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Conference play begins for Rutgers in East Lansing

<p>Junior outfielder Tom Marcinczyk leads the Knights in RBI’s this season with 20.</p>

Junior outfielder Tom Marcinczyk leads the Knights in RBI’s this season with 20.

After suffering another one run loss during the week, there is little time to dwell for the Rutgers baseball team as it is set to open up Big Ten play this weekend on the road against Michigan State (15-3).

The Scarlet Knights (8-11) have seen 5 of their last 8 games decided by one run and have been on the losing side of four of those contests.

Being on the wrong end of these kinds of games inevitably leads to some frustration, but the Knights know they have to put it behind them quickly to have success in Big Ten play.

“We’re opening up conference play on the road and we all know that we have to be prepared for that,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “It’s baseball and anything can happen in baseball. We’ll be fine and look to get this bad taste out of our mouths and be ready to play against Michigan State on Friday.”

The latest loss perhaps stung the most for Rutgers, as Rider had only won two games in the season coming into the contest and staged a bottom of the ninth comeback to win, 3-2.

The Knights had their chances throughout the game to score but were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

Junior outfielder Tom Marcinczyk provided the offense for Rutgers with a solo home run, which was his team-leading fourth blast of the year.

He also contributed with an RBI groundout, but the Knights were disappointed they could not take advantage of more chances and hope to see that corrected this weekend.

“We have to continue to stay positive,” Marcinczyk said. “We’re getting guys on base but can’t put pressure upon ourselves. We have to get out there and attack our pitch, get a pitch to drive and stay focused with each at-bat.”

A positive sign for Rutgers throughout the last week and Wednesday’s game has been the emergence of junior pitcher Christian Campbell, who has debuted after returning from injury.

In three appearances, he has pitched to a 1.12 ERA over eight innings of work, including 12 strikeouts.

Against Rider, he fired three shutout innings and struck out seven after following starter Serafino Brito.

His presence adds another layer of depth to the pitching staff as a whole, and he is excited to be back on the field with his teammates and contributing.

“It’s an awesome feeling to be able to come back strong and healthy. That’s the key,” Campbell said. “It feels good to be able to contribute to the team and I’m excited for the rest of the season.”

The Knights struggled in their inaugural season in the Big Ten last year.

They went 7-17 in conference play, including getting swept by the Spartans, whom they are set to face this weekend.

But they did finish the year strong by taking 2 of the final 3 games of the season in a series victory over Iowa.

As they get set to embark on the road for Big Ten play this season, they feel as if they are more prepared for the rigors of the conference this season, given their experiences from last year and the new talent they have brought in this year.

For instance, part of the influx of new talent has been freshman outfielder Juwuan Harris, who leads the Big Ten with 13 stolen bases on the season.

Marcinczyk, who also swiped six bases himself, feels as if the veterans with Big Ten experience and the newcomers will be ready to go on Friday.

“It’s always a good experience to get out there for the opening weekend of conference play,” he said. “It’s gonna be fun and good to go out to Michigan State and play a very good team. We feel like we have more experience this year and even though we’ve been losing these one run games, we have to keep going because that’s what you do in baseball.”

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

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