Rutgers hosts streaking in-state rival Seton Hall
Usually when a coach moves on from their previous job, they don’t go to an in-state rival a half hour down the turnpike.
But in head softball coach Jay Nelson’s case, he took the reigns at Rutgers after coaching 10 seasons at Seton Hall as its top assistant.
The Pirates (19-17) will make the same trip down the Turnpike to take on the Scarlet Knights (17-20) Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m. at the RU Softball Complex.
The Knights won't change their game plan for their in-state rivals, however.
“We're gonna approach it like its any other game,” said junior pitcher Aubrie Levine. “There’s always the whole in-state rival thing, which is kind of fun, but hopefully we'll get a win.”
Rutgers handled the Hall last season in a 12-2 mercy win in South Orange.
But Seton Hall looks like a more refined team than Rutgers saw last year, with 19 wins and six away from its total in the 2015 campaign.
One thing Nelson mentioned about the Pirates was how their players take advantage of stealing bases.
“We're going to work on the short game and speed,” Nelson said. “We're gonna have our catchers throwing to bases.”
Seton Hall has had astronomical success stealing bags this season, succeeding in 85 percent of its attempts.
Four players on the Pirates roster boast 10 stolen bases or better, while the team leader in batting average, Valerie Suto, is 20-for-22 in stolen base attempts. In addition, Yasmin Harrell is an impressive 14-for-17 and the team as a whole is 69-for-81.
On top of a speedy Pirate team, the Knights will have to be aware of four players who possess a .300 batting average or better, with all four boasting over a .400 average on-base percentage.
Levine is taking big steps in becoming a crucial part of Rutgers' pitching staff as she now leads the Knights in ERA at 3.78. She credits her off-season approach to her success this season.
“I focused a lot more this off season on hitting my spots as opposed to overpowering anyone,” Levine said. “Just worked on my mental approach more, so I guess it’s paying off.”
Another huge spark for Rutgers is freshman outfielder Nicolete Anico.
As a freshman, Anico is batting a hair under .300 at .292, and is fourth in batting average in a senior dominated lineup.
Despite the impressive showing early in her career, she knows she's only hit the tip of the iceberg in her development.
“There’s definitely a lot I still have to learn,” Anico said. “But it opened my eyes to show me that it's different than travel ball, different than high school ball and it's just a whole new game and you have to be focused and just know what needs to be done.”
Rutgers will likely face Madison Strunk Wednesday. She is the clear workhorse for the Pirates, amassing a total of 134 1/3 innings this season and leading the team with a 3.79 earned-run average.
With Big Ten opponent Ohio State coming in for a weekend series starting Friday, Nelson said that in-state rival Seton Hall will help Rutgers get ready for a stronger opponent by working on a couple of aspects of its game.
“Well, it gives us a chance to work on things," Nelson said. “Especially because they run a lot and they have a good short game. So it gives us a chance to work on those two aspects of our game.”
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