Offense enters Pittsburgh series on hot streak

It was only appropriate Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight” played in the background after the Rutgers baseball team’s 7-6 win Wednesday against Monmouth.

Eight out of the Scarlet Knights’ next nine games will take place away from Bainton Field as the road stand begins today against Pittsburgh.

Though the Knights would prefer to play home, they have done well on the road in Big East play with a 5-1 record outside of the Garden State.

But senior right fielder Steve Zavala knows the importance of Rutgers’ three-game series with Pittsburgh.

“I think it is the biggest series of the year,” Zavala said. “They are up there in the standings and so are we. I don’t think we are going to play anyone higher than they are, so this is a huge one for us to separate from everyone else.”

Rutgers (18-16, 8-4) sits two games ahead of Pittsburgh (25-9, 6-3), who is winners of its last six games.

The streak includes a three-game sweep of Notre Dame, an accomplishment associate head coach Joe Litterio knows the Knights cannot overlook.

“Right now, [the series is] very important,” Litterio said. “They’re one of the teams that are right with us and we’re trying to stay where we are at. They are coming off of big wins against Notre Dame, so it’s one of those where we are just looking to go down and win a series this weekend.”

Though head coach Fred Hill said earlier in the week Rutgers’ strongest asset is its weekend starting rotation, the offense has proved in recent play to be the reason the Knights are winners of four of it’s last five.

With a shaky starting performance from freshman righthander Reed Shuttle on Tuesday against Lafayette, Rutgers’ offense bailed the team out with 15 hits and 13 RBI.

Against the Hawks, the Knights had 16 hits and more importantly, came through with runners in scoring position.

“It’s a big one,” said freshman reliever Howie Brey, who collected his first save Wednesday. “We wanted to win both of these games to have a lot of confidence going into Pitt, so these two games were pretty big for us.”

Brey is another reason Rutgers should feel confident this weekend, as the Middletown, N.J., native went three and a third innings in relief of senior righthander Pat O’Leary.

The performance allowed Hill to save senior closer Rob Corsi for this weekend in case his starters have trouble against the Panthers offense.

Senior lefthander Rob Smorol will start Game 1 of the series against a Pittsburgh offense ranked second in the Big East in offense with a .304 team average.

But the Knights have batted .314 as a team in their last five teams, and if Rutgers’ offense can continue its production beginning today, it could very well hold control of second place in the league outright.

“We’re starting to hit the ball,” Litterio said. “We haven’t hit as a team consistently one through nine yet, and I think we are starting to show signs of it. I think if we get the pitching we have been on the weekends and start to put up the offense we can, we’re pretty dangerous.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.