Rutgers begins conference play with high-scoring losses
The Rutgers softball team got off to a rough start in conference play, but its early struggles inspired it to finish strong.
The Scarlet Knights (8-21, 1-2) dropped two of three to Indiana (16-15, 2-1) in Bloomington on Friday and Saturday, and were outscored 32-4 in their first two games. Despite this, they were able to rebound and take the last game of the series.
Rutgers started the series on the wrong foot, losing the first game 9-2. The Hoosiers got off to a fast start, scoring 3 runs in the first two innings and had a 5-0 lead by the end of the fourth.
The Knights responded with 2 runs in the top of the sixth to make it a 3-run game, but Indiana scored 4 in the bottom of the inning to put the game away.
Head coach Jay Nelson pointed out that Rutgers hurt itself by swinging at bad pitches.
“If we took a lot of pitches, their pitcher would have either had to come into the strike zone with a fat pitch, or she would have walked us,” he said. “Nine-two is a pretty good beating, but I think it would have been a much closer game if our hitters did their jobs.”
Senior Shayla Sweeney took the loss to fall to 6-6 in what was her sixth complete game of the season.
The Knights then suffered their most lopsided defeat so far this season, as the Hoosiers blew them out 23-2 in five innings.
Indiana’s scoring barrage started in the first with 6 runs, including a grand slam, as sophomore starter Whitney Jones only got one out before being removed from the game. Rutgers relievers did not fare any better, giving up 4 in the second and 2 in the third, before the Hoosiers exploded for 11 runs in the fourth, sending 15 batters to the plate.
The blowout lit a fire under the Knights, as the team bounced back on Saturday for a 7-5 win. After falling behind 3-0 in the first, Rutgers responded with 5 runs in the third to take the lead, and added 2 more in the fifth.
Indiana didn’t go down without a fight, and had the bases loaded in the fifth down three. But freshman shortstop Nicole Bowman caught a line drive to help the Knights escape the jam.
Rutgers had 13 hits in the contest, and were led by junior catcher Sierra Maddox, who had two home runs and four RBIs. Maddox gave credit to her teammates for her performance.
“I couldn’t have gotten four RBIs if there weren’t people on base in front of me,” she said. “I was really happy that they got on so I was able to help my team out.”
Freshman second baseman Taryn Atlee recorded a career-best four hits in the contest, while junior first baseman Rebecca Hall hit her team-leading ninth home run. The Knights also benefitted from Sweeney’s second complete game in as many days, as she gave up just five hits to pick up her seventh win of the year.
“I knew Coach was going to expect a lot of innings out of me, so my mentality was to go in there and throw the pitches I needed to get them out,” she said. “Even though they saw more than four times, I made my pitches work.”
In addition, Sweeney said that Friday’s losses definitely inspired the team to perform well on Saturday. She said that Nelson told them to remember the score, and fight hard, regardless of the outcome.
Rutgers returns to action this Wednesday at Hofstra, before traveling to Columbus for a three-game series against Ohio State.
After two disheartening performances to open the weekend, Rutgers managed to end on a positive note, something that the team will take with them heading into this week and beyond.
“We game away with a good win,” Nelson said. “We battled back and the mentality was ‘never give up.’ Even in the second game when we were getting crushed, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. It was ‘keep battling’ and it came out in the third game. It was a positive outcome, and it will help lead us the rest of the way in the Big Ten.”
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