Rutgers has up and down weekend at NC State
Heading into the weekend, the Rutgers softball team hoped to improve in multiple areas in which it had struggled in previous games. And while it did improve in some ways, there were also performances that left something to be desired.
The Scarlet Knights (3-11) finished third at the Homewood Suites RDU/RTP Invitational hosted by North Carolina State this past weekend. Rutgers won one of its three round-robin games, lost the semifinal and then won the third-place game.
The main struggle for the Knights over the weekend was the lack of good pitching backing up senior ace Shayla Sweeney. While Sweeney went 2-0 and gave up just one run and six hits, the rest of the pitching staff combined to give up 35 runs and 34 hits.
“We need to get one of the other three pitchers on track,” said head coach Jay Nelson. “They need to forget about their (earned-run-average) ERA and wins and losses and listen to the message that we’re giving them and execute. If we just get another one to pitch well, then we’ll be a pretty good team.”
Rutgers started off the weekend on a sour note, losing its first two games on Friday to Fordham (15-4) and NC State (5-15). The Knights’ first game of the day game saw them fall 11-3 in five innings to the Rams, as the game was halted prematurely due to the mercy rule.
Freshman Taryn Atlee had two hits in the loss, recording her fifth multi-hit game of the season. Fellow freshman Nicole Bowman drove in 2 of Rutgers’ 3 runs for her fourth multi-RBI game of the year.
The Knights did not fare much better in their second game of the day, dropping a 10-6 contest to NC State.
They jumped out to an early lead in the first, thanks to home runs from Atlee and junior Rebecca Hall. For Atlee, it was her first collegiate home run.
The Wolfpack responded with 2 runs in the bottom of the frame, and after Rutgers pushed across a run in the third, it scored 4 runs in the bottom of the fourth to take a 6-3 lead.
Rutgers loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth and had a golden opportunity to cut into the lead, but were unable to score. NC State capitalized with 3 runs in the bottom of the inning and one more in the sixth. The Knights tried to rally in the seventh, but were only able to score 3, and took the loss.
The team picked up its first win of the weekend Saturday morning, collecting an 8-0 victory over Lehigh (4-6), as Sweeney and freshman Cambria Keefer combined to pitch a shutout. Rutgers recorded 13 hits in the contest, which tied a season high.
“I was feeling good because I knew that my defense was behind me the whole entire game,” Sweeney said of her performance. “That helped me relax and made me more comfortable.”
At 1-2, Rutgers was the No. 4 seed in the knockout round, and faced top-seeded Fordham. And just like their previous matchup, the Rams’ offensive onslaught caused the game to end early, as they beat the Knights 14-5.
Rutgers got off to a quick start with Hall’s fourth home run of the season in the top of the first, and Fordham matched it with a run of their own in the bottom of the frame. The Rams then erupted for 10 runs in the next three innings to take an 11-1 lead.
The Knights managed to stave off the mercy rule with 4 runs in the fifth, but a 3-run home run in the bottom of the inning ended the contest.
Rutgers managed to salvage its weekend with a 6-1 win over Lehigh in the third-place game on Sunday. Sweeney pitched a complete game and only gave up four hits to pace the Knights to victory.
Rebecca Hall hit her fifth home run of the season and third of the weekend in the win.
“I was definitely more comfortable at the plate this weekend, and that definitely contributed to my success,” she said. “The past two weekends I was a little tense at the plate, so this week at practice I was focusing on driving pitches to the opposite field and feeling more comfortable.
One of the most positive takeaways from the weekend was Rutgers' lack of errors. It committed just four errors, which was a big improvement over the eight that they committed last weekend.
“We moved Taryn Atlee from second baseman to shortstop and that has solidified our infield,” Nelson said. “We’re doing a better job picking the ball up.”
The Knights return to action this weekend at the Florida Atlantic Parents Weekend Tournament, where they will play seven games.
While it was not a perfect weekend by any stretch, it was an important step forward for the team as the season progresses.
“Getting two wins definitely built our confidence heading into spring break,” Hall said. “We’re communicating better as a team which is helping us play better together.”
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