Coach brings continuity into year
With inches of snow still accumulated on the ground, it is hard to imagine Rutgers baseball season begins on Friday.
The Scarlet Knights will travel Feb. 14 to warmer weather to face Florida International in Miami for three days to start their season.
While there is no question the Knights will spend their Valentine’s Day weekend together as a team, one Knight’s attendance is uncertain.
In September, head coach Fred Hill announced he would take a leave of absence from his coaching duties to deal with medical issues.
In Hill’s absence, associate head coach Joe Litterio became the acting head coach, a role that is not all too unfamiliar for Litterio.
Litterio knows how to lead a team and knows how Hill wants his team to be operated.
“[We are] just going to continue the same way that he’s done it for the last 30 years,” Litterio said. “I played under him, so I had a good four years of doing it [his way]. I also coached with him for a year after that. When I went other places to coach, I brought the Rutgers way — the Fred Hill way — into the programs where I was at. We’ll continue things the way he has done.”
The now acting head coach was in charge at Wagner, coaching there for 12 seasons. Litterio played under Hill from 1990-93 before joining Rutgers in 2012 as a lead assistant and recruiting coordinator.
The transition of the team without Hill has gone relatively smoothly, according to senior shortstop Pat Sweeney.
“Coach [Litterio] is a great coach, and he has head coaching experience. When he stepped in, we really didn’t miss a beat,” Sweeney said. “We know whoever is coaching us when we go down to Florida International, whether it is coach Hill or coach [Litterio], they are going to put us in the best position to win.”
The team’s sole focus is on improving its play this season. Rutgers finished 28-30 a year ago, with a 14-10 record in the Big East. In the postseason, Connecticut eliminated the Knights in the semi-final of the Big East Tournament.
The forefront of concerns for Rutgers is on the mound.
Last year, the Knights graduated seven senior pitchers. The lack of experience in the rotation will lead to youth on the team earning the opportunity to prove themselves, according to Litterio.
“The main thing is pitching,” Litterio said. “We graduated our top-three guys in conference, so our pitching is something we are looking to build on. [We have] a lot of young, inexperienced guys. That’s the main focus.”
While the pitching may be a cause for concern, the fielding and position players offer a solid place to build on. Young players also offer excitement, at least for Sweeney.
“We lost a lot of key guys from last year, but we have a very good freshman class. We also have a lot of key returners coming back on offense,” Sweeney said. “We are going to have guys step up. It might take a few games to get used to it, but I think we’ll be alright this year.”
Senior outfielder Brian O’Grady also pinpoints room for improvement.
“We want to build off [our success last season] and perform better. We weren’t as consistent as we should have been last year,” O’Grady said. “We have some good chemistry, and we really work hard and play hard. This is my fourth year here, and each year it seems like each offseason everyone works a little bit harder. Everyone has exceeded all expectations in training and I really think it’s going to pay off.”
For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.