July 20, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers closes out of conference schedule with home opener against Hofstra

Photo by The Daily Targum |

Junior pitcher Shayla Sweeney leads the Knights pitching staff in ERA at 3.40 in over 57 innings of work.

After starting the season 0-8, the Rutgers softball team has gone 14-8, improving its record to 14-16.

With one more game to play before entering conference play, the Scarlet Knights look to develop an even more impressive record by defeating Hofstra (13-10) — something that was unable to happen due to inclement weather last year.

But head coach Jay Nelson has other plans despite inching closer towards the .500 mark.

“Just sticking with improvements, that was the plan,” Nelson said. “We're not worried about getting to the .500 mark, we're about getting better everyday. That’s what we do, we take mistakes we make in the game, and we talk about them to get better. That’s what this whole preseason is for, so when we get into our conference play, we are at the top of our game and we can compete for a spot at the top of the conference.”

Photo: The Daily Targum

Senior pitcher Dresden Maddox has rebounded from a shaky start to lowering her ERA to 3.65, good for second best on the team. Her 40 strikeouts lead the Knights as she inches toward 200 punchouts for her career.

Improvement is the name of the game for the consistent performance Rutgers has displayed throughout the last three weeks.

The Knights are tied for sixth overall in the Big Ten with Purdue in total team hits at 212.

The bigger story stems from the pitching staff that has lowered its total team ERA to 3.70, a drastically lower number than in previous weeks.

Junior Shayla Sweeney leads the team with a 3.40 ERA, followed by an refining 3.65 ERA for senior Dresden Maddox, and last but not least, freshman Whitney Jones’ 3.69.

Maddox struggled earlier in the year. But as time went on, Maddox seemed to find her groove and improve her ERA to the second best on the team.

The big improvement Maddox has made has her team and herself anxious for the upcoming conference play.

“I’m pretty excited,” Maddox said. “I think everybody else is too. We're looking forward to it, we have confidence going into it with wins over the past week. We're ready to get at it.”

Another bright spot for Rutgers is Stephanie Huang. The senior third baseman is the team leader in batting average, boasting the eighth overall batting average in an impressive Big Ten conference at .402. Her performance over Spring Break earned her Big Ten Player of the Week honors.

The Paramus, New Jersey, native said she credits her success this season to her not getting ahead of herself and staying disciplined in the batters box.

“I think the biggest thing is not swinging at bad pitches and just not getting ahead of myself,” Huang said.

Something Huang will continue to do over the course of the year is to keep her mindset positive.

“Continuing to have the good mindset and not swinging at anything out of the zone,” Huang said referring to the keys for her to continue her remarkable play.

Something to be aware about when watching this scrappy Hofstra team play is the five batters it boasts with a .300 average or higher.

Michaela Transue leads the Pride with a .373 batting average, followed by Brittany Allocca’s .338.

Hofstra is coming off of a great series in which they took care of the Nittany Lions of Penn State with a 2 out of 3 series win.

The Knights are ready for any competition headed to them after facing four ranked teams earlier in the season. A big part of Rutgers' improvement, in Nelson’s view, is credited to the hard competition it faced in February.

“One of the things was we played some really good teams to start with,” Nelson said. “And by playing those teams, we learned how to hit better pitching, and how to pitch to better hitters. And even though we were handed losses, we were getting better. We competed in those games.”

For updates on the Rutgers softball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

Bret Levinson

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