May 31, 2003
Tallahassee, FL – In a wild game that saw three lead changes and seven pitchers utilized, third-seeded Rutgers (37-21) ended Atlantic Sun Champion Jacksonville’s (32-30) season with an 8-5 victory in Saturday’s first elimination game at the Tallahassee Regional. The Scarlet Knights avoided their first three game losing streak since March 15 as the heart of their order came through in the win. Right fielder Jeff Frazier (Toms River, N.J.), the number three hitter, and Vinny Esposito (Middletown, N.J.), the clean-up hitter, combined to knock in six RBIs, score three runs and had a double and a home run.
Esposito left the first game of the regional in the first inning yesterday after being hit in the head by a pitch. He was questionable for today’s game but came through with a home run, two runs scored and three RBIs.
“When I went down yesterday, I didn’t know what was going to happen today. I talked to our trainer last night and he said if my vision was OK it would be up to me. When I got in there I just tried to do what I did all year and relax.”
Rutgers reliever Sean Atchinson (Florham Park, N.J.) improved his record to 7-1 on the year as he pitched 3.2 scoreless innings and picked up his seventh consecutive victory. Josh Deel (4-5) took the loss as he pitched six innings and gave up five runs all of which were earned. The loss was the first for Deel since March 19 at Belmont.
After scoring just one run in nine innings in its opener Friday, Rutgers needed just four batters in the first inning to double that total. After a lead-off walk and a sac bunt, Frazier doubled home a run and number four batter Esposito singled home another as the Scarlet Knights jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead. After JU starter Dennis Robinson got the second out of the inning, Rutgers struck again with another extra base hit. The double by Alberto Vasquez (Jersey City, N.J.) plated Esposito from second with the third run of the inning and knocked Robinson (Putnam Valley, N.Y.) out of the game. New pitcher Deel came in and promptly retired the side.
“A start like that was big for us. It relaxed us a little bit and it took a little pressure of us and put it on them,” said Rutgers head coach Fred Hill. “Vinny’s hit was big of course because it gave us some breathing room.”
The teams played three scoreless innings before Rutgers got back on the board in the top of the fifth. Jacksonville started the inning by issuing a lead-off walk for the first time since the three-run first. Graig Badger (Union, N.J.) then set down a perfect bunt along the third baseline putting runners on first and second with nobody out. The runners were sacrificed to second and third before Frazier drove in his second run of the game with a sac fly to left extending the Scarlet Knight’s lead to 4-0.
The Dolphins tried to answer in the bottom of the inning as they looked to end a 16-inning scoreless draught dating back to the A-Sun Tournament. Two singles and an error loaded the bases for JU with just one out in the frame. Larry Best-Berfet (Newark, N.J.) then hit into a fielder’s choice but it was good enough to plate Rob Hudson with Jacksonville’s first run of the regional. Back-to-back walks plated another run and kept the bases loaded for new Scarlet Knight pitcher Chris Lillis who ended the threat. RU starter Shaun Parker (Westampton, N.J.) finished with four strike outs and three walks in 4.2 innings.
The Dolphins continued their comeback in the sixth as they once again put the first two base runners on and then sacrificed them over to second and third. Sophomore Jon Galui (Palm Beach, FL) came through with a huge hit for JU as he cleared the bases with a double into the gap in right center. That extra base hit brought in Rutgers’ third hurler of the game as southpaw Atchinson came in to try and end the Dolphin rally. Atchinson gave up a single and then helped Jacksonville complete its comeback as his balk plated JU’s fifth run and handed the Dolphins their first lead of the regional.
The Jacksonville lead was short-lived as the Scarlet Knights wasted little time evening the game at 5-5. Nick Cerulo (Woodbridge, N.J.) started the top of the seventh by tripling into the gap in left center. It was his sixth triple of the year with all of them coming in the month of May. The junior then came home to tie the game two batters later on Deel’s wild pitch. Rutgers reclaimed the lead on Frazier’s sacrifice fly, which upped the sophomore’s RBI total to three in the game. The Knight’s then looked to break the game open as Esposito once again followed Frazier’s RBI with an RBI of his own. The third baseman put RU up 8-5 with a two-run homer over the left field wall. The round-tripper was his third of the year and upped his RBI total to three also.
The Scarlet Knights advance to face the loser of this afternoon’s Florida State/South Alabama game in an elimination game scheduled for 7:00 p.m. This is the fifth time in its last six regional appearances that Rutgers has won at least one game in NCAA postseason play.