-0 lead. The Beavers put the first two runners on and attempted a double steal. RU catcher Frank Meade (Linden, N.J.) reacted to the double steal, firing to second in an attempt to get the second runner, but nobody covered the bag, allowing the lead runner to score while the ball sailed into the outfield.
The Beavers loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth, setting up a dangerous situation for Rutgers starter Matt Giannini (Millington, N.J.). Giannini dealt a wild pitch to the next batter but trouble appeared to be averted on the play when Meade quickly corralled the ball. However, Meade's throw back to Giannini was wild, allowing the runner from third to score. OSU nine-spot hitter Joey Wong followed with an RBI single back up the middle to make it 3-0. Giannini settled down with two runners in scoring position, to retire the next three batters and prevent any further damage.
Junior National Player of the Year Candidate Todd Frazier (Toms River, N.J.) scored Rutgers' first run in the fifth, earning a one-out walk, moving to second on a balk and scoring on a Ryan Hill (Hillsdale, N.J.) single to right field two plays later.
In the bottom-half of the inning, Giannini walked the first two OSU batters and put them both in scoring position with a wild pitch with no outs in the frame. The Scarlet Knight hurler once again worked out of the jam, however, with two strikeouts and an infield pop out to end the inning unscathed and hold the Beavers to a two-run lead.
Meade pulled the Scarlet Knights within one run with a towering home run that cleared the temporary bleachers past the left-field fence with two outs in the sixth. It was his second home run in as many days and 11th of the season, tying him for the eighth-most in school history. It also marked the junior's 26th career blast, placing him in sole possession of fifth place all time on the Rutgers home run list.
Oregon State got that run back in the bottom-half of the frame with an RBI single from Mike Lissman. Lonnie Lechelt then made it 5-2 with a two-out home run of reliever Matt Patterson (Passaic, N.J.) in the seventh.
With a man on third and two outs in the eighth, Meade delivered a ball to the 408-foot fence in center field, but the ball fell short of the 20-foot high wall for the final out of the inning.
Giannini worked a strong six innings, striking out eight, while allowing just two earned runs (four total) on seven hits in the loss (5-5). OSU’s Jorge Reyes (5-3) got the win with two runs on six hits and four strikeouts in six innings. Reliever Daniel Turpen worked three shutout innings to pick up the save for the Beavers.
The loss marked the end of the careers of several Scarlet Knights, including the program's seven seniors – Bionde, OJ DeChristofano (Pequannock, N.J.) Steve Healing (Brick, N.J.), Chris Lillis (Fair Haven, N.J.), Tim Querns (Cherry Hill, N.J.), Sean Spicer (Pearl River, N.Y.), Nick Stavrakis (Warren, N.J.), Williams and Tim Woodhull (Princeton Junction, N.J.) – who have meant a great deal to the program throughout their RU career.
This 2007 team enjoyed many great moments, highlighted by a BIG EAST Regular Season and Tournament Title. Among the Scarlet Knights' other season highlights, included head coach Fred Hill's 900th victory (March 17 at UCF), the debut of the new Bainton Field playing surface with a sweep of Georgetown, several come-from-behind victories and a rare triple play (April 29 vs. Notre Dame).
The squad not only tied for the most wins in the history of the program, they clobbered the school's single-season home run record with 63 blasts this season. The 2007 team also scored the second-most runs (474), drove in the second-most runs (425) and recorded the second-most walks (312) in school history. There were several individual accomplishments that contributed to the tremendous success of the team.
As a team, the baseball program contributed to a banner academic year in Rutgers athletics, which culminated with Monday's loss.
The Scarlet Knights will lose several key contributors to this year's team but can look forward to a number of talented underclassman waiting in the wings and ready to produce in 2008.