By Bob Behre
Rutgers and Seton Hall baseball teams dropped two of three games in their respective season-opening series but each closed out the weekend with a victory over a nationally Atlantic Coast Conference team.
Freshman left-hander Eric Heatter, a Monroe High grad, pitched four innings of three-hit shutout relief as Rutgers held on for a 7-5 victory over No. 24 Miami on Sunday in Coral Gables, Florida. Meanwhile, in Raleigh, North Carolina, former Diamond Jack and NJ Super 17 player Matt Toke ripped a three-run home run in the middle of a seven-run fifth inning that propelled Seton Hall past No. 23 N.C. State.
Heatter relieved after fellow freshman Harry Rutkowski, a Woodbridge High grad, started and permitted five runs, three of which were earned, on seven hits over his first four college innings. Rutkowski struck out three and walked one. Heatter was dominant, striking out eight and walking one in his stint which earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
Sebastian Santorelli’s solo shot in the fourth inning drew Seton Hall within 6-4 of N.C. State before Toke, a Hunterdon Central grad, came up with two aboard in the fifth and ripped a three-run bomb to right field for a 7-5 Pirates lead. It was the sophomore first baseman’s first college home run. Toke had three hits in the series, including a double, the home run, two runs-scored and five RBI against N.C. State. The 5-11, 223-pound first baseman led Seton Hall with a .321 batting average as a freshman.
Three relievers closed out the victory for Seton Hall from there with four innings of one-hit scoreless relief. The Pirates bullpen shut out N.C. State over the final six innings. Blake Espinal (1-0) got the win and Matt Leon picked up the save.
Another former NJ Super 17 player, third baseman Kyle Walker, chipped in to the Rutgers victory over Miami. Walker went 2-for-3 with an RBI single in the fourth inning and a triple. He also drew a walk and scored a run. Walker, a Piscataway native, played scholastically at Pingry in Martinsville.
Rutgers (1-2) returns to Florida this weekend to face three different opponents in Port Charlotte. It opens with Big Ten rival Indiana, ranked No. 20, before drawing St. Bonaventure and Boston College. Indiana was the preseason favorite in the Big Ten.
Seton Hall (1-2) plays a trio of opponents, too, when it travels to Spartansburg, South Carolina. The Pirates face South Carolina Upstate, Wofford and Pittsburgh.
(Featured Photo: Former Diamond Jack, Matt Toke, of Seton Hall University)