September 21, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers continues to improve after strong weekend

Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

Senior pitcher Shayla Sweeney had a career weekend, earning two wins and two saves in four games in North Carolina.

The Rutgers softball team won 4 of 5 games at the Spartan Classic at UNC—Greensboro this past weekend.

The Scarlet Knights' (6-12) only slip came in the second game of the weekend, an 8-4 loss to the host Spartans (10-9) after a 10-3 opening win over Brown (7-3). 

They avenged the loss to UNC—Greensboro Saturday in a 6-2 win. The revenge game was sandwiched between two wins against North Carolina Central (0-16) — 6-0 on Saturday, and 4-1 on Sunday to close out the weekend.

Rutgers has won 5 out of its last 7 after a 1-10 start.

“We’re still early in the season” said head coach Jay Nelson. “But we’re playing better and that’s the goal, keep improving.”

The two biggest improvements this weekend were junior righty Shayla Sweeney and sophomore infielder Rebecca Hall. 

Sweeney threw a total of 14 innings this weekend, earning two wins and two saves after allowing just 2 earned runs and striking out 11. 

Hall raised her batting average to .317, going 7-for-20 with two home runs, seven RBI’s and three runs scored over the weekend.

The Knights sent out freshman pitcher Whitney Jones to the circle to start the weekend off. 

Although Jones looked phenomenal last weekend, earning her first ever collegiate win, shutout and complete game, Brown started the game up 1-0 in the first inning with Janet Leung’s single to center, driving in Grayson Metzger.

That didn’t faze Rutgers though, as it was able to put up a five spot in the third to take a 5-1 lead.

The Knights would add 2 more runs in the fourth via senior infielder Melanie Slowinski’s single driving in Whitley to make it 6-1. Junior Carly Todd would then single to center bringing in Slowinski to give Rutgers a 7-1 lead.

The Bears would strike back with 2 runs itself due to Julia Schoenewald’s double to right center driving in Yeram Park, making the score 7-3.

Hall would help the Knights tack on another 2 runs by hitting a 2-run shot in the top of the seventh, driving in Whitley after senior infielder Stephanie Huang scored on a fielder's choice to make the score 10-3.

Sweeney would continue her dominance retiring the last three batters, making it six straight, and helping Rutgers gain its first win of the weekend by a final score of 10-3.

In the second game on Friday, the Knights faced host UNC—Greensboro.

In the first inning, Whitley walked and Slowinski reached on an error, which scored Whitley and gave Rutgers a 1-0 lead. 

It would be its last lead of the day as the Spartans scored 8 runs to win 8-4.

Senior Dresden Maddox started in the circle for the Knights, allowing seven hits, 5 earned runs, while striking out two, over two innings of work. This was Maddox’s third straight game letting up a home run.

Rutgers started its two-game slate Saturday against North Carolina Central.

The game was a pitchers dual featuring Maddox for the Knights and Jennifer Allison for the Eagles, with both going five straight innings without letting up a run.

In the sixth, Slowinski remained hot, as she hit a two run homer to left center, driving in Whitley to make it 2-0.

The Eagles threatened in the bottom half of the sixth, leading off with a hit to right center forcing Nelson to pull starter Maddox and bring in Sweeney. 

Sweeney would give up two straight hits before retiring the last two batters in strike out fashion, which would foreshadow the rest of her performance.

Nelson said he pulled his starter to switch it up and avoid an Eagle comeback.

“I took (Maddox) out because they got a runner on and they weren’t hitting her at all,” Nelson said. “I didn’t want us to make a couple mistakes and get into a tie game and her confidence might have not been as strong. Shayla was rested and ready to go, so we got her up, and got her in.”

Sweeney would close the game out with three straight strikeouts in the seventh, totaling her consecutive strike outs to five to end the game and give Rutgers the 6-0 win as she earned her first save of the season.

“I felt pretty confident after these past couple of weekends playing good competition,” Sweeney said. "I was focusing on hitting my spots and forcing ground balls and pop ups.”

In the second game on Saturday, the Knights avenged Friday’s loss to UNCG by a score of 6-2, thanks to Hall’s 4-for-5, four RBI’s and a two run shot in the third.

Sweeney started in the circle for Rutgers, only allowing 2 earned runs over six innings of work.

The Knights struck first in the third with Whitley’s walk and Hall’s 2-run shot. They would add one more run via freshman outfielder Nicolette Anico reaching base due to an error and Todd scoring.

Hall said she wasn't hitting for power, but the bat hit the ball and flew out.

“I wasn’t trying to hit home runs,” Hall said. “I was just focusing on making contact with the ball and it just happened to go out.”

Huang led off the fourth with her first home run of the season, giving Rutgers a 4-1 lead.

UNCG would answer with a solo shot from Tory Wright.

The last 2 runs of the game would come from the Knights via Hall’s single through the left side, scoring Huang and Burcar.

Jones then closed the game out in the seventh allowing no hits over an inning of work.

Hall and Adams both ended up with multi-hit games, while Hall hit her second home run of the weekend, raising her batting average to .317.

Hall blames overthinking as a reason for last weekends struggles and explains that slowing the game down has a been a key for her.

“I think last weekend I was overthinking while hitting,” Hall said. “So this weekend, I was trying to slow the game down and take one pitch at a time.”

In the last game of the weekend, Rutgers handled NCC for the second time.

Jones would start for the Knights in the circle completing five innings, only allowing 1 earned run and striking out three. She earned her third win of the season.

Sweeney pitched well in addition, closing the game out from the sixth inning on allowing one hit and no earned runs to earn her second save of the season.

“Right now, she’s pitching the best of all our pitchers,” Nelson said referring to Sweeney. “It’s a long season and we rely on our staff to be successful, Shayla really stepped up.”

Rutgers got things rolling in the second inning as Slowinski lead off with a walk. Carr would double, and later on, Slowinski would score due to a wild pitch to give the Knights a 1-0 lead.

North Carolina Central would score in the top part of the third due to Aleyah Evans' single turning into a run thanks to Jenny Tracy reaching on a fielder's choice.

Huang would then retake the lead in the third as a walk turned into a run.

In the bottom of the sixth, Adams hit a 2-run shot to center field giving the Knights a comfortable 4-1 lead.

“Its good to see her hitting,” Nelson said of Adams. “It kind if solidifies our lineup. We're still looking for the bottom of the lineup to contribute. They don’t need to get base hits, but they need to move runners.”

That would be all from both sides as Rutgers wins its third straight, its last 5 of 7 and its second win against NCC of the weekend.

The Knights are now just six games under the .500 mark. 

Five games next weekend at the Florida Atlantic Tournament could decide whether Rutgers becomes closer to the mark or further away.

But right now, Rutgers isn't worrying too much about its record.

“I don’t really look at five games at a time,” Nelson said. “It’s an opportunity to get back, but again, we're looking to make improvements. All this preseason is working up towards our conference play. So we want to keep perfecting things so that were playing at the top of our game.”

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

Bret Levinson

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