NJIT Highlanders Baseball (27-23) head coach Robbie McClellan felt his Highlanders belonged and were a really good team. Despite a tough loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks, the number one team in the nation, and overall seed on Friday afternoon at Baum-Walker Stadium in the Fayetteville Regional, NJIT battled all game long before falling 13-8 to the Razorbacks.
“We play really hard, we do things correctly, throws strikes, and play defense,” Robbie McClellan explained. “We think we have enough offensively that we can compete with anybody, and we don’t have a ton of name brand recognition, but that’s kind of what has been great about getting to the regional.” People are seeing us on the national stage for the first time, and I think they’re pleasantly surprised by how well we play baseball.”
Facing a must-win in an elimination game against the Northeastern Howlin’ Huskies (36-12) on Saturday afternoon at Baum Walker-Stadium, the Highlanders relied on sophomore right-handed pitcher Ryan Fischer to get the team back on the winning track.
Laser-focused from the first pitch, Fischer retired the first eight Northeastern hitters in a row before surrendering an infield single to Spenser Smith in the top 3rd.
“It’s kind of funny because in the bullpen I was getting really frustrated, I really didn’t have anything working but I just kept that baddest dude on the planet mentality once I got out there and I stayed calm and just kind of worked out in my favor,” Ryan Fischer described.
Manufacturing runs in the game proved to be the theme of the day for NJIT. First baseman Nick Hussey led off the bottom third with a single, advancing to second base on a sacrifice bunt from third baseman Jared Donnelly and eventually moving over to third base on a ground ball hit back to Northeastern pitcher Cam Schlittler.
With shortstop David Marcano up at the plate, Schlittler tossed a pitch that catcher Tedd Beaudet mishandled. Sliding over to grab the ball to the left side of home plate, Beaudet threw the ball back to the plate, but Nick Hussey managed to slide in safely as Schlitter attempted to apply the tag.
Fischer cruised along, retiring the side in the fourth, the third time in four innings. The Highlanders batters displaying patience at the plate forced Schlitter to throw a ton of pitches, his total increasing to 76. NJIT loading the bases with one out, Nick Hussey drove in his third run in the NCAA Tournament lifting a sac fly to right field.
The Highlanders faced a trio of Huskies relief pitchers after Schlittler departed the game after 3 1/3 innings on the mound. In the fifth inning Jared Donnelly collected his second hit of the day on an infield single; Albert Choi followed, lacing a single to left field. After a force out on a ground ball placed runners on the corner, David Marcano flicked a single to right field as Jared Donnelly came into score.
Head Coach Robbie McClellan on the contributions from Nick Hussey and Jared Donnelly, “Nick and Jared has been a huge force throughout the course of the year, and they both had big hits and were able to do it; on a big stage today.” “The one thing that our hitting coach Giuseppe Papapccio talks a lot about the offense, we can get six through nine we have a pretty good lineup and when it flips back over to the top with guys on base that’s when we feel we are at our strongest.”
In the seventh inning, Ryan Fischer encountered trouble allowing the first two Huskies hitters to reach base. After retiring Danny Crossen on a fly-out to center field, Fischer walked Ben Malgeri to load up the bases. Northeastern first baseman Ian Fair drove in the first run of the game on a sac fly to right field. Fischer weaved out of the jam with runners on the corner, retiring pinch hitter Ryan Cervone on a pop-out to shortstop David Marcano.
“I was just trying to go out there for as a long as I can and minimize the damage,” Ryan Fischer remarked. “I wasn’t really thinking I’m going seven innings but it just kind of happened. It’s more of a confidence thing; I just want to stay confident within myself and feel that’s when I succeed the most.”
Head Coach Robbie McClellan on Ryan Fischer, “He was great all day, from last year to this year, and he’s made a huge jump and one of the hardest workers we have. He’s always trying to get better, learn more, and my favorite thing about him he’s such a great competitor. The ending where he minimized the bases loaded, gave up only run, and that was huge for us. I thought on the biggest stage for the first time it was about as good as you can expect. I expect that sort of quality start out of Fischer every time he touches the ball, he doesn’t give up a lot of hits and pounds the strike zone so his success doesn’t shock me one bit.”
Passing off the baton to left-handed pitcher Jake Rappaport in the eighth inning, Rappaport was looking to erase the memories of Friday’s appearance on the hill against Arkansas. He yielded three runs on three hits, including back-to-back home runs.
Recording the first two outs of the innings, Rappaport appeared on his way to a spotless inning until Max Viera cranked a solo home run over the left-field fence. However, Rappaport managed to regain his composure and strike out Jared Dupere to end the frame.
Three outs away from NJIT winning its first NCAA Tournament game in program history, Jake Rappaport sealed the 3-2 victory by setting the side down in order, thus setting off a jubilant celebration as Highlanders players and coaches streamed out of the dugout.
Head Coach Robbie McClellan on the win, “It’s an amazing accomplishment for our team and coaching staff. I kind of caught myself from getting a little emotional there in the ninth inning, I was just thinking about how far the team has come from the start of the season and I’m really proud of them. It’s a great building block for our team and we’re excited to play another game tomorrow.”
On Jake Rappaport’s performance, “I thought he was much better today, he commanded his pitches better today, and I thought the ninth inning was probably the best inning he has thrown all tournament. When needed him, he was there for us, and he’s been the guy all year.”