Rutgers hopes to improve its record at Spartan Classic in North Carolina
The Rutgers softball team looks to gain ground on its lackluster start by winning some games this weekend at the Spartan Classic in Greensboro, North Carolina.
The Scarlet Knights (2-11) have failed to string together two wins this season, something they made a trend of doing last year.
The Knights start off the weekend early Friday against Brown (4-1) at 10 a.m., followed by a 3 p.m. game against host UNC—Greensboro (7-7).
On Saturday, Rutgers plays another early contest at 9:30 a.m. against struggling North Carolina Central (0-11) followed by a rematch against the Spartans at 2:30 p.m..
The Knights play their last game of the weekend at 10 a.m. against the Eagles on Sunday.
Rutgers is hitting a combined .222 batting average throughout the first 13 games of the season, ranking last in the Big Ten Conference, 30 percentage points behind the second worst, Iowa.
Although the Knights have faced a total of five ranked teams this year, the poor batting average cannot fully be attributed to that excuse.
“It’s been a little bit of both,” said head coach Jay Nelson. “The competition has been really good. Lafayette is really good, they're probably the best hitting team we’ve faced, and other than No. 1 Florida, I don’t know if there’s a better hitting team.”
The team ERA, which ranks last in the conference as well at 5.12, also has not been improving this season for Rutgers.
Though the ERA is high, Shayla Sweeney’s confidence is also. The junior right-hander isn't worrying too much early in the season.
“(The ERA) drop as the season goes on,” Sweeney said. “I think coach did this for a reason, to play these ranked teams in the beginning, because Michigan is No. 2 in the nation. So it was good playing Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette, UCF and JMU because Minnesota, Michigan, they’re all good in our conference. At least we have preparation from playing these hard teams."
The Knights do have some bright spots, despite the fact they've started the season nine games under .500.
Senior infielder Stephanie Huang has registered a hit in 8 of the last 10 games, totaling her average to .324.
Sophomore infielder Rebecca Hall continues to hit consistently, raising her batting average to an even .300.
Freshman pitcher Whitney Jones threw her first complete game, first shutout and first win last weekend against Alcorn State.
The positives don't outweigh the negatives, though.
“We gotta pick up our hitting and pitching,” Nelson said. “I don’t think we have a pitcher under a 4.00 ERA, and we have a .220 batting average, and that’s not gonna cut it. We have a few of our girls that are on track hitting. Stephanie, Jordan picked it up, so we have a few girls that are hitting, but we need everybody to pick it up.”
Rutgers is also last in slugging percentage (.297), on base percentage (.285) and runs scored (34) in its conference this season so far, but Hall said she has confidence of reaching the .500 mark by conference play.
“I definitely do think we will,” Hall said, regarding being .500 by their first Big Ten game. “We're going to improve, we just need to work on executing our plays.”
Something the Knights base their defense around is being able to throw runners out and pick runners off, but that has been a struggle for their catchers, as they are unable to do either.
“Our catchers are a work in progress,” Nelson said. “We don’t have any catchers that are throwing runners out stealing, which is huge. When you get into a game where it’s a one-run game or two-run game, you gotta keep the runners at bay ... I’ve been more focused on defense and getting our catchers going then on the specific catchers offense.”
One catcher's offense stands out.
Senior Elizabeth Adams is batting .308, the second highest average behind Huang.
“She’s not where she was when we finished last year,” Nelson said, referring to Adams defensively. “I’ll probably let her see at least three games this weekend.”
This weekend may seem like lesser competition than what the Knights have been used to, but Nelson and his team will be on high alert.
“Brown is the first game we face, and they're sneaky,” Nelson said. “It’s not like they're gonna be a push over. We need to get off the bus and take care of business. UNC—Greensboro is pretty good too, so you know if we came back 4-1, I’d be pretty happy.”
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