Rutgers looks to USC Upstate challenge to shake off cold start
‘Underachieved’ is the word head coach Joe Litterio used to describe his team 20 games into the season.
Don’t let the record fool you, though. The Rutgers baseball team isn’t too worried about its start to the season as it gets ready to hit the road once again, this time to play USC Upstate in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Make no mistake, the Scarlet Knights (6-14) aren’t happy about their slow start, but they understand it’s a long season with peaks and valleys. Rutgers is currently in one of those valleys as it has dropped five consecutive games and nine of its last 12 contests after a 3-5 record to begin its season. The Knights’ most recent loss came at home to Rider (7-10), a game Litterio feels they should have won.
“Coming home (Tuesday) and doing what we did losing to Rider, and Rider’s a good team this year, but I just thought we didn’t show any passion, any heart,” he said. “It kind of left a sour taste in my mouth a little bit.”
Owners of the seventh toughest schedule in the country to date — with nine games played against ranked opponents and going 1-8 in those games — Rutgers knew it would be a tough beginning to the season.
Litterio, who made the schedule two or three years ago, couldn’t have known it would be this tough. Regardless, he is sticking to his guns with playing good teams, and when asked whether going up against good teams is simply for exposure or to secure some wins, he chose the latter.
“No, I’m looking to win those games,” he said. “I’m looking to show our guys what it takes to be a ranked team. Obviously I put that schedule in place with a larger senior class and I’m expecting them to understand what we’re going up against and to be able to compete with those guys and I think in Miami and Virginia we did it for half games… I want to become one of those teams, and to become one of those teams you got to learn how to beat those teams.”
Junior catcher Chris Folinusz knows his team has gotten off to a slow start, but doesn’t blame the schedule and thinks his team will begin to pick up momentum.
“We’ve definitely had a tough schedule so far, but going forward I think we’ll be fine and I’m not really worried about the record. We’ve definitely showed a lot of fight and a lot of those ball games were definitely winnable so hopefully going forward we pick up some of those wins that should be wins.”
It seems like the Knights are close to where they want to be, but haven’t managed to put it all together. And the numbers on the season don’t lie.
So far this season, Rutgers has been outpaced by its opponent in almost every offensive and pitching category such as batting average (.253 versus .301), runs scored (95 versus 165), hits (170 versus 210), walks (75 versus 96), strikeouts (146 versus 110) and earned run average (7.54 versus 4.12).
To win, the Knights are going to need to reverse these numbers, and fast.
“I think overall we need to clean pretty much everything up,” Folinusz said. “But I’m happy that guys are going out there and doing their best to grind it out.”
One player who has impressed so far this season and done more than grind it out is freshman right hander Joe Neglia. In six innings of work spanning over six appearances, Neglia has a 1.50 ERA, giving up just two hits and one earned run. He has walked five batters and struck out six.
Usually coming into the game in the later innings to either stop the bleeding or help with a save, Neglia has tried to remain calm in his first year on a college mound.
“I’m definitely just staying relaxed, having trust in all the guys behind me to do well and do their jobs,” he said. “Coach Gaynor has been teaching us really well, working hard in practice and that’s pretty much it.”
Rutgers is going to need some of its pitchers to step up as Neglia has so far this season if it wants to win. But for now, the Knights are still underachieving.
“I’m expecting a lot more out of this team the rest of the season so underachieved would be the word I would use right now,” Litterio said.
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