July 18, 2019 | 72° F

Rutgers seeks to end slow start at North Carolina Invite

After two weekends of disappointments and missed opportunities, the Rutgers softball team hopes to right its performance in North Carolina this weekend.

The Scarlet Knights (1-8) head to the Homewood Suites by Hilton RDU/RTP Invitational today through Sunday in Raleigh, hosted by North Carolina State. The invitational consists of three round-robin games against Fordham (10-4), Lehigh (3-2) and NC State (3-12), followed by two playoff games. Regardless of the result of the semifinal, Rutgers will still play another game, either the championship or the third-place game.

The Knights’ three opponents are all coming off wildly different results in their last times out. Fordham won three of their four games at the Citrus Classic, with their only loss coming against No. 3 Florida. Lehigh, like the Rams, participated in the Citrus Classic, winning three of five to open their season. And NC State is currently on a five-game losing streak, losing four of five at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic and dropping a mid-week game to Charlotte.

Rutgers hopes to rebound after winning only one of its first nine games. Its first two weekends have been characterized by inopportune errors, inconsistent pitching and the inability to hold on to leads. Overall, it is a young team with multiple starting freshmen, and head coach Jay Nelson is not surprised that it's struggling early.

“Coming into the season, I knew we had so many freshman that I knew we would have some of this,” he said.

At the same time, he did take time to highlight the accomplishments of his young players.

“Taryn Atlee is the one who is standing out. She might be the best second baseman in our conference,” he said. “Nicole Bowman and Anyssa Iliopoulos are also hitting the ball well.”

Upperclassmen are making offensive contributions to the team as well. Junior Rebecca Hall leads the team with two home runs, and senior Carly Todd has eight hits, three of which are doubles, although Todd is in the midst of a mini-slump, going 2-for-15 over the five games last weekend.

“It’s a hot and cold thing,” she said. “I have to turn the page, put the work in and get back at it for the NC State tournament.”

When it comes to the mound, the Knights are led by Shayla Sweeney. The senior is 1-2 on the year and led the team to its first win of the season with a complete game shutout against Boston College. On Sunday, she discussed how the team would practice going forward.

“We’re going to focus on the things that we need to focus on, such as communication and making the plays that we need to,” she said. “I think that Tuesday and Wednesday will be great preparation for the weekend.”

Behind her are some unproven starters, including sophomore Whitney Jones and freshman Cambria Keefer, who are both 0-3 this season.

“Shayla is doing a good job, but we need to get someone to back her up,” Nelson said. “And it’s not like our pitchers are bad all the time. They have spurts of being really good, but they’re just not consistent through seven innings.”

Nelson also discussed the defensive adjustments he would make during the week.

“Carly Todd has been a three-year outfielder for me, but she was an infielder in high school,” he said, “We’ve put her as a backup second baseman and shortstop in the past, so this might her shot at playing the infield. We’re also going to have to work our freshmen where they have more confidence and can go get the ball better.”

The first two lackluster weekends are in the rearview mirror now, and the Knights should be looking forward to better play and better results from the practices that they have put in.

“I’m really excited to see how we play as a team when we put it all together,” Todd said.

For updates on the Rutgers softball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

Jordan Farbowitz

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