May 30, 2003
Tallahassee, FL – The second-seeded South Alabama Jaguars (41-18) pounded out 16 hits as they cruised to a 14-1 win over third-seeded Rutgers (36-21) in the opening game of the 2003 NCAA Baseball Regional in Tallahassee. South Alabama’s Terry Neal, making his first start since March 29, threw eight innings and allowed just one run as he upped his record to 10-5 on the year. The Jaguars were led at the plate by Kevin Sytko, Tim Land and Ryan Mulhern. Those three Jags combined to go 10 for 13 with five runs scored and 11 RBIs. Sytko led the way by setting a new career high with six RBIs.
“We played errorless baseball and I think Tony Neal was just extremely strong on the mound today. And he really gave us a chance to extend our lead,” said South Alabama head coach Steve Kittrell. “This was a big win. Tomorrow we are sitting in the same seat we were last year against Notre Dame.”
South Alabama broke on top in the home half of the second on a two-out RBI single by Sytko that bounced over third. The run was set up by Tim Land’s big hit with one out. The junior from Cantonment, FL lined a shot off the screen in right field moving T.J. Touchstone, who drew a lead-off walk, over to third. Land was thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double but Sytko’s two-out base knock staked the Jaguars to an early lead.
Rutgers came right back in the top of the third. The Scarlet Knights got off to a good start as number nine hitter Mike Bionde led off the third with a single. Lead-off hitter Graig Badger laid down a perfect sac bunt that allowed Bionde to move to third as he caught the USA defense off guard. Designated hitter Matt Wolski then came through as he singled to shallow right center driving in the first run of the game for the BIG EAST regular season champs.
The Jaguars, who had outscored its opponents 73-29 in the third inning in 2003, took the lead again in the bottom of the third as they capitalized on a Rutgers lead-off walk and two errors as USA added four more runs to go in front 5-1. The two Scarlet Knight errors upped their total to three in the game and marked the sixth time Rutgers had committed three or more errors in 2003. Ryan Mulhern, a senior from Highlands Ranch, CO, added to his team lead in RBIs after the lead-off walk and first error of the inning. Mulhern laced a 390-foot double to center field scoring two more runs and upping the senior’s RBI total to 63. The Scarlet Knight defense then committed their third error of the game allowing USA to score its third run of the inning before Sytko knocked in his second run of the game on an RBI single to left.
“We actually came out kind of slow hitting-wise, but we got it going and then we were seeing pitches and hitting it and putting it in play. It is huge, just getting on a roll like that. It builds some confidence and it feels good,” said Mulhern.
Rutgers threatened to get back in the game in the top of the fifth as the Scarlet Knights loaded the bases on two singles and a hit by pitch. Neal ended the threat though as he fanned his fourth batter of the game leaving the bases loaded as Rutgers stranded its fifth, sixth and seventh base runners of the game.
In the bottom of the fifth, USA continued to knock around Rutgers starter Jack Egbert (8-5) and capitalized on another Scarlet Knight miscue. With the bases loaded and just one out, Sytko came through once again as his sharply hit bouncer to short was misplayed allowing two runs to score and extending the Jaguar lead to 7-1. It was Sytko’s third RBI of the day and closed the book on Egbert who was replaced by Chris Lillis, a freshman from Fair Haven, NJ. The first-year pitcher closed out the inning as the game moved into the sixth.
“I felt alright out there, obviously I’m not happy with how I threw,” said Egbert. “I am not a power pitcher, I get guys out by hitting my spots and changing speeds. Today I really hurt myself with location, left a lot of balls over the plate, guys are going to get hits when you do that.”
After not scoring in back-to-back innings for the first time all game, South Alabama got back on the board again in the bottom of the eighth. Mulhern, who was already 3 for 4 with two runs scored and two RBIs, got to the Knights again. The senior smoked a single off the wall in left field, 340 feet away, scoring Cole Craig from second. The Jaguars went on to load the bases with nobody out before new pitcher Sean Atchison walked in a run putting USA up 9-1. Land then recorded his first two RBIs of the day as he recorded his third hit, a bouncing single over short that plated two more runs. But Sytko once again punished Rutgers. The Surrey, British Columbia native homered over the 30-foot wall, 320 feet away in right center, clearing the bases and upping the USA lead to 14-1.
The Jaguars are now 9-8 all-time in postseason play at Dick Howser stadium and will face the winner of the Florida State-Jacksonville match-up Saturday, May 31 at 3:00 p.m. Rutgers will fight for its postseason life tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. as they now have to advance through the loser’s bracket if they want to make it to the program’s first ever Super Regional.