Rutgers takes home three victories at USF Classic
Heading into the final weekend before conference play, one thing that the Rutgers softball team had yet to do was finish an invitational with a winning record. But faced with its last opportunity, that’s exactly what the team did.
The Scarlet Knights (7-19) won three of five games at the USF Clearwater Spring Break Classic, their highest total in one weekend this season.
Head coach Jay Nelson praised his team for the improvements that he saw, especially with the pitching.
“We’re getting better,” he said. “Our pitching staff held up, and we would have won three in a row, but our defense faltered. Our pitchers kept us in all the games. They’re giving up fewer hits and home runs and are getting ground balls. They’re hitting their spots better and changing speeds better.”
At the same time, he thought that his defense could have been better. Rutgers committed seven errors over the weekend.
“We’re still rushing our throws, but that’s just a matter of confidence,” he said. “We are getting better, so once we start picking up the ball better, we’re going to be tough.”
The Knights started their weekend on a high note, using an offensive outburst to defeat Yale (2-16), 11-3 in six innings. Seven different players picked up hits, including senior Carly Todd who drove in four, and junior Rebecca Hall who tied her season high with three hits. Senior Shayla Sweeney pitched 5.1 innings to pick up her fifth win of the season.
The second Friday matchup saw Rutgers on the opposite side of a game that ended early due to the run rule, as it lost 9-1 to Missouri (17-11) in five innings.
The Tigers jumped on sophomore starter Whitney Jones early, scoring 5 unearned runs in the second to take an early lead. Freshman Cambria Keefer came on in relief, but she did not do much better, allowing 4 runs in the third. The Knights only managed four hits in the contest.
Rutgers opened its Saturday slate with a 6-5 loss to North Florida (17-13). It jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks to a couple of errors, but the Ospreys capitalized on a Knights error in the third, scoring 5 runs to take the lead.
North Florida added a run in fourth but Rutgers scored twice in the fifth to trim the deficit to one while Whitney Jones pitched three scoreless innings. But they were unable to score the one run they needed to tie the game.
Rebecca Hall hit her team-leading seventh home run in the loss.
“Overall I was seeing the ball well this week,” she said of her performance. “I’ve been working on limiting my strikeouts so I can help my teammates out, but please with how I did.”
Rutgers rebounded by taking its second game of the day against Florida A&M (5-24) by a score of 7-5 in eight innings. The Knights had a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh, but the Rattlers staged a rally scoring three runs, all with two outs, to force extra innings. In the eighth, Rutgers scored twice to take the lead, and shut down Florida A&M in order to secure the win.
Freshman Nicole Bowman led the Knights with three RBIs, while Carly Todd hit her first home run of the season. Shayla Sweeney pitched all eight innings to pick up her sixth win of the season.
Rutgers concluded the weekend with a 6-5 come-from-behind victory against North Dakota State (10-19) on Sunday, ensuring a winning record at the invitational.
The Knights got out to a slow start, allowing 4 runs in the first three innings to put themselves in an early hole. But they scored three runs in the forth to make it a one-run game, and three more in the sixth to take the lead. Rebecca Hall hit her eighth home run of the season, while Whitney Jones allowed just one run and two hits over the last four innings to earn her first win of the season. She credited her defense for helping her out.
“They made plays behind me, so even if I didn’t make the best pitch, they had my back in making the play on the field,” she said.
The Knights return to action this weekend in their first Big Ten series, as they take on Indiana in a three-game set in Bloomington Friday through Sunday.
“Our team is getting more comfortable with each other,” Hall said. “We’re communicating better and meshing as a team, and that really helps us.”
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