Rutgers aims to end skid, protect 13-game home winning streak

It’s no secret that the Rutgers baseball team is enduring struggles to start the season.

Beginning 2015 losing nine out of the first 10 games was not exactly the plan for the Scarlet Knights.

Head coach Joe Litterio said he felt the team should have collected a few more wins, but Rutgers let those chances slip away with a lack of timely hitting and pitching that has performed below expectation.

Coming off a weekend where the Knights lost by a combined score of 40-12 against No. 24 Florida Atlantic, Litterio knows Rutgers can improve in all aspects. 

The chance starts with the Knight’s first midweek game of the year Wednesday 3 p.m. against Iona.

“The midweek games are great because they keep your momentum going,” Litterio said. “You play for a weekend, then you come home to practice in a bubble for three days and when you go back to play, it’s tough to do. Iona is a good team and they are scrappy — they don’t quit. It’s a team we can’t take lightly. We’re down right now, we can’t walk 21 batters and we can’t strike out 19 times at the plate.”

Mid-week games are unique for collegiate baseball teams in — they allow an opportunity to get more innings for young pitchers and more at-bats for hitters.

To Litterio, the chance at a Wednesday game shows him who deserves more playing time on the weekend and who needs more work. 

For senior first baseman Joe D’Annunzio, mid-week games take on a slightly different meaning.

“It’s a chance to see more live pitching for us,” D’Annunzio said. “Between seeing a guy on a Sunday and Friday, it’s a big difference to get more at-bats. It’s always better to play games then practice — and what better place to do it than on our home field.”

Making his first-career start Wednesday for Rutgers is freshman right-hander John O’Reilly, who will also be making only his second appearance this season.

The Northvale, New Jersey, native made his first-career appearance in relief this past weekend against Florida Atlantic and was one of the few bright spots in the Knights' 18-5 loss on Friday. O’Reilly entered during the bottom of the fourth inning to relieve sophomore right-hander Kevin Baxter.

O’Reilly allowed no earned runs in his four innings pitched. He also struck out one batter and limited the Owls to two hits. 

Litterio jumped at the chance to start the rookie in a midweek game — and O’Reilly is ready to make the most of it.

“I’m really excited to get my first start. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time,” O’Reilly said. “I got my first debut in relief the other day and thought it did pretty well, so I feel pretty good going into it. Hopefully, I can perform similarly and we can get a win out of it.”

While this season has not started well for the Knights, they do return in their first home game on one positive note. Rutgers currently sits second in the nation with its current home win streak at 13 games.

D’Annunzio said he doesn’t intend to let that streak end.

“It’s a lot better to play a game home at Bainton Field,” D’Annunzio said. “We have to protect the Banks (of the Raritan). We got one of the longest streaks at home in the nation still going. We want to extend that and obviously playing at home in front of your fans is always what you want.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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