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Rutgers aims to extend streak in home series

<p>Senior left-hander Alyssa Landrith was named ECAC Pitcher of the Week and recently became the Rutgers all-time strikeout leader.</p>

Senior left-hander Alyssa Landrith was named ECAC Pitcher of the Week and recently became the Rutgers all-time strikeout leader.

The Michele Smith Spring Break Tournament in Florida on March 13 marked a turning point for the Rutgers softball team. Since then, the Scarlet Knights (16-9, 4-2) look like an entirely different team, winning 10 of its last 13 games.

“We’ve proved that we can play in the conference,” said head coach Jay Nelson. “If we win another one (series), that's three down and we aren’t even half way through it yet, so we have to focus on the next game and what we are capable of. We want to go out and play our game every day and not let our opponents affect what we do.”

Some say momentum is overrated, but sophomore right-hander Shayla Sweeney is not one of them.

“You have to keep the same mindset that we’ve been having, scoring runs and playing defense and we will win the games," she said.

While the pitching hasn’t been there consistently yet, the bats have been. The Knights have scored 88 runs in those thirteen games, an average of about seven runs per game. The team is collectively batting .309 on the season with six players batting .329 or higher.

Junior third baseman Jordan Whitley has broken out to bat .393, good for second on the team. She forces pitchers to pitch to Jackie Bates, something the team didn’t have last year.

“She’s had great production and been huge for us this season,” Nelson said. “She’s driven in a lot of runs and on top of that, she is playing great defense."

Rutgers has been able to do all of this without playing a single game at home. 

The team has yet to be on its home field this year, but that changes this weekend as the Knights get set for their first Big Ten home series of the season against Michigan State (16-17, 1-5).

Playing at home is something that teams thrive on because they know what to do and how to approach certain fielding situations when presented to them. There is not much of an adjustment for the home team as there is the road team.

“I think it does,” senior outfielder Jackie Bates said regarding if playing at home provides an advantage. “Personally, I am really excited to play at home because it’s a field I know and it’s advantageous. Not having to travel is also really nice.”

Sweeney thinks that having their fans there will also provide an extra incentive for the team to do well. More importantly, she thinks that plays a role in how the Knights display a higher level of confidence when at home.

“Getting back on our field is a good thing because we have more confidence and other teams have to come to us now,” she said. “It’s up to us to win and protect our field.”

Luckily for Rutgers, the Spartans are not the best when they travel, going 2-10 so far this season on the road. The team bats a collective .267, with senior outfielder Alyssa McBride leading the way with a .417 batting average.

The bottom of the order is where a pitcher can exploit the Spartans — it’s crucial to get those easy outs, according to Sweeney.

“Getting the bottom of the order out is important because when (I face) the top of the order and I mess up, I lose confidence," she said.

Nelson really wants to see his team play a clean game in and out. He said he doesn’t want to give the opponent an advantage they don’t deserve.

“We have to play a clean game,” Nelson said. “We had four errors in the second game yesterday. We must eliminate them because we don’t want to allow base runners. I expect us to score runs against any pitcher. We have a good, disciplined lineup.”

Another Big Ten series win has the potential to be a huge statement for the Knights.

“I think it will definitely put us on the chart with the other teams, especially because this is our first inaugural season,” Bates said. “It will definitely boost our reputation in the conference and people will start to realize that we are a good team and they can’t roll over us."

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

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