Rutgers welcomes No. 17 Michigan to town for weekend series
It’s now or nothing.
The Rutgers baseball team is set to host a three game series against No. 17 Michigan this weekend at Bainton Field. Things kick off on Friday afternoon, with the first pitch scheduled for 3 p.m.
The Scarlet Knights (15-23, 4-5) are coming off a 13-7 shortened-game loss against Columbia, which was right on the heels of a Tuesday rainout versus Villanova. Rutgers was hoping the season-long six-game homestand would keep the energy high and help keep the momentum going after a series win at Iowa last weekend. Now, the Knights have to dig deep as they take on the Wolverines (31-9, 7-5).
“Right now it’s all we got in front of us,” said head coach Joe Litterio after asked how the team can regain the momentum it had earlier in the week. “We still have Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern, Illinois and possibly Minnesota left on the schedule so there is really no more excuses for these guys -- they know what’s in front of them. It’s now or nothing, especially for the seniors.”
Although three quarters of the way through the season, Rutgers still has only played nine conference games. Most of that comes from Big Ten teams heading down south and playing out of conference games in the first half of the season. For the Knights though, an opening conference bye week and a flight cancellation to Minnesota earlier in the month has made things a little different.
Nonetheless, it means Rutgers now has the power to control its future. It starts now.
“It’s weird,” Litterio said. “This is a very strange season because we’re three quarters of the way through, but we’re only nine conference games in. It makes this a little bit of a unique series.”
Up to this point, the Knights have played well in conference -- winners of four of their last five Big Ten games after going 0-4 to open up conference play. Perhaps the team knows what is at stake in those games and brings up their level of play.
However, Litterio thinks the team needs to show up every game, regardless of who the opponent is, and thinks that might be the reason for Wednesday’s loss to Columbia.
“I think (Wednesday) was a game where we were looking forward to Michigan too much,” he said.”Rather than coming out and playing -- coming off a good weekend at Iowa -- we came in here and just figured that we would roll and continue it on and I think we got caught by surprise with the way Columbia swung the bat. I think it’s maybe an excuse that teams use now that ‘oh we’re looking ahead to the next game’, but we just didn’t get it done (Wednesday) and that’s the bottom line.”
Although fifth in the conference, the Wolverines rank first in overall team batting, team pitching and team fielding -- leading the conference in almost every major category.
Their .297 batting average, 289 runs, 404 hits and 89 stolen bases pace the Big Ten in offensive categories, while their 3.24 team ERA goes along with the least earned runs given up (130) and the most strikeouts recorded (372). As for its defense, Michigan has committed the fewest errors (24) and has allowed the fewest stolen bases (13 steals in 26 attempts).
“They’re a solid baseball team,” coach Litterio said. “They run, they hit and they pitch well so we’re going to have to play a lot better than we’ve been playing but if you look at the conference weekends, we’ve played pretty good. What we can’t do is give these guys extra outs, if we give these guys extra outs they’re going to jump on us.”
That may prove to be a problem as Rutgers continues to lead the conference in errors at 68. The team also ranks last in team ERA at 6.24, but ranks fifth in batting average (.279) and third in stolen bases (62).
Starting on Friday will be senior right hander Gaby Rosa (3-4, 6.42 ERA) followed by sophomore right hander Serafino Brito (3-6, 4.78 ERA) and junior right hander John O’Reilly (4-5, 5.46 ERA).
Senior first baseman Mike Carter, who leads the conference in batting average (.391) and hits (61) is just one hit shy of the 200 hit mark. Fellow senior right fielder Tom Marcinczyk is also closing in on that mark and sits at 195 career hits. Sophomore centerfielder Jawuan Harris leads the Big Ten in steals at 23.
“I’m hoping that we understand to play our game and do the best we can in what we can do and let’s see how it goes,” Litterio said.
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