Rutgers takes on former Big Ten champ Indiana

<p>Sophomore centerfielder Mike Carter feels the Knights can boost production if they string together timely hits in the series with Indiana.</p>

Sophomore centerfielder Mike Carter feels the Knights can boost production if they string together timely hits in the series with Indiana.

The Indiana baseball team was one of the best in the country in 2014. Finishing the season with a 44-15 record and a 21-3 tally in-conference, the Hoosiers won the Big Ten Championship and made it to Regionals of the NCAA Tournament.

Prior to last season, Indiana made it all the way to the College World Series and into the second round of the championship bracket before losing to eventual runner-up Mississippi State. Indiana ended up winning nine postseason games that season.

When the Rutgers baseball team plays the Hoosiers (18-11, 2-6) this weekend, it will play a different squad than the team that won the Big Ten Tournament the past two years. 

But the challenge will still be great, according to head coach Joe Litterio.

“They’re a team coming off of a College World Series appearance,” Litterio said. “They are an experienced team and a team that has been ranked in the top-25 this year. They are a tough challenge for us going to their place. We are going to have to play our best ball. It’s too early to have their record matter. They’ve been on a downward spiral, but they’re going to be hungry.”

Litterio will utilize the same rotation that he has used dating back to spring break two weeks ago. The Scarlet Knights (11-20, 5-4) will start junior left-hander Mark McCoy on Friday, junior left-hander Howie Brey on Saturday and sophomore right-hander Gaby Rosa on Sunday.

McCoy earned his first career win last week against Minnesota, while Brey struggled in his appearance Saturday against the Gophers. Rosa also struggled at times, but his high pitch count made him exit the game early last Sunday with a no-decision.

Litterio feels that the worst is behind the and they all will work on last week’s outings.

“Howie is due one of those bad outings once or twice a year, and hopefully he has enough rest to where he is sharp this weekend,” Litterio said. “And the same can be said for Gaby. They had tough field conditions last week and I’m hoping that getting away from home can help them — it’s supposed to be in the mid-60s. And for Mark, I’m hoping he builds on what he accomplished — getting the first one out of the way is huge.”

Brey knows that an 11-hit, nine-run outing won’t always happen on the mound. As the team’s ace pitcher for the last two seasons, adversity hasn’t always been in the lefty’s arsenal.

But Brey has adjusted some small aspects of his pitching style to improve heading into the weekend against one of the best teams in the nation.

“We are going up against one of the top hitting teams in the Big Ten,” Brey said. “I have to adjust, especially after last week against Minnesota and pitch towards my strengths. Last week, I was leaving my fastball up, and when you leave pitches up, they tend to go far. I worked in the bullpen this week to keep my stuff down and my strikes low in the zone.”

On offense, Rutgers has benefitted from playing two midweek games leading into the series with the Hoosiers. The problem that has appeared all season at the plate for the Knights has been the lack of timely hitting, which they appeared to fix Tuesday against Fordham.

Against the Rams, Rutgers had a pair of four-run innings highlighted by junior infielder Chris Suseck’s bases-clearing double. But against Wagner Tuesday, the Knights struggled to hit and were outscored, 11-4.

Sophomore centerfielder Mike Carter thinks Rutgers has bucked the trend of coming up short at the plate when runners are on. And a 10-4 victory Wednesday against Fordham proved it.

“Hopefully we just get a little winning streak going and gain a little momentum,” Carter said. “It’s our third Big Ten series, so we just are looking to stay positive and go after pitching. (Wednesday) we had a couple big innings where we got guys on and some big things happened — we put together some hits. We’ve been doing pretty good job, once we get hits, we add timely hits which is huge and then we add on runs. We have to keep the same approach and not take any at-bats for granted so we can get things going.”

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

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