Rutgers opens season with five-game slate against Northern Illinois, Ohio
The Rutgers softball team will kick off its season in a different way than expected this weekend.
The Scarlet Knights travel to Athens, Ohio to officially start their 2017 campaign. Their five-game slate consists of two games Friday and Saturday each against Northern Illinois and Ohio (4-1) and one game on Sunday against Ohio.
After last week’s snowstorm prevented Rutgers from travelling to Florida International Felsberg Tournament in Miami, Florida, it planned on kicking off its season in San Diego at San Diego State’s Campbell/Cartier Classic. But it was cancelled due to rain, so the Knights had to make other arrangements.
Rutgers will go up against solid competition this weekend when it takes on Northern Illinois and Ohio. Northern Illinois, the defending Mid-American Conference West Division champions, is coming off its first 30-win season in 16 years and posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1999 and 2000. Ohio also had over 30 wins last year and is off to a good start already, opening its season by winning four out of five at the Carolina Classic last weekend.
Head coach Jay Nelson, entering his 11th year at the helm, is very optimistic about his team’s chances this year.
“I'm excited for a new beginning,” he said. "Every year is a new beginning and every team begins in exactly the same place: 0-0. Most fans measure their team by record, championships won and RPI achieved. However, I have a slightly different take on team success. I like to measure my teams by how much they improve over a season.”
The Knights are coming off a successful season in which they went 24-33 and made the Big Ten Tournament for the second year in a row. Nelson said that the team has a specific goal in mind when it comes to what they want to accomplish this season.
“They want to get into the conference tournament without having to rely on other teams,” he said. “We don’t to get in by someone else losing. We want to win our way in.”
The team had more time to practice with the snow day last week. But as Nelson pointed out, there’s only so long that the team can practice against themselves. Despite that, Rutgers did run a scrimmage against Seton Hall last Saturday.
“It was good for us to see other competition and knock some of the nerves off,” junior first baseman Rebecca Hall said.
The Knights also have the benefit of practicing at the brand-new Fred Hill Training Complex this season. The 22,500-square foot facility is equipped with pitching machines, batting cages, bullpen mounds and a full turf infield.
“We’re able to have our pitchers throw to us, something that we weren’t able to do before,” Hall said.
Hall hopes to make a big impact this season. Last season she hit .279 with 48 hits, 12 doubles, and 45 runs batted in (RBI).
Taking the mound against Northern Illinois to start the weekend will be senior Shayla Sweeney. She won nine games last season and saved three, and hopes to pitch better than she did in the past.
“I want to have a better ERA than the last three years, and have less hits and more strikeouts,” Sweeney said. “I was here all offseason practicing, so I feel like I’m ready.”
As for the batting order, Nelson has a pretty good idea of who will bat where, but will move the lineup around to give different players a chance. Rutgers is a young team with four starting freshman who will compete with the veterans for playing time this season.
“I’m excited to see how (the freshmen) will contribute to our team,” Hall said.
Rutgers had to wait an extra week to start its season, and now it is eager to finally compete.
“We’re all itching to play,” Hall said.
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