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Rutgers faces Iona in rare home setting

Freshman outfielder Mike Martinez has played key role for the Knights this season in tallying six hits and scoring 4 runs.
Photo by Dimitri RodriguezFreshman outfielder Mike Martinez has played key role for the Knights this season in tallying six hits and scoring 4 runs.

It will once again be a short stay back in Piscataway for the Rutgers baseball team (4-6), as it is set to play Iona (1-6) in a Wednesday afternoon game at Bainton Field.

The teams will play just once before the Scarlet Knights head back on the road for an 11-game road trip, beginning with a three-game set against Florida Atlantic this weekend. The Knights won't return to their home field again until March 29.

It is only the second home game of the season for Rutgers, who are looking to build off of Sunday's 5-2 victory over Old Dominion.

To do that, the Knights know they will have to play with the same confidence they have garnered from competing in so many close games.

“We’re just playing baseball right now, and you can’t win every game,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “We grew a lot from last year, and we’ve been in every game this year with chances to win them all, so from that standpoint, (and) I think the guys have matured from last year. We’re headed in the right direction in winning baseball games.”

Rutgers dropped 2 of 3 games against Old Dominion over the weekend, but salvaged the final game in the series with a win and saw production from veteran leaders, as well as newcomers already earning playing time.

Freshman catcher Nick Matera blasted his first career home run over the weekend, along with singling in the game-winning run on Sunday.

Another newcomer, freshman outfielder Mike Martinez, recorded two hits in the win and scored a run.

On the mound, freshman Serafino Brito has already proven to be a versatile member of the pitching staff and Sunday was no different.

He earned his first career win in his start against Lafayette last Wednesday and came out of the bullpen on Sunday to pitch a scoreless eighth inning and pick up another win for himself and the team.

The great success of all the freshman on the team contributes to the Knights growing confidence as they move forward in the season.

“It’s been really good to be able to contribute right away,” Matera said. “The upperclassmen have shown us the way and how to do things. They are good role models for us.”

This blending of talent between the veterans and younger players was a point of emphasis for the coaching staff throughout the offseason.

They were hoping all of their players would be ready to play when their number was called and have gotten plenty of production thus far in the season.

In games in the Big Ten and against tough non-conference opponents, the quality of performance the team will need to compete only increases. 

But the coaches like what they have seen so far.

“The freshmen have jumped in and played an important part for us already,” Litterio said. “Nick Matera got the game-winning RBI in a tough situation, and it was a huge hit for us … They are all playing roles. (Freshman infielder) Carmen Sclafani came off the bench and scored a run for us on Sunday, and they are all playing big roles and accepting them and contributing early to the team.”

Iona struggled early in the season, but picked up its first win on Sunday in a 7-3 victory over North Carolina A&T.

It has also suffered some tough losses through its first slate of games, including three extra-inning defeats by one run each.

When the two teams squared off in their lone meeting last season at Bainton Field, Rutgers cruised to a 12-3 win over the Gaels. In that game then-freshman John O'Reilly earned the first win of his career by throwing 6.2 innings of three-run ball, while fanning six hitters.

Rutgers knows it will be playing a team that is looking to bounce back with a strong performance on the road as the Knights look to make it two straight wins at home.

“I think we’re very excited about what’s ahead of us and the talent we have here,” O’Reilly said. “We’re playing hard, and the bats are starting to come together with our pitching, so that’s a good sign.”

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