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Rutgers faces in-state rival in return to New Jersey

<p>Freshman catcher Nick Mantera has impressed enough to split reps at catcher and designated hitter with experienced senior catcher R.J. Devish.</p>

Freshman catcher Nick Mantera has impressed enough to split reps at catcher and designated hitter with experienced senior catcher R.J. Devish.

After a week spent playing games in Florida and Maryland, the Rutgers baseball team returns to New Jersey for a short stay this week to travel to Lawrenceville to face in-state foe Rider (2-14) on Wednesday.

It will mark the third game of the season in its home state, as the Scarlet Knights (8-10) have played 16 games on the road to start their 2016 campaign.

The Knights are coming off a 10-3 win on Saturday over NJIT to close out a road trip in which they went 3-4 in a week of many close games.

Four of the games were decided by one run, with the Rutgers dropping three of those contests.

But the Knights saw their bats come alive in the final game of the trip while being coupled with solid pitching in the starting rotation in the bullpen, providing them confidence moving forward into Wednesday’s game and with conference play approaching.

“I’ve been happy with the way we’ve been competing,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “It’s been good to see us playing hard and competitively in all these games and heading into conference play next weekend, it’s important for us to keep our momentum going throughout the week.”

Rutgers has seen plenty of production from the top of its lineup in recent weeks.

Senior catcher R.J. Devish has taken full advantage of batting in the leadoff spot, starting the team with a .404 batting average and a .545 on base percentage.

He hit a home run and leads the team with a .509 slugging percentage, turning his high average into some power. 

Having a veteran like Devish at the top of the order provides stability for the Knights. They plan to ride his hot start as the season begins to pick up.

“R.J. is the guy that gets us going, and he’s been getting on base and setting the pace for us a lot this season,” Litterio said. “He’s always ready, knows how to run the bases, grinds at-bats … he can really do a lot for us.”

Devish is the team’s primary catcher, but he has been able to be the designated hitter in some games because of the emergence of freshman catcher Nick Matera.

The Roxbury, New Jersey, native played in 14 games at both catcher and designated hitter and has 11 RBIs thus far this season.

He drove in a run in the win over NJIT and had the go-ahead RBI in the eighth inning in a win over Old Dominion earlier in the season.

Matera and Devish formed a nice tandem behind the plate and in the designated hitter roles, giving the Knights flexibility between a veteran and a newcomer, both of who can be trusted to consistently play well.

“Nick is tremendous behind the plate and he’s also a tremendous hitter,” Devish said. “I’ve been working with him a lot, and he’s come a long way since he first got here. He has the potential to be one of the best catchers at Rutgers and we’re excited to see what he can do.”

Given the nature of their schedules early on in the season, which included constant traveling, it was difficult for the Knights to get comfortable.

After their next game at Rider, they will be on the road again for their Big Ten series of the season at Michigan State.

Their next home game at Bainton Field will also be another short stay, as they host Monmouth for one game next Tuesday.

But after spending a week away from home, Rutgers will be glad to return to New Jersey to build off its latest win.

“We’re very excited to be coming home after a week away,” said junior pitcher Kyle Driscoll. “We’ve been playing very hard and are excited to see what we can do on Wednesday and after that in Big Ten play.”

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

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