Rutgers opens up home play
The Rutgers baseball team is off to its best start in Big East play since the 2010 season — thanks to series victories against Villanova and Louisville.
The Scarlet Knights (11-12, 5-1) are still looking to get over the .500 mark for the first time this season.
Six combined losses to Miami and Georgia Tech early in the season — when the offense was still trying to find its stride — did Rutgers no favors, but it has been performances against teams they should beat that leaves them with a losing record.
Head coach Fred Hill felt his team should have done better against William & Mary and Old Dominion — after the Knights finished 3-3 combined against the two. They had a midweek loss to Rider after they captured their first series win against a ranked opponent — then No. 4 Louisville — since 2010 left Hill questioning his team’s motivation to finish against weaker opponents.
“Every game’s important,” Hill said yesterday. “Last week we played on a Tuesday, and we weren’t ready to play. I don’t want to take anything away from what Rider did because they did a good job against us, but we weren’t ready to play. I’m just hoping that, tomorrow, we have our hitting shoes on and come to the ballpark ready to play.”
Although Rutgers only used junior righthander Slater McCue for the second time as a starter this season, the Knights generated just three runs against the Broncs in the 9-3 loss.
McCue will go again today against Columbia (9-14) and Wednesday against Iona (3-23), but the responsibility of securing those two wins will fall more on the offense — which was productive in Rutgers’ series sweep of Villanova over the weekend.
The Knights collected 16 hits in their final game against the Wildcats — crossing nine runs across the plate. Each of their top-four hitters had three hits.
Hill points to the production on offense in the later innings as the most important stat to take out of the game. Rutgers had five runs in the last three innings, including three in the ninth.
“A good indication is that we are playing all nine innings — which is something you have to do,” Hill said. “I don’t think we did that earlier in the year, but I think we’re coming on a little bit.”
It is the offense’s responsibility to compensate for whatever production comes from the mound because of the use of non-weekend starters during the week.
Rutgers would have a lot less to worry about if it was able to use its top-three starters based on their recent success.
Senior lefthander Rob Smorol and righthanders Tyler Gebler and Charlie Law went a combined 3-0 against Villanova — each striking out eight batters while combining to allow no runs in the three games.
Gebler was awarded the honor of Big East Pitcher of the Week for his efforts.
He said the trio knew they had to come out strong after the upset loss to Rider.
“We knew we had a letdown against Rider,” Gebler said. “Our pitchers pretty much dominated this weekend, and we pounded the zone. We were ahead of a lot of hitters in the count, and we really took advantage of that.”
Rutgers will not have to take advantage of the way its schedule shakes out for the next couple of weeks.
The Knights will play eight of its next nine games at home — with each game consisting of a team with a losing record this season.
Despite their winning record in conference play, they are in the same category as their next five opponents when it comes to wins.
Gebler knows how important it is to pick up victories during the week.
“It’s huge. We want to get above .500, so we really need to focus,” he said. “It does a lot for your confidence. You lose to a team in the midweek that you know you’re supposed to beat — and it hurts for a few days — but, we have to go into these games like Big East games with a lot of energy and a lot of focus.”
For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D.