Rutgers searches for signature win to boost postseason prospects
As the Rutgers softball team rides a season-high seven-game winning streak against Michigan, it will finally see where it stacks up with the best of the best.
The Scarlet Knights (20-9, 7-2) take on the No. 4 Wolverines (34-6, 7-2) today at 3 p.m. to begin a three-game tilt over the weekend at the RU Softball Complex.
Michigan is 9-4 this season against ranked opponents, with two close losses to the likes of No. 1 Florida.
A win over one of the top teams in the country could provide Rutgers with some serious leverage, according to head coach Jay Nelson.
“In the long run, I don’t think it will be crucial (in the Big Ten), but it gives us a chance to beat the No. 4 team," Nelson said. “We have three chances to beat them and if we win, it will help us move up in the RPI and that’s what we are trying to do.”
With the Big Ten receiving just one automatic bid for the NCAA Regionals, getting the best quality wins to increase RPI becomes crucial in order to get an at-large bid. Beating Michigan would help greatly that cause.
With a .314 team batting average, the Knights have a case for their offensive prowess at the plate.
Senior centerfielder Jackie Bates leads the team's red-hot lineup at the plate, boasting a .402 batting average along with stroking 10 home runs on the year and 33 runs batted in (RBI).
Aside from Bates, the distribution has been evenly spread throughout the lineup with Knights currently hitting over .300.
But Michigan dwarfs that number, boasting a .334 batting average on the season.
Junior shortstop Sierra Romero leads the way with a blistering .505 with 13 home runs and 46 RBI. Seven batters have hit over .306 in the lineup in 20 games or more of action.
On the mound, the team sports an astounding 1.73 era, with two pitchers standing out as the staff's co-aces.
Sophomore Meghan Betsa has gone 15-4 in the circle for the Wolverines with a 1.71 ERA on the year. Right there with her is senior Haylie Wagner, who spots identical numbers with 15-2 record to go with a 2.08 ERA.
Michigan presents a matchup that pits an unstoppable force against an immovable object, but Rutgers is up for the task.
Freshman second baseman Meghan Wells is new to the aura of playing against the cream of the crop in college softball, but acknowledged how imperative and beneficial it could be for the Knights to steal a pair of games against the Wolverines.
“I think it’s really important,” Meghan Wells said. “It’s probably the biggest series that we have and we just have to come out hard and keep hitting the way we have been because we are doing really well and we will see how it goes.”
She went on to emphasize that the Knights need to have the mindset that they can hit Michigan’s pitchers and they can’t back down.
Rutgers will need its pitching to help out in order to win the series this weekend. The Knights will look to sophomore right-hander Shayla Sweeney and junior right-hander Dresden Maddox.
Senior left-hander Alyssa Landrith could be used twice, Nelson said, appearing in the first and last game. Either Sweeney or Maddox could split the second game, aside from immediate use out of the bullpen.
Nelson has emphasized throughout the season that his team needs to play a clean game in the circle, at the plate and defensively.
There would be no better time to do that than this weekend.
“Its definitely going to be a tough series, facing some tough batters and its a tough team all the way around, so we are going to have to bring our ‘A’ game,” Landrith said. “I think it will be really crucial that we come out and play ball like we know how to and hopefully win the series.”
For updates on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.