Rutgers snags victory over Hofstra in midweek showdown
With a series against one of the top teams in the country looming on the horizon, the Rutgers softball team made sure it was able to take care of business in a midweek tune-up.
The Scarlet Knights (9-21, 1-2) defeated Hofstra (10-13, 1-2) by a score of 11-5 on Wednesday in Hempstead, New York, winning two straight games for just the second time all season. With the win, they were able to avenge their loss to the Pride earlier in the season when they lost 3-1 in eight innings.
Rutgers jumped out to a fast start, scoring 5 runs in the first two innings to give senior Shayla Sweeney a cushion on the mound.
After the Pride responded with a run in the third, the Knights blew the game open with 5 runs in the fifth, and junior first baseman Rebecca Hall added her tenth home run of the season in the seventh.
Sweeney picked up her team-leading eighth win of the season by pitching her sixth complete game this year. It was also the third time in the last four games that she went the distance, as she pitched two complete games at Indiana last weekend.
“It’s a lot, but I know that’s what coach is expecting out of me every week,” she said. “I was a little surprised that I was in yesterday knowing that we have another series this weekend. It’s tiring, but I’ll be fine if I stick with my training.”
On the offense, Rutgers benefitted from production from the top of its lineup. The first four Knight batters combined for seven hits, 9 runs and six RBIs. This included three hits and a career-high four RBIs from Hall, who has established herself as the best hitter on the team.
One point of concern for Rutgers was the fact that it committed four errors in the game. But head coach Jay Nelson brushed them off in favor of praising the team for bouncing back after its miscues.
“They didn’t let little setbacks stick with them,” he said. “I think it’s a tribute to the team as a whole, how we support each other. We’re always looking to pump each other up and overlook the mistakes that we make. Anybody can make mistakes at any level.”
With its recent successes fresh in its mind, Rutgers turns its attention to Columbus, where they are set to begin a three-game series with No. 25 Ohio State (19-7, 3-0). The Buckeyes enter the weekend on a five-game winning streak, and won their last two games by a combined margin of 36-1.
In addition, they boast the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week in Lilli Piper, who hit .727 against Maryland last weekend, and leads the team with a .420 batting average, a .750 slugging percentage, 37 hits and 33 RBIs.
As for the Buckeyes’ pitching, they have a staff ERA of 2.05, which is fourth in the conference. They are led by senior Shelby Hursh, who has an 8-2 record and 1.93 ERA in a team-high 65.1 innings of work.
The Knights know they will have their hands full this weekend, but Nelson said that the team is ready for any challenges coming its way.
“I don’t think they’re unbeatable,” he said. “Can we put that game together where we don’t have errors and have good pitching? I think so. We’re working towards having a game like that which will lead to more similar games.”
Rutgers plans on countering the Buckeyes’ strengths with its own offense. As demonstrated on Wednesday, it is a top-heavy team with power at the front of the lineup.
Freshman shortstop Taryn Atlee is the leadoff hitter, and leads the team with a .416 batting average and 42 hits. Behind her are sophomore right fielder Nicolette Anico and freshman second baseman Nicole Bowman, players who have stood out for the Knights this season, but the real power comes with Hall in the cleanup spot.
Hall lead the team in home runs and already has the fifth-highest single-season home run total in Rutgers history. When she steps up to the plate, there’s a strong chance the ball will fly over the fence.
“I’ve been zoning in on one pitch on the time (for my hitting approach),” she said. “Each at bat I try to pick out a pitch that I’m looking for, and if I see it I try to attack it hard.”
The Knights are coming together at just the right time, and if all goes well this weekend, they might be able to pull off an upset or two.
“We’re still working on meshing as a team and communicating,” Hall said. “If we continue to do that, hopefully we’ll have some good results.”
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