Rutgers aims for first upset win in series with No. 21 Minnesota
For the first time since the UCF Knights Invitational in February, the Rutgers softball team will face a ranked opponent in back-to-back games.
This upcoming weekend, the Scarlet Knights (18-23, 2-7) are slated to host a three-game series against No. 21 Minnesota (27-12, 8-3) at the Rutgers Softball Complex.
One thing Rutgers will have to improve before this weekend is its performance hitting the outside pitch.
The Golden Gophers have the top pitcher in the Big Ten in ERA in Sara Groenewegen, who boasts a 1.86 ERA.
“We have trouble with the pitch that’s off the plate,” said head coach Jay Nelson. “We may not get to her early, so the strategy is to prolong our at bats.”
The Knights are gradually improving their efficiency at the plate.
Senior infielder Stephanie Huang continues to lead the team in average at .391, while senior infielder Jordan Whitley is continuing her success at .331. Senior infielder Melanie Slowinski joing them with an average of .300 and senior catcher Elizabeth Adams trails slightly behind with an average of .293.
But contacting the ball is not the Knights' issue.
“Their average is up. Their clutch hitting is down," Nelson said. "I think the pressure of the moment is in the way. We kinda get out of our comfort zone and swinging at bad pitches."
Rutgers will have to bump up its clutch hitting when Minnesota's Groenewegen is in the circle.
The junior right-hander struck out 14 batters while only allowing two hits against No. 8 Oklahoma. She also had 15 strikeouts against Texas Tech and pitched her fourth no-hitter and was one walk away from a perfect game against Virginia Tech. She struck out 21 batters in 13 innings against No. 9 Georgia.
While the Knights know they have a tough task at hand this weekend, Whitley has explained her recent success at the plate, which will hopefully give Rutgers some much needed help.
“I think I’ve been focusing on doing what I can do for my team,” Whitley said. "Not swinging for the fences, I’m worried about getting on base when we need that or driving in runs when we need that.”
With rain making the Rutgers softball field unplayable for Tuesday’s practice, the team shifted about 50 yards to Bainton Field.
Working on hitting and defense as well as perfecting skills is something the Knights are working on in order to prepare for Minnesota.
“We're just looking at how we did these past weekends and things we need to work on,” Adams said. “Emphasizing our hitting techniques and trying to get ready for this weekend, polishing up on some defensive skills, taking reps and sticking to our game.”
Nelson stressed the need for tightening up some things and the fact that little errors are costing them big wins. Mental mistakes, fielding errors and not being able to hit the outside pitch are all reasons why Rutgers has not been able to close out wins against ranked opponents this season.
But to Nelson, it’s a process, and the Knights are improving.
“There were a couple errors and there were a couple of base running mistakes,” Nelson said. “If we tighten those things up, we get better, that’s the process. We're close to these teams, we tighten up a couple things, we can beat them. I don’t think our team gets down, nobody likes to lose but I don’t think our team ever gives up.”
For updates on the Rutgers softball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.