Rutgers eyes return to success in Big Ten

<p>Senior left fielder Chandler Howard in bating .331 in the 2015 season, with nine doubles, four home runs and 18 runs batted in.</p>

Senior left fielder Chandler Howard in bating .331 in the 2015 season, with nine doubles, four home runs and 18 runs batted in.

After dropping its second consecutive series in the Big Ten, the Rutgers softball team looks to regain momentum in conference play when it takes on the Maryland in a doubleheader on Tuesday.

After entering the Michigan series in a tie for second place, the Scarlet Knights (24-14, 8-6) have dropped to sixth with two consecutive disappointing Big Ten series performances.

“I think that Tuesday’s doubleheader is pivotal in our season,” said junior right-hander Dresden Maddox. “I think that getting these two wins is going to be very important for the moment, and we need to finish out the Big Ten Conference play so that when it comes to crunch time we’re good to go.”

In order to attain a berth to the NCAA Regionals, it's important for any team to get hot leading up to its conference tournament. 

As the Big Ten Tournament approaches, this holds true with Rutgers.

Including the two games against the Terrapins (26-19, 8-7), the Knights only have 10 games left to get back on track and right the ship.

Of those 10 games, seven are against the likes of Big Ten opponents in Penn State, Wisconsin and Maryland. 

But head coach Jay Nelson doesn’t want to look too far ahead.

“We’re pushing to win every game,” he said. “We can’t get in to the regional tournament by just splitting game after game. We take it one game at a time and should we lose, we have to win the next game but we don’t want to put more pressure on us by looking at the overall picture saying we have to win every game.”

Senior centerfielder Jackie Bates has gotten back on track in the last week, now carrying a five-game hit streak into the doubleheader. 

During her recent tear, Bates ascended to first place for the program's single season home runs record.  

After her three homers in the final two games of the series against Ohio State on Saturday, Bates stood alone at the top with 16 above Brittney Lindley, who previously held the record after a pair of years with 13 home runs in 2010 and 2011.

Nelson credits her work ethic in practice and her rediscovered patience at the plate.

“She has gotten back into being patient at the plate and making them pitch to her the pitches that she wants to hit and can drive,” Nelson said. “That’s been the key to her homers."

The Terrapins enter the series on a high note after completing the sweep of Penn State at home this past weekend. 

Rutgers pitchers will have a tall task to quiet Maryland’s batting order, specifically its 2-3-4 hitters.

With Hannah Dewey (.391), Erin Pronobis (.390) and Lindsey Schmeiser (.385) each batting over .385 on the season, the Terps present a potent heart of the order.

But Rutgers presents an equal challenge with its top batters.

The top of the order for the Terrapins relates similarly to the Knights' 2-3-4 combo of senior left fielder Chandler Howard (.320), Bates (.379) and junior third baseman Jordan Whitley (.378).

Schmeiser’s older sister, Katilyn, is the ace of the Maryland pitching staff with a record of 18-7 and an earned run average of 3.35 in 173 and two-thirds innings.

With the stakes being so high, it means Nelson will stick to his usual starters will be out unlike past midweek series where you see them get some rest and role players play more.

As it turns out, having the game on Sunday against Ohio State cancelled and moved to Saturday can be a blessing in disguise for a team that desperately needs the extra days rest after playing nine games in the last eight days.

For players like Bates, who has started in all 38 games this season, could benefit from the time off.

“I think that we will appreciate (the rest) especially for our pitchers that could use an extra day of rest,” Bates said. “Resting our arms, and whatever bumps and bruises that we have, is crucial at this stage in the season.”

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

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