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Rutgers puts impressive home record to test against Penn State

<p>Junior outfielder Mike Carter has provided the Knights with a boost at the plate since returning from injury weeks ago.</p>

Junior outfielder Mike Carter has provided the Knights with a boost at the plate since returning from injury weeks ago.

The trials and tribulations of any sports season lead to teachable moments that hopefully result in better execution in bigger games.

The Rutgers baseball team has endured many tough moments throughout the 2016 season, having suffered nine losses in games settled by 1 run.

But the Scarlet Knights (18-19, 3-6) are coming off two midweek victories in which they outscored their opponents 20-8 with the first coming at home and the second on the road.

They have some momentum now heading into the weekend as they prepare to welcome Penn State (23-15, 8-4) into Bainton Field. They are looking to build from their latest wins and translate them to some success against a Big Ten opponent.

“I don’t have to tell these guys much to get them focused because they all know what to do,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “They know what’s in front of them and are focused on Friday, which is good to see.”

Across the board for Rutgers athletics, a matchup with Penn State always seems to generate heightened interest amongst alumni and students, despite the school's fairly new entrance into the Big Ten. 

The Knights were swept last season in a three-game series in Happy Valley, but they are heading into this year’s matchup with the Nittany Lions with more confidence and wins to back them up.

They have six more wins this season than they did at this point last year and they've done it by receiving contributions from both veterans and newcomers alike.

Heading into last season’s series at Penn State, Rutgers had dropped its previous two games and did not have much momentum.

They are hoping their success during the week going into this year’s slate with the Nittany Lions will serve them well, as it should ideally help them perform better over the weekend.

“For me, it’s very important to come out to those midweek games and not overlook them,” Litterio said. “If we play well in those games, it helps us carry over some things into the weekend. That’s what our guys did. They took care of business these last two games, and now we are going into the Penn State series ready to go.”

After only scoring 11 runs in last weekend’s series on the road against Ohio State, the Knights nearly doubled that output in their two games this week by scoring 20 runs.

They are receiving substantial production from all throughout the lineup, which was missing earlier in the season.

The reinsertion of junior outfielder Mike Carter into the lineup a few weeks ago after he missed some time with an injury has greatly boosted the offense. He leads the team with a .403 batting average.

He was pivotal in their 8-0 shutout of Wagner on Wednesday. He led the offensive charge with a two-run single and three RBIs.

As a veteran on the team, he knows the excitement that surrounds the series with Penn State but is hoping to approach it just like any other game on the schedule so that the moment does not become too big for Rutgers.

“It’s just another game and we have to go in with a level-headed approach,” Carter said. “We have to go into it being aggressive like we have been on the bases, hitting the ball well, (playing) solid defense and keep pitching like we have been, and we’ll be alright.”

The pitching came up big in the shutout of Wagner, and the bullpen performed particularly well in the 12-8 win over Delaware State on Tuesday.

Three relievers combined to pitch the final 5.2 innings on Tuesday, and they surrendered just 3 earned runs and allowed the offense to breakthrough with a lead.

Junior pitcher Ryan Fleming pitched the ninth inning and recorded the final three outs of the win over the Hornets.

The Churchill, Pennsylvania, native lowered his ERA to 1.12 through his nine appearances on the season and became a stabilizing force out of the Knights bullpen.

With Penn State’s high-powered offense coming to the Banks and its 190 RBIs, which has them tied for fourth place in the Big Ten, it will be crucial for the starters and relievers to keep the Nittany Lions in check and try to prevent any big innings.

“We’re playing pretty good baseball right now,” Fleming said. “We’re just all trying to do our jobs in any situation we come into the game. If we keep rolling heading into the Penn State series, I think we’ll be pretty good.”

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

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