Rutgers adjusts, treks back to Cali
Two weeks ago, the Rutgers softball team got the season started in California.
Now, it's going back to Cali for the Fresno State Tournament.
The Scarlet Knights (2-3) face off against two familiar foes from their season-opening tournament at the University of California Santa Barbara. They face St. Mary’s (5-8) and Santa Barbara (3-10) after splitting the two games they played against each team weeks ago.
“We are very familiar with how they play, the type of the game they play,” Nelson said. “We know what their approach to certain situations will be. We have intentionally booked these teams because they are strong teams and face very strong teams.”
Rutgers will also see some new faces in Fresno State (9-4) and Oregon State (10-5).
In their first series of the season, the Knights had trouble acclimating to the game speed and getting back in the groove of things.
“We have changed our practices a little bit,” head coach Jay Nelson said. “We have been challenging our outfielders to throw people out at bases. We are concentrating on them getting rid of the ball quicker and on target. We’ve been doing the same for our infield.”
Unlike the other teams in the tournament, Rutgers has had to practice on the turf in the bubble.
The other squads have been able to practice on their own fields with the traditional dirt and grass due to warmer climates.
Last week was an adjustment for the Knights. Now that they will be playing every week, Nelson hopes the team finds a rhythm fast.
“It wasn’t the best week we could have had, but we can’t do anything other than improve,” said senior outfielder Jackie Bates said. “In practice we have been taking more reps and trying to be quicker on defense. It definitely helps that we already saw them last week, so we definitely know what to expect.”
Although the extra week off may stunt the team’s growth, it turns out it might make a difference.
Rutgers had some trouble getting home from the last tournament and it wouldn’t have been properly prepared had it played this past weekend.
In the first weekend of action, the lineup slumped for the most part. As a team, Rutgers ended the UCSB Tournament with a .223 batting average.
One statistic that Nelson said pained him the most after the weekend was knowing that the Knights stranded 38 runners on base, managing 17 runs in the five games.
After struggling at the plate and getting consistently good at bats, Rutgers worked even on its approach at the plate this week in practice.
Senior left fielder Chandler Howard scattered six hits and knocked in three RBI to go with a .353 average at the plate.
But even Howard knows the lineup — including herself — still need to improve.
“We’ve focused a lot on changing our mindset rather than going up to the plate and thinking we have to get a hit,” she said. “We are more so thinking that we have to look for a pitch that we can drive."
The pitching staff has also been working hard in practice to improve on their subpar first tournament with the help of Nelson and pitching coach Misty Beaver.
The pitching staff will look familiar this weekend with senior Alyssa Landrith and junior Dresden Maddox probably throwing two games and sophomore Shayla Sweeney throwing in one game.
Regardless of who takes the mound, Nelson expects that person to get ahead and stay ahead, pounding the zone and giving the Knights a chance to win this weekend.
“We have to do a better job of throwing better strikes," Nelson said. “We have to get a strike on corner and then extend the strike zone and when they fall behind in the count, taking their best pitch and getting strike with it. We have to get ahead of the hitters."
For updates on the Rutgers softball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.