Rutgers hosts La Salle for weekend series
The Rutgers baseball team wasn’t expecting to have almost a full week in between games, but that’s what happened, and now it takes the field this weekend for some non-conference action.
After their game against Villanova was canceled, the Scarlet Knights (15-10, 4-2) now host La Salle (6-19, 1-5) for a three-game series at Bainton Field. They were supposed to play the Wildcats yesterday, but Villanova couldn’t make it and no replacement opponent was found.
Rutgers' spirits are high coming off a series win at Michigan State, which included a sweep of a doubleheader last Friday. It was the first time the Knights swept a doubleheader on the road against a conference opponent in 13 years. The team also finished the month of March with 12 wins, the most in the month since 2001.
Some of the veteran players have noticed significant changes between this year’s team and ones they’ve been on in the past.
“We have a different mindset,” said fifth-year senior first baseman Chris Folinusz. “(Assistant coach Jim Duffy) always preaches energy on the field, in the weight room, in between days. You can’t get too high or low in baseball, and we’ve been pretty good at keeping it even keel.”
Rutgers has won its last five series, the team's longest series streak since 2010.
Head coach Joe Litterio added that he sees the high confidence level in his team game after game, even in dire situations.
“No matter what the score or the situation is, we’re always in it and always have a chance, and they believe in that,” he said. “On Sunday when it was 6-0 with two innings left, there was no quit. (A comeback) didn’t happen then, but they’re focused, they’re in every game, and they have a lot of confidence.”
On offense, the Knights have been getting contributions from a multitude of players all season long. Four players are batting over .300 and eight players have over 20 hits.
The production is coming from up and down the lineup, as well as from different classes.
“We have more things coming from different grades and different guys,” said senior pitcher John O’Reilly. “Every game someone else is stepping up and doing the job we need … we’re a gritty team, and we’re different than teams in the past.”
The varied experience of the offensive producers can be seen when looking at the leaders of various stat categories.
Freshman infielder Mike Nyisztor leads the team with 20 RBI's, while senior infielder Kyle Walker has the best batting average (.369) and has reached base in 21 consecutive games.
Junior outfielder Luke Bowerbank has the most hits with 29, and redshirt freshman infielder Dan DiGeorgio is tied for the lead in runs scored with 20.
Pitching during weekend series has been Rutgers’ strong suit recently. It has gotten solid performances from O’Reilly and freshman Harry Rutkowski, who usually form a one-two punch on Fridays and Saturdays. In the past two weekend series, they combined for 30.2 innings and an ERA of 1.49.
On the other hand, the Explorers snapped a six-game losing streak last Saturday, beating St. Joseph’s for its first Atlantic 10 victory. La Salle followed that up with a win at Rider yesterday. They had a nine-game losing streak earlier in the season, and have lost 15 of their last 18.
The Explorers’ lack of success goes back quite some time, as they haven’t had a winning season since 2011 and went a combined 25-80 in the past two years. They fired former head coach Mike Lake last year after 10 years running the team, and are now coached by David Miller.
Leading La Salle’s offense is junior first baseman Ben Faso. He’s first on the Explorers in batting average (.380), hits (41), runs (18), RBI's (24) and slugging percentage (.490).
While the stats tell much of the story on the Knights’ success, Folinusz saw another reason for why he and his teammates were winning — because they’re having fun.
“Everyone loves showing up to the ballpark and playing each other,” he said. “It’s a real cool group of guys. We’re having fun and winning ball games, so we’re going to keep doing that.”
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