Rutgers hopes to translate recent success with Georgia Tech matchup
Every week, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association of America decides on the 30 best college baseball teams in the nation.
This week, all 30 hailed from warm climates.
The Rutgers baseball team is not on there, but a successful series this weekend against No. 9 Georgia Tech might merit it some recognition.
“This is the best team we’ve had [in my career],” said junior pitcher Rob Smorol. “We’re playing really well right now, and this is the week to show we can be in the national rankings.”
Smorol faced the Yellow Jackets twice in his career. The most recent appearance came last year, when Smorol was still adjusting to starting games.
The left-hander’s transition last season was smooth in his first two starts. He put the Scarlet Knights in position for their lone victory against Miami and then won against Michigan.
But Georgia Tech rattled him for six earned runs in four and 1/3 innings.
He was not alone. Georgia Tech scored 33 runs in the series for an average of 11 runs per game against the Knights.
But Saturday’s start will be different for Smorol. He takes the mound with more collegiate starting experience than any Knight in the series.
This time, he feels ready.
“Hopefully I can hide my pitches a little more this time and be able to get through that order,” Smorol said. “Last year definitely got me more prepared for it, since I pitched an inning [against Georgia Tech] my freshman year. This time I actually got through that lineup.”
But the Yellow Jackets (7-2) sport a strong lineup. They are patient at the plate, having walked 48 times with only 65 strikeouts.
Georgia Tech can pull the ball too. The team has hit six out of the park and also doubled 22 times. The Knights’ (3-3) .365 slugging percentage is nearly .100 points lower than the Yellow Jackets’ .450.
That patience and power is scattered throughout.
“One through nine, everybody can hit,” Smorol said. “They pick up signs really well. Any kind of tendencies you have on the mound, they’re going to pick them up.”
But the Knights enter Russ Chandler Stadium tomorrow with offensive momentum of their own, fresh off a 40-hit series last weekend against Old Dominion. They also hit with runners in scoring position, bringing home 24.
“In all three of the games, we hit the ball pretty well,” said head coach Fred Hill. “We executed when we were supposed to execute. We got a boatload of hits.”
The middle of the order looks to be as productive as they were against the Monarchs.
Sophomore second baseman Nick Favatella extended his hitting streak to 17 games dating back to last season, junior catcher Jeff Melillo hit .375 and junior right-fielder Steve Zavala drove in four runs.
Hill also brings history with him to Atlanta as one of the all-time winningest active coaches from the north. But none of his 1,030 wins came in recent history against the Yellow Jackets.
But Georgia Tech presents Rutgers with a chance to prove itself to its future Big East opponents and the southern teams it faces this month.
“They’re the best team we’re going to face all year,” Smorol said. “[Our goal is to] take the series, just like any other week.”