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Senior provides strong presence at front of Rutgers rotation

<p>Sophomore third baseman Milo Freeman said Howie Brey gives the Knights a pitcher that competes hard throughout his starts.</p>

Sophomore third baseman Milo Freeman said Howie Brey gives the Knights a pitcher that competes hard throughout his starts.

Leaders are vital in any sport, but especially so in baseball.

With the grind of a long season featuring early nonconference games followed by a loaded conference schedule, there are many opportunities to lose focus and see confidence dwindle if losing occurs.

Teams look for an ace at the top of their pitching staff to keep up the momentum when things are going well, but also to be a stopper and put an end to bad times.

For the Rutgers baseball team (11-16, 2-4), senior pitcher Howie Brey fills that role at the front of the pitching staff.

The southpaw from Middletown, New Jersey, is 2-3 on the season with a 3.17 ERA, leading the team in innings pitched (48.1) and strikeouts (41).

He is coming off his best outing of the season, where he threw a complete game with eight strikeouts over Big Ten foe Indiana, leading the Scarlet Knights to a 7-1 victory and their first conference win of the season.

But even more than the numbers show, his presence as a reliable and stabilizing force at the forefront of the rotation gives the Knights someone they know they can count on to set the tone for how they want to play in each series.

“Howie is Howie, and that is usually very good,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “He always gives us a chance to win and knows how to pitch when we’re ahead and has been getting better with keeping his pitch count down.”

Brey’s win over Indiana marked the fifth complete game of his career and improved Rutgers’ record to 4-0 at its home Bainton Field this season.

It was his first complete game since beating No. 13 Iowa at home last season, as he has been a big contributor for the Knights in Big Ten play.

Rutgers went on to win 2 of the 3 games in the series against Indiana, with the tone for the series victory being set by the longevity he provided in the opening game.

As someone who usually starts the opening games of series, he knows how pivotal it is to do his best to get the team off to a good start.

“Playing well in the first game of a series is big because it gives us confidence,” Brey said. “We know that things change quickly in baseball and that you have to forget about what happened the day before, but it’s always good to start off by playing some good baseball.”

This kind of mentality is something that has been instilled into the Knights from the coaches since the beginning of the season.

They have struggled at times with jumping out to leads in games only to see the other team comeback, which shows the need for an ability to stay focused throughout each game and for subsequent games.

It is placed on team leaders to execute this mentality on the field, and Brey has been entrusted to do this by being named a captain for two straight seasons.

“It’s important to always stay positive because there are also more games to play,” he said. “We’ve been in many of these close games, and we can’t look past anybody, so we know that we all have to stay focused on the task at hand.”

His presence as a trusted veteran has resulted in plenty of success on the field, as he is eighth on the school’s all-time list for innings pitched (239.1) and strikeouts (163).

The mindset he brings to his outings has not gone unnoticed by his teammates, who are quick to point out how confident they feel when he is on the mound.

With more games against tough Big Ten opponents ahead, the Knights will continue to rely on Brey for big performances.

“Howie is awesome and pitches great for us,” said sophomore third baseman Milo Freeman. “He’s a tough kid and always goes out there and competes. He really does a great job from the first pitch to the last pitch.”

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

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