Rutgers set for midweek matchup against Lafayette
Prior to the Rutgers baseball team’s series with La Salle this past weekend, it had only played the Explorers once. But now it gets to play a team that it has a lot more history with.
The Scarlet Knights (17-11, 4-2) host Lafayette (12-19, 2-7) this afternoon for the last of four straight non-conference games. The two teams have quite a history, as they have played each other 168 times.
The storied rivalry goes back to the 1870s, and among the many players involved was current head coach Joe Litterio, who played for Rutgers in the early 1990s.
“We know them well and they know us well,” he said.
History has been on the Knights’ side in matchups with the Leopards, as they hold an 85-81-2 edge in the series and have won 33 of the last 34 matchups. Most recently, Rutgers defeated Lafayette 28-4 last year, setting a program record for most runs scored in a single game.
While some key playmakers from that historic blowout have since graduated, many familiar faces remain.
Junior catcher Nick Matera had five RBI's and 2 home runs, junior third baseman Carmen Sclafani had three hits and 3 runs, sophomore second baseman Kevin Welsh scored 4 runs and senior pitcher John O’Reilly got the win on the mound. All four players are still on the Banks, and they’re all still making an impact.
Matera for example had five hits, 2 home runs and six RBI's in this past weekend’s series against La Salle. He outlined what he and the rest of the team need to do in order to replicate that success today.
“We’ll try to jump on them early and score some runs,” he said. “Defense will do the job and so will pitching, and we’ll put pressure on them right from the get-go.”
The Knights have struggled in midweek games this season, as they are currently 2-2 in games on Tuesday or Wednesday.
While the team has gotten long, quality starts from O’Reilly and freshman Harry Rutkowski during most weekends, the starting pitching during the week hasn’t been that durable.
In the team's four midweek games, the starting pitcher has pitched more than four innings once, and no starter has pitched more than five innings. Two of the games saw the starter go for two and 2.1 innings.
Lafayette had an 8-44 record last season and opened up its 2018 campaign by losing 4 of its first 5 games. The team stabilized after that, but is now on a similar path that it was on near the start of the season, having lost 6 of its last 7.
Still, Litterio knows not to take the Leopards lightly, especially after Saturday’s game against another weak opponent in La Salle.
The Explorers had a worse record heading into that game than Lafayette does now, and yet won a 1-0 pitching battle. Both players and coaches gave credit to La Salle’s pitching for keeping them off-balance, but Litterio knows that adjustments must be made in order to avoid a repeat of that today.
“We got to go into the Fred Hill Complex and work on our hitting,” he said. “We got to work on outside fastballs and being able to drive them instead of taking them for strikes.”
Like Rutgers, the Leopards have three players batting over .300. Luke Robinson leads Lafayette with a .337 average, and John Marti and Trey Durrah are not far behind, batting .330 and .306, respectively.
Robinson and Marti both have more hits than any Knight (34 and 35) with Rutgers’ leader, junior outfielder Luke Bowerbank, with 33. Marti also has more RBI's than any Knight, his 22 narrowly edging out freshman left fielder Mike Nyizstor’s 21.
With more Big Ten games on the horizon after the non-conference games, the team is ready to come out firing on all cylinders, especially on offense.
“We’re going to come out and swing the bats,” Litterio said. “Midweek games you got to put up some runs to win them.”
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