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Balanced Rutgers roster sets for second Big Ten season

<p>Senior pitcher Howie Brey is projected to be the ace of Rutgers’ pitching staff in 2016. Last season he logged over 80 innings.</p>

Senior pitcher Howie Brey is projected to be the ace of Rutgers’ pitching staff in 2016. Last season he logged over 80 innings.

While the snow continues to fall in New Jersey, the Rutgers baseball team is readying for its second season in the Big Ten.

The Scarlet Knights have been working hard throughout the offseason to make sure they are in the best position to succeed in the 2016 campaign, which they open with a three-game series against Miami in sunny Coral Gables, Florida.

“We’ve been able to get outside (when) we had some warmer weather earlier,” said third-year head coach Joe Litterio. “But we’ve had six inter-squad games. We’ve been able to see some live pitching and live hitting, so from that aspect, it’s been great because we’ve been able to get a lot more done than we have in the past.”

Of the 35 players on the roster for the Knights, 14 are freshman, and all are expected to compete for playing time.

There are five seniors on the team and 16 upperclassmen in total.

It is a pretty balanced roster in terms of class designations, but Rutgers' chemistry has been clicking right from the start of training.

To see the success the Knights are hoping for, they know they will have to see steady contributions from their veterans, while mixing in a talented freshman class that should compete for plenty of playing time.

“This team is a very close unit with great chemistry,” Litterio said. “The older guys have taken on leadership roles to the point where they are helping the freshmen out and making sure they are doing the right things. It’s a good mix of upperclassmen and young guys.”

The pitching staff is led by senior Howie Brey, who led the team with 80.2 innings and 56 strikeouts in 2015.

The Middletown, New Jersey, native is entering his second consecutive season as a captain for Rutgers, and his third straight year in the starting rotation.

Brey is hoping to pick up where he left off last season, which he finished with a complete game in his final start to beat No. 13 Iowa.

Though the team struggled last season and finished with a 19-35-1 record, including 7-17 in Big Ten play, they feel another year of experience together will lead to better things in the 2016 season.

“I’m going to try to help everyone stay focused and lead by example,” Brey said. “Last year opened up our eyes, and we realized it’s more than just talent. We’re going to have to work hard throughout the season. The leaders on this team are going to have to lead the way.”

Another captain who will look to give Rutgers a boost this season is junior outfielder Mike Carter.

The lefty throwing, lefty swinging Carter was named to the 2016 Big Ten Players to Watch list along with Brey and fellow junior outfielder Tom Marcinczyk.

A former Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American when he batted .318 for the season, Carter is looking to regain his 2014 form and become an impact player at the top of the lineup for the Knights.

“We’ve all been working on mechanics, strength, flexibility, staying healthy, all those kinds of things,” Carter said. “We’re doing whatever we can to stay focused on our goals and seeing what we can do to play up to the best of our ability.”

Rutgers will have to showcase their improvements on the road early in the season, as they will also travel to Virginia next weekend to play George Mason for three games.

Their first home game at Bainton Field — where they were 13-10 last season — is against Lafayette on March 2.

Big Ten play doesn’t begin until a late March series at Michigan State, but the Knights are hoping to get off to a quick start this season and be in position to take the next step in the conference this year.

“Last year was a rough year for us, but I think we’ve learned from it,” Carter said. “We’re going about things differently this year, doing them in a better way. We’re focusing on everything from game to game, pitch to pitch, and not worrying about putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow @Mike_OSully2 and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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