Bats come to life for Rutgers in first Big Ten series
Rutgers softball was one of the school’s last teams to compete in the Big Ten, waiting until this past weekend to debut against Indiana
The Scarlet Knights (12-8) made a strong opening statement against the Hoosiers (9-22) at the plate. The Knights won the series, 2-1.
“We could have won all three games, but we are playing well,” said head coach Jay Nelson. “We are hitting the ball, fielding the ball much better and playing the game really well. Our pitching is a little challenged right now, but we are working on it.”
In the rubber game of the series on Sunday, Rutgers prevailed by a score of 10-6 to earn its first Big Ten series win.
Dresden Maddox picked up the win, scattering six runs in four and two-thirds innings. The junior right-hander yielded just four hits, but struggled with her control, walking six and hitting two batters.
The Kennesaw, Georgia, native found herself in trouble in the bottom of the third with the bases loaded and two out, but was able to get the strikeout to halt the Hoosiers' rally.
The team picked up 10 hits on the day, including two home runs from the bats of junior infielder Melanie Slowinski and sophomore first baseman Bridget Carr.
In the second game, the Knights looked to have everything going well, scoring seven unanswered runs to take a commanding 7-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth, but Indiana answered.
The Hoosiers rallied for eight runs in the last three innings with three of the runs off three hits in the bottom of the seventh for the walk-off win.
After Sweeney cruised through the first four innings, the combination of Maddox, sophomore pitcher Shayla Sweeney and senior pitcher Alyssa Landrith could not stop the bleeding late.
“It was more about losing a game that we had a seven (run) lead, but you have to give Indiana credit," Nelson said. "They swung the bats well. They mounted a good comeback and we couldn’t hold them off."
In its inaugural Big Ten game, Rutgers came alive at the plate.
After falling behind, 5-2, in the second, the Knights went on to score nine unanswered runs thanks to the its performance at the plate where they accumulated 13 hits. Second baseman Stephanie Huang was the catalyst of the comeback, going 3-for-5 with four runs batted in.
Slowinski and senior outfielder Jackie Bates each added a homer to propel the Knights to victory. Slowinski belted three home runs in the series, providing great protection in the middle of the order.
“Thursday we had practice, and we hit for a while and I think that helped me a bit,” she said. “I am really seeing the ball really well and I’ve been able to adjust to the way they were pitching to me. Everyone on the team is hitting, so that helps with your confidence going up to the plate.”
Landrith had a strong performance, going the full length of the game after struggling early to secure her sixth win of the season.
Huang has found her groove of late since she moved back into the leadoff spot, going 6-for-13 on the weekend with four RBI.
“I think being at the bottom of the order, there is less pressure and I was able to get my confidence back up, so that I could be more comfortable,” Huang said.
Nelson felt like the move to the bottom of the order really helped Huang relax.
“She was getting herself out,” Nelson said. “She was swinging at bad pitches. The move was to get her to be more patient and she has done that. She is seeing the ball really well, right now."
After struggling the first few weeks at the plate, Rutgers has finally shook off the rust and found its niche. Over the past weekend alone, the team compiled scored 28 runs on 35 hits in three games.
While the bats have been hot, the pitching trio of Landrith, Maddox and Sweeney has struggled to find its groove early in the season. While the tilt for March 24 against Monmouth has been postponed, there is an increased sense of urgency to perform as a contest with Hofstra lingers.
“We have a good staff that is sort of like the batter in a slump. I believe that it is more mental than anything physical,” Nelson said. “We have to get them feeling more confident out there so they can challenge hitters more. They can definitely overcome it."
For updates on the Rutgers softball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.