Rutgers aims for first winning record of season
Avoiding letdowns after major events is a factor that separates good teams from bad teams in sports.
The Rutgers baseball team (20-20, 5-7) squared off against Big Ten rival Penn State over the weekend, and were successful by taking 2 of 3 games from the Nittany Lions.
It was a highly anticipated series for the Scarlet Knights, as they love playing at the home, where they have an 11-2 record on the season. It gave them an opportunity to move their record to the .500 mark for the first time all season.
They played solid baseball all weekend and were close to nailing down a sweep on Sunday afternoon, but fell short after making a ninth inning rally in a 7-5 defeat.
Rutgers was pleased to win the series because it is always the goal to do so and hopes to continue building towards more wins in its next sets of games.
“Penn State coming in was a good team in a good conference, so being able to take two of three from them at home is a good thing,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “Going forward, it doesn’t end no matter who we play and we just have to keep working hard.”
Next up for the Knights is a Tuesday afternoon matchup in New York against Columbia (13-23, 7-9).
The Lions hail from the Ivy League and are coming off a hot streak themselves, having won 3 of 4 games against Princeton over the weekend.
Rutgers has fared better in midweek games in recent weeks than they did earlier in the season, as they won both games last week against Delaware State and Wagner.
Though the Lions do not have an imposing record, it is a challenging game for the Knights because they are looking to remain focused, despite all the hype that surrounded their series with Penn State.
Veteran leaders are essential to fostering a mindset in which a team is able to focus on each game and move on from past mistakes, and one player who has helped Rutgers in that regard with his production on the field has been senior catcher R.J. Devish.
The Beachwood, New Jersey, native is second on the team with a .383 batting average, and leads the Knights with a .534 on-base percentage.
He has also been named to the Johnny Bench Award watch list, which is awarded each year to the nation’s top collegiate catcher as voted on by Division I coaches.
He added a pair of stolen bases in the series against Penn State, increasing his total to 21 on the season and topped the list for swipes among catchers across the country.
Even though he was hoping to complete the sweep against the Nittany Lions, he knows how beneficial winning the series will be for the team moving forward as they prepare to play Columbia on the road.
“Winning the series is always the goal, so we have to look at the overall aspects of the weekend and know that it was good to win the series because that’s what’s most important,” Devish said.
The bullpen has been a major part of the recent success for the Knights, as it has become a force to keep the team close in ballgames.
Against Penn State, the relievers logged 8.2 innings and allowed only 2 earned runs.
It was critical for keeping them in Sunday’s game, as they had to combine for six innings out of the bullpen after the Nittany Lions knocked out starter Christian Campbell after three innings.
Devish has worked directly with many of the contributing relievers like senior Reed Shuttle and junior Ryan Fleming from his time behind the plate, and likes what he has seen.
“The bullpen keeps us in the game, and that’s what you’re looking for by hoping they can stop the damage,” Devish said. “They do a good job of allowing us the chance to tie the game or take the lead.”
Junior outfielder Tom Marcinczyk has been through his share of battles during his time on the Banks.
In his third season, he leads the team with four home runs and 35 RBIs hitting from the clean-up spot in the order.
He had a crucial go-ahead triple in last week’s win over Delaware State along with another three-bagger against Penn State, giving him some momentum heading into Tuesday’s matchup with Columbia.
The lefty is hoping to continue providing a productive bat in the middle of the lineup, and feels like the best is still to come in his season.
“I’m definitely feeling more comfortable at the plate and trying to stay relaxed up there,” he said. “I’m waiting to get my pitch to drive, and I’m feeling pretty good.”