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Rutgers faces Ohio State in Columbus for first time in three game series

<p>Senior Howie Brey is slated to start in game one against Ohio State on Friday. Brey has 15 strikeouts over his last 15 innings.</p>

Senior Howie Brey is slated to start in game one against Ohio State on Friday. Brey has 15 strikeouts over his last 15 innings.

The past two games for the Rutgers baseball team (15-17, 2-4) have shown both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

After blowing a four-run lead in the ninth inning to lose 7-6 in extras against Seton Hall on Tuesday, the Scarlet Knights followed with an equally close game the next day but were on the winning side of a 3-2 contest.

Both games featured clutch hitting from each side to give them leads but also saw the pitchers step up to put an end to rallies.

With the Knights set to travel to Ohio State (21-11-1, 2-4) for a three-game series for the first time in program history, they are hoping to carry over their momentum from a big win on Wednesday and translate it to some success on the road.

“The last two games are great ways for us to go into conference games,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “We have to start getting some confidence in these close games in the late innings. We started to get that, but the first loss (to Seton Hall) brought back a bad taste. But to be able to close it down with a win the next day puts us back into the right mind frame and gets us ready for Ohio State.”

Rutgers is expected to send ace Howie Brey (3-3) to the hill on Friday to open the series against the Buckeyes at Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium, a venue they will be visiting for the first time.

The southpaw from Middletown, New Jersey, enters the weekend on a hot streak, having won his last two outings and only allowing one earned run over 15 innings in that time span.

He has been working on mixing in his changeup with his fastball to get ahead in counts, and it has worked as he has seen his strikeout totals increase in recent games.

Over his last 15 innings of work, he struck out 15 batters and lowered his pitch count to go deeper into ballgames.

It should help the Knights this weekend if he is able to pitch in similar fashion against the Buckeyes. He plans to continue preparing the same way he has been for all of his starts to go for the same success this weekend.

“We take the same approach to each weekend and focus on it like we are playing another other team,” Brey said. “If we keep playing like we have been, it should work out for us because we feel like we’re playing well now.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Rutgers has made it a point of emphasis throughout the year to be aggressive.

Their assertiveness has been apparent when they reach base, given their gaudy stolen base totals.

Rutgers is far and away the leaders in stolen bases in the Big Ten, with 71 swipes thus far on the season.

The next closest team is the Buckeyes, who rank second in stolen bases with 53 for the year.

The Knights also boast the individual conference leader for stolen bases, as freshman outfielder Jawuan Harris paces the Big Ten with 24 steals.

His teammate senior R.J. Devish is not too far behind, ranking third in the Big Ten with 17 swipes.

There should be a lot of running this weekend between the Knights and Ohio State, which could result in some extra runs being scored.

“We like to use our speed and run,” Litterio said. “I’ve always been a coach that wants guys to run, and Jawuan and R.J. do that for us by getting on-base and creating havoc. They both do a great job of it.”

The dual-sport athlete Harris, who is also a wide receiver on the Rutgers football team, is excited for his first opportunity to play at Ohio State.

It is another first for the Knights as it is still getting used to being in the Big Ten, but they feel like they are getting more comfortable with each game.

This weekend presents another chance for Rutgers to make the most of its improvements against one of the conference’s best teams, and it is eager to get going.

“We’re always excited for Big Ten play and are looking forward to getting out there,” Harris said. “We’re trying to come out and win the series, possibly sweep them. Those are our goals, so it’s definitely exciting.”

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

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