PISCATAWAY, N.J. (February 18, 2010) – The Rutgers baseball team, under the direction of 27-year head coach Fred Hill, opens the 2010 season with a three-game series against No. 12 Miami this weekend at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field in Coral Gables, Fla. The Scarlet Knights and Hurricanes will play 7 p.m. games Friday and Saturday with the series finale set for 1 p.m. Sunday.
Rutgers opens the season with an experienced group around the diamond with 22 letterwinners returning, including eight regulars from the starting lineup. The Scarlet Knights top three hitters and 10 of their best 11 bats are back this season. Junior right fielder Michael Lang (Dumont, N.J.) and junior first baseman Jaren Matthews (Teaneck, N.J.) lead the group offensively. Lang hit a team-best .343 with 17 doubles and eight home runs a season ago, while Matthews batted .328 with eight doubles and six home runs last spring.
Joining Lang in the starting outfield is expected to be senior left fielder Jarred Jimenez (Monroe, N.J.) and junior center fielder Brandon Boykin (Teaneck, N.J.), a converted second baseman. Along with Matthews, senior shortstop Dan Betteridge (Sewell, N.J.) will return to his familiar spot in the infield while junior D.J. Anderson (Randolph, N.J.) and sophomore Russ Hopkins (Piscataway, N.J.) are expected to split time at third base. Freshman Steve Nyisztor (Toms River, N.J.) is expected to make his debut this weekend as the starting second baseman. Senior catcher Jayson Hernandez (Belmar, N.J.) is the returning starter behind the dish.
The pitching staff returns nearly fully intact with all three weekend hurlers starting at least eight games last season. All three weekend starters faced Miami in the opening series last season. Senior righty Casey Gaynor (Toms River, N.J.) returns as the Scarlet Knights’ ace and will start Friday’s season opener. His 37 career starts are the sixth-most in school history. Gaynor started 13 games with a team-best 59 strikeouts in 76 innings last season. He is coming off an all-star performance in the Cape Cod Baseball Summer League where he posted a 1.74 earned run average and 32 strikeouts in 41.1 innings of work over eight appearances. Gaynor started the 2009 season opener against the Hurricanes with five innings of one-run ball. Senior lefty Dennis Hill (Hillsdale, N.J.) will toe the rubber in game two. He started eight contests a season ago, including five innings of one-run ball with just two hits allowed against the Hurricanes in his first start last season. Sophomore righty Willie Beard (Spotswood, N.J.) will close the series on the mound for RU on Sunday. He started eight games in his first season of competition last year. He appeared in all 13 weekend series and totaled the second-most innings (64.1) on the roster. Beard made his collegiate debut with a relief appearance against the Hurricanes in the season opener last year.
Headlining the backend of the bullpen will be senior reliever Kevin Lillis (Fair Haven, N.J.). The veteran pitcher has appeared in the third-most games school history with 74 contests under his belt. He appeared in 25 games last season as a set-up man for the Scarlet Knights. Lillis did not allow an earned run in 15 of his appearances and owned a 2.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio with 27 strikeouts to just 12 walks allowed. The reliever worked 1.1 hitless innings of scoreless ball with three strikeouts in last year’s season opener against the Hurricanes.
Fred Hill enters the 2010 campaign just 20 victories shy of 1,000 for his successful career as he enters his 34th season as a collegiate head coach with a 980-638-9 career record.
Miami enters the season ranked in all four national polls. The Hurricanes are ranked No. 12 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and Collegiate Baseball, No. 13 by the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll and No. 16 by Baseball America. UM is coming off its NCAA-record 37th-straight NCAA Tournament appearance after completing the 2009 campaign 38-22 overall.
Junior lefties Eric Erickson and Chris Hernandez will work games one and two, respectively, on the mound for Miami. Senior righty Jason Santana will get the ball in Sunday’s series finale. Erickson missed the 2009 season after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Hernandez was 7-5 with a 4.56 ERA last spring while Santana posted a 6-1 record with a 5.40 ERA in 2009.
Preseason All-American catcher Yasmani Grandal hit .299 with 11 doubles and 16 home runs for the Hurricanes in 2009. Senior second baseman Scott Lawson posted a team-best .333 average and scored 50 runs last spring.
Rutgers and Miami have played each other 52 times previously with the Hurricanes owning a 41-11 advantage in the all-time series. Last season in Coral Gables, RU took one of four from UM.