Rutgers visits Penn State in final road trip of season
It’s no secret that the Rutgers softball team has spent most of its season on the road. It has played 37 of its 40 games so far outside of Piscataway, not being able to enjoy the comforts of home. But this will soon change.
The Scarlet Knights (11-29, 2-10) are set to take on Penn State (18-25, 4-10) in a three-game series on Friday through Sunday in University Park, Pennsylvania. Following the series, they will play the rest of their regular season at home.
The Nittany Lions are coming off of a doubleheader sweep of Bucknell on Wednesday and have two wins against ranked opponents this season. They took down No. 4 LSU in their second game of the season and took one out of two against No. 25 Ohio State two weeks ago.
“They’re a Big Ten softball team and they’re good,” said head coach Jay Nelson. “We watched videos of their pitchers and tried to simulate them in practice. They’re pretty similar to the pitchers we’ve been facing. We also worked on some of our weaknesses and think we didn’t execute last week, like coverage of third base with our outfielder on a bunt, first and third situations, and holding the runner on second.”
Like Rutgers, Penn State relies mostly on one pitcher to lead them. Senior Mariana Laubach leads the Lions in wins (9), ERA (3.02) and innings pitched (109).
The Knights themselves were also supposed to have a Wednesday doubleheader against Maryland, but it got pushed back to next week because of inclement weather in the forecast. And in the end, the bad weather never came.
“We would have had one day of practice anyway, and now we had two,” Nelson said. “I don’t know if it would have been better to play or better to practice. We wanted to get the games in.”
This leaves the Rutgers' series with Iowa as their most recent outing, where it took one out of three games, recording its second Big Ten win of the year.
One of the biggest contributors to the team last week was staff workhorse Shayla Sweeney. The senior pitched two complete games, bringing her season total to ten. And it appears that she will have a similar role this weekend.
“I’ll pitch Friday and Sunday, and I might go in Saturday,” she said. “I was going to go in at the end of the game last Saturday, but we didn’t get the lead back. So I’ll probably just go on Friday and Sunday and see how Saturday goes.”
Off the field, the Knights received exciting news that second baseman Taryn Atlee was named a finalist for Freshman of the Year. She was one of 25 players from across the nation who was selected by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
Atlee has been one of the best players for Rutgers all season and leads them in many statistical categories, including hits (55) and batting average (.410), making this honor well deserved.
"It's definitely an honor, and it’s something that you don’t expect,” she said. “If you put in the hard work and stuff like that will happen. It’s an encouragement to be recognized with so many great athletes, and it’s something I will use going forward to work hard and get better for next season.”
And it comes as no surprise that her coach is behind her every step of the way.
“There are 295 Division I softball teams, and if there are four freshmen per team, that’s almost 1,200 freshmen, and she’s in the top 25, which is a great honor,” Nelson said. “She works at it. And she’s a great teammate. Whether it’s working on hitting, or picking up equipment after practice, she doesn’t wait for us to ask. She just does it. It’s part of her mindset, and it’s why she is where she is right now.”
With Atlee at the helm and Sweeney on the mound, the Knights are ready for another crack at a successful weekend.
“I’ve had my ups and downs this season, but I’ve been consistent lately,” Sweeney said. “Hopefully I can help us win a couple games.”
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