Rutgers faces top AAC team following loss
Midweek games are supposed to provide easier challenges than the weekend series.
With matchups against lower-caliber, out-of-conference teams, the meetings in the middle of the week also offer an opportunity to rest some significant members of the pitching staff and mix up the lineups.
Most importantly, the midweek games can provide momentum entering the conference weekend series.
For this weekend, the Rutgers baseball team can use all the momentum it can muster as it faces the AAC top team in Central Florida (25-16, 12-3).
The Scarlet Knights have some confidence despite a minor setback coming in the form of Wednesday’s 10-7 loss against Wagner. Including the loss to the Seahawks, Rutgers (19-19, 6-5) has won eight out of its last 11 games.
That sort of winning trend alleviates the pressure going into a vital series against UCF, said junior catcher Mike Zavalla.
“Obviously, we are rolling right now,” Favalla said after Tuesday’s win against Rider. “We have a big weekend series coming up, and we have to stay focused. We have to keep winning and keep playing hard.”
But the Knights are not exactly blowing anyone away with the type of baseball they are playing.
Eight out of their last 10 wins have been by four or fewer runs, proving that their bullpen and pitching staff have kept it close, their offensive output has been timely and former head coach Fred Hill’s way of fundamentally-sound baseball is still alive.
It is a way of baseball that is exactly how head coach Joe Litterio wants it, even if it means not winning by large margins.
“We are playing this type of baseball — which is not a bad thing — where we are not blowing anyone out like we did offensively early on,” Litterio said. “It’s just a matter of keeping it close and being backed by some good pitching.”
In the loss against Wagner, Rutgers did not benefit from its pitchers’ performances. The Knights allowed 10 runs on 20 hits.
While three of the five pitchers for Rutgers in the game against the Seahawks were true freshmen, who Litterio ultimately used to gain valuable experience moving forward and preserve the staff for this weekend’s series, there can be no excuse for a veteran lineup.
Timely hitting was not on display against Wagner. Junior outfielder Joe D’Annunzio said the Knights missed a few chances offensively.
“We swung it pretty well — we had 13 hits and 7 runs,” D’Annunzio said. “But, we had other opportunities where we could have put some across to give our pitching staff a little bit more of a lead and a little more cushion, but we didn’t do that.”
It is hard to ask for much more than 13 hits and seven runs from the Knights’ hitters, but Litterio expects the most from Rutgers, as the goal is to win every time they step on the diamond.
But that is the expectation the skipper set and the midweek games offer an opportunity to increase a chance to attain those expectations going against the No. 1 team in the AAC.
“[These midweek games] give me a chance to play a couple different ways,” Litterio said. “We want to win and we are looking to win.”
For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.