Rutgers heads west for conference series at Purdue

<p>Senior outfielder Chandler Howard says the Knights' recipe for success at the plate lies in remaining patient for pitches to hit.</p>

Senior outfielder Chandler Howard says the Knights' recipe for success at the plate lies in remaining patient for pitches to hit.

A strong offensive momentum propels the Rutgers softball team back to the midwest this weekend for another Big Ten series in Indiana, this time taking on the Purdue Boilermakers (22-9, 3-0). 

Last time out in Indiana, the Scarlet Knights (12-8, 2-1) took two of three games from the Indiana Hoosiers. If it weren’t for a late game rally in the second game, they would have completed the sweep.

The team finally broke out at the plate, exploding for 28 runs on 35 hits in three games.

That statistic will be difficult to duplicate, but the team is hoping that it can keep the bats flowing with consistency.

“I think if we keep the same mental approach and stay within ourselves, and look for pitches that we can drive, we will be fine,” said senior outfielder Chandler Howard. “I think that as long as we stay calm and have fun, it won’t be a problem.”

When a team is hitting that well, it helps everyone in the lineup’s confidence.

“It’s always great to know that if I can’t get it done, I can always count on them to pick me up,” Howard said. “I try not to think about it when I’m at the plate, but it’s always good to know you have such strong hitters in front and behind you. We are strong throughout the lineup."

This time around, the team is hoping to have a similar impact on the plate to propel them to another series win. 

But head coach Jay Nelson is realistic and understands it will be hard to duplicate.

“These pitchers are a lot tougher,” Nelson said. “Those are always the expectations but it will be pretty hard to duplicate. If we are going to score five runs a game, I’m happy. That’s a good hitting softball team."

Purdue has already deemed the field unplayable for the game on Friday due to freezing weather in an inclement forecast. The first game has been postponed to Saturday, meaning Rutgers will have to play one game on Saturday and a doubleheader on Sunday.

Nelson deemed the pitching to having mental lapses, but junior right-hander Dresden Maddox is confident that the Knights will hit their stride sooner than later.

“We have to trust our stuff, the stuff that we’ve always had, ince we have been here at Rutgers and throw your best pitch, get ahead of batters, and that’s what we are going to do this weekend against Purdue,” Maddox said.

This weekend should provide a good test to see if the pitching staff can get back on track. Six of the Boilermakers' hitters are batting with an average of at least .296 on the season, with senior Ashley Burkhardt leading the way with a team-high .438.

“The challenge with Purdue is that they have a couple of hitters who are really fast and can do damage when they get on base,” Nelson said. “Their No. 1 pitcher is really good and (Purdue has) a freshman with really good movement. It’s a challenge that we are up to." 

It’s been a whirlwind of a week for the Knights with game cancellations. 

They were supposed to play Monmouth on Tuesday, but the game was cancelled due to poor field conditions. On Wednesday, they played four innings against Hofstra before that game was called off with the entirety of the doubleheader in Long Island.

If anything, Nelson thinks it helps Rutgers because the team has had more time to prepare. He looks at the four-inning contest at Hofstra as a mid-week scrimmage.

Maddox, however, remains unfazed.

“We are going to go out this weekend and take (Purdue) like we would any team," Maddox said.

For updates on the Rutgers softball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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