PISCATAWAY, N.J. (April 1, 2010) – Down 8-2 in the seventh, the Rutgers baseball team scored seven unanswered runs, including a furious five-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to pull out an improbable 9-8 victory against No. 24 Pittsburgh Thursday afternoon in the series opener at Bainton Field. The comeback victory handed the Panthers their first loss in 12 games and extend the Scarlet Knights’ winning streak to seven games. RU improved to 13-10 overall and 4-0 in the BIG EAST, while Pitt fell to 18-5 and 3-1 in the league.
Facing the four-run deficit in the final frame, freshman Steve Nyisztor (Toms River, N.J.) got the rally started with a leadoff single and RU loaded the bases with one out on a pair of five-pitch walks to Jayson Hernandez (Belmar, N.J.) and Jarred Jimenez (Monroe, N.J.). Pitt went to its bullpen for closer J.R. Leonardi. Sophomore Russ Hopkins (Piscataway, N.J.) greeted the reliever with his fourth hit of the game, a single down the left-field line off a full count to bring in a pair of runs. Pinch hitter Ryan Kapp (Toms River, N.J.), who provided a pinch-hit two-run double to give RU the lead late against Miami earlier in the season, came through again for the Scarlet Knights with a single through the left side to score Jimenez from second and pull RU within a run. Junior Brandon Boykin (Teaneck, N.J.) then grounded out to first base to put a pair of runners in scoring position.
Leadoff hitter Michael Lang (Dumont, N.J.) came to the plate with RU down to its last out and the tying run 90 feet from home. He attacked the first pitch he saw which resulted in a grounder to the shortstop. The Panther shortstop fielded it cleanly but his throw was wild, pulling the first baseman off the bag as Lang’s hustle allowed him to reach the base safely. With the tying run already home, an alert Kapp came all the way around from second to score the winning run on the same play, igniting a celebration in the infield as the Scarlet Knights completed the comeback victory.
The Panthers took an 8-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh with David Chester doing most of the damage thanks to a pair of two-run home runs in the fourth and sixth innings. Pitt also got a run in the fifth frame and three more in the seventh.
Rutgers got a pair of runners on without recording an out in the fourth and sacrificed both Scarlet Knights over where an opportunistic Hopkins took the first pitch he saw back up the middle to bring both runners home to provide RU’s first two runs of the game.
Down by the six runs, the Scarlet Knights began their furious comeback in the seventh as they loaded the bases without an out in the frame and rebounded from a double play ball that got a run home with an RBI double off the bat of Jaren Matthews (Teaneck, N.J.) to cut the Pitt lead to 8-4.
RU loaded the bases without registering an out again in the eighth, but newly-inserted reliever Ray Black worked out of the jam with a strikeout, foul out and fielder’s choice to end the inning unscathed and hold the four-run advantage, setting up the ninth-inning dramatics.
Freshman pitcher Jerry Elsing (Montville, N.J.), making his second career start and first in league play, pitched five innings, including three scoreless frames. He was relieved in the sixth by Nathaniel Roe (Plainfield, N.J.), who pitched 1.2 innings. Freshman Rob Smorol (Clark, N.J.) retired seven of the eight batters he faced in 2.1 innings of shutoff relief to earn the win and improve to 3-0 on the season.
Pitt’s Corey Baker pitched seven strong innings before leaving in the eighth. Leonardi (0-2) was tagged with the loss after giving up the winning run in the ninth.
Hopkins completed the day 4-for-4 at the plate with four RBI and a run scored, while Nyisztor added three hits in the contest.
Rutgers and Pitt continue the series with a 3 p.m. game tomorrow. Senior righty Casey Gaynor (Toms River, N.J.) will be on the mound for the Scarlet Knights against sophomore lefty Matt Iannazzo for the Panthers. The game will be broadcast on Knightvision Broadband and available on tape delay on scarletknights.com.