RU draws Big East's best in Connecticut
To say there is a sense of urgency for the Rutgers baseball team would be an understatement.
The Scarlet Knights sit three games below .500 in Big East play with just 11 conference games left and ride a four-game losing skid home to Piscataway for a weekend matchup with Connecticut.
If the Knights plan on making a move in the conference rankings, it must start today against the top team in the Big East, according to head coach Fred Hill.
"Every series from now on is a big one for us, starting with this one," Hill said. "If we can win each series, then we're going to be in pretty good shape, and that means we have to play well."
After a stinging 14-12 loss to Delaware earlier in the week — a game in which the Knights committed four errors — Hill hopes his bats can carry over their pop from the midweek defeat.
The Knights largely struggled from the plate this season, but saw a complete turnaround in Delaware, where they recorded 17 hits on the afternoon to bump the team batting average up to .252.
Sophomore Bill Hoermann and senior third baseman D.J Anderson led the charge on the day, combining for five hits and seven RBI.
But with UConn's pitching staff coming to town, duplicating the team's success from the plate against the Huskies could be a tall task.
"I think we were much more aggressive on Tuesday," Hill said. "We had a good day [Wednesday] swinging the bat, so hopefully that'll carry over. Their pitchers certainly have something to do with that, but I think we faced [Matt] Barnes last year and did very well against him, so we'll see what happens."
Barnes, UConn's ace this season, got roughed up for six runs off six hits during a regular season meeting against the Knights last year in Storrs, Conn.
With another year to learn the trade, Barnes' skill set skyrocketed, as the junior now tops almost every statistical pitching category in the Big East, including shutouts (3), strikeouts (69), innings pitched (78), wins (10), complete games (3) and opposing batting average (.152).
The talent is there for the rest of the squad, as well, with UConn leading the conference in batting average (.312) and team ERA (2.86).
But for Anderson, it takes more than just talent to win ballgames.
"They have a lot of talent," said Anderson, who is hitting .297 this season. "They play well together, but talent doesn't win games — the team wins games. If we can show up and get the pitching we've been getting, we can shut down anybody."
Shutting down UConn's bats starts with sophomore ace Tyler Gebler. Gebler, who went six innings and allowed four earned runs his last time out, will surely have his hands full today against the Huskies.
But no matter how close he keeps the game, he will need at least some run support.
In his start against Pittsburgh last week to start the series, the Knights' bats were silent, and remained that way the following day in a 3-0 loss in Game 2 of the series.
But after a breakout day from the plate, the Knights are ready to make a move up the conference standings today against the Huskies.
And with the memory of five losses to UConn last season — the final two in the Big East Tournament — the Knights have plenty of motivation to turn their season around.
"We have the fire going this weekend, and hopefully we take the series from UConn," Hoermann said.
Knight Note: Sophomore shortstop Pat Sweeney, who left Tuesday's game against Delaware with a pulled hamstring, is doubtful for today's game with Connecticut. Hill remains unsure of who would assume the position if Sweeney is unavailable.