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Rutgers searches for rhythm in southwest

<p>Sophomore right-hander Dresden Maddox and Rutgers target to get above the .500 mark when they compete in New Mexico. </p>

Sophomore right-hander Dresden Maddox and Rutgers target to get above the .500 mark when they compete in New Mexico. 

While the Rutgers softball team ended its play in California last weekend, the trips out west continue.

With the Lobo Classic awaiting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Friday, the Scarlet Knights (4-5) aim to catapult themselves over .500 on the season.

This time around, they will only face two other teams in New Mexico (16-7) and CSU Bakersfield (6-10).

Unlike their opponents this weekend, Rutgers has not yet reached double-digits in games played. 

When asked about it, head coach Jay Nelson does not think it will have much effect.

“I don’t look at it either way,” Nelson said. “I just want us to be prepared to play our game and that’s my message to the team. It doesn’t matter how many games they played.”

After starting the season at the plate slow, the bats came alive last weekend as the Scarlet Knights scored 12 runs one game as well as four in the other.

Although senior outfielder Chandler Howard had her eight-game hitting streak snapped, she recovered and fellow senior outfielder Jackie Bates were able to get on the same page. The two stabilized the top of the order, going a combined 15-for-26 at the plate with six RBI.

But those aren’t the only two who have been hitting, helping Rutgers' cause at the plate.

“We are starting to see some people that haven’t hit, hit the ball,” Nelson said. “Sierra Maddox hit the ball hard, Dana Hendry pinch hit and got a base hit. We have to get those hitters going in the bottom of the lineup and at batting practice is where we will do it."

Nelson will stick with sophomore outfielder Carly Todd at the top of the order this weekend, unlike switching between her and junior second baseman Stephanie Huang as he had earlier in the season. Instead, Huang will bat 9th to act as a second leadoff hitter and Nelson hopes it will help her get out of her slump by seeing some better pitches at the bottom of the order.

“I think, as the second leadoff hitter, it’s a matter of keeping the lineup going and having that continuation for the lineup,” Huang said. “I think just making sure that I’m hitting the pitches I want to hit and not hitting the pitchers pitches will help my performance at the plate.”

After getting off to some slow starts in some of their first nine games, the Knights aim to get ahead and stay ahead. 

“I would say when you get out to an early lead, it gets the other team momentum slowed down and the more you can throw that down,” said junior pitcher Dresden Maddox. “The more in favor the game will be on your side. So, I would say, as a pitcher, the early lead helps me pitch my game and throw the pitches I’m comfortable throwing, attacking the batters and not having to pitch around certain players."

However, the trouble for the Rutgers has been maintaining those leads and playing a consistent game throughout the full seven innings which has cost them games this season.

“In most of the games, we’ve taken an early lead,” Nelson said. “I think it’s a matter of us staying consistent for seven innings, where we don’t have a mental mistake. It really hurts us. As we play more games, we are going to get more consistent."

After having mixed results last week, Maddox is hoping for a solid performance this time out.

“Sometimes the other team beats you and have a good night like Fresno did,” Maddox said. “But I was still confident in what I was throwing and I carried that momentum into my next performance against UCSB. I just have to trust my stuff when I take the mound.”

Rutgers looks to get on track this weekend, starting with CSU Bakersfield on Friday.

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

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