Rutgers seeks momentum nearing postseason
As the final moments in the regular season approach, the Rutgers softball team needs to heat up if it wishes to make its postseason dreams a reality.
After being swept by Penn State this past weekend, the Scarlet Knights (26-17, 10-10) hope to get things back on track in the final week of the regular season starting with LIU-Brooklyn (18-27) followed by a red-hot Iona (14-22) on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
“Hopefully, we can take these losses and be able to bounce back from it so it would be nice to end the regular season on a good note,” said senior centerfielder Jackie Bates. “We have to clean up a few things in practice.”
While both games may be viewed as tune-ups for the Big Ten series against Wisconsin this weekend, head coach Jay Nelson is still concerned about the contests leading up to it.
“If we get taken out of our game again, that’s what concerns me,” Nelson said. “We were taken out of our game big time this past weekend. We need to stay within ourselves to play our game in that moment.”
This late in the season, he added that regardless of the opposing team's record, no game should be taken lightly.
The team must attack LIU-Brooklyn and Iona the same it would against any other elite Big Ten opponent.
All-time, the Knights are 16-6 against the Blackbirds and 7-0 against the Gaels.
With one week to go, Rutgers aims to bounce back from a disappointing three-game sweep in Happy Valley at Penn State.
Both teams lined up within the next two days provide a valuable opportunity to get back on track, especially for the Knights at the plate.
LIU-Brooklyn posts a team earned run average (ERA) of 5.81, with one standout in sophomore Christi Costello who is 5-4 on the season with a 2.87 ERA. Collectively, Iona boasts a 5.14 team ERA.
The pitching of Penn State was able to attack Knights at the plate and set the foreground for success against the lineup.
"We have to go back to basics,” Nelson said. “We must remain loose at the plate. We tightened up this past weekend and it cost us. The key is to play with poise and hit the pitchers, doing what we are suppose to do at the plate, not what they want.”
As if the pressure wasn’t high enough for Rutgers to perform this last week of the regular season, it’s on now as it must to gain momentum entering the Big Ten Tournament.
After dropping the games to Penn State and facing LIU Brooklyn and Iona, that are down in the Rating Percentage Index (RPI), the Knights can’t do much more to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Regionals.
The only way to make it to regionals at this point is winning the conference tournament, according to Nelson.
But he believes his team is more than capable of carrying that mission out.
Getting these two wins can be crucial for the team going into the team’s last Big Ten series of the season against Wisconsin.
“It’s great to come off wins going in to a weekend because it gets your confidence up and pumps you to play,” said freshman designated hitter Sierra Maddox. “Hopefully, these midweek games will help us week a few things and prepare us for the upcoming weekend.”
Nelson pointed to the team not being able to afford any mental lapses while in the field defensively, something that cost them the rubber game of the Penn State series.
With this being the final week of the season, the team has to have everything fine-tuned on its end in preparation for the postseason.
“We have to keep pushing forward and looking ahead,” Maddox said. “It doesn’t matter what happened — just what happens next. It will give us good momentum going in to the Wisconsin series and a confidence boost, which would be good for us.”
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