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Rutgers begins season with trip to Miami after eventful preseason

<p>Sophomore right-handed pitcher Serafino Brito heads into a season as the Saturday starter after finishing last year with a 5-6 record and 5.09 ERA.</p>

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Serafino Brito heads into a season as the Saturday starter after finishing last year with a 5-6 record and 5.09 ERA.

After a long and restful offseason that quickly turned into a hectic preseason filled with batting practices, ground balls, base running drills and the unveiling of a brand new training facility, the Rutgers baseball team is finally back in action as it gets ready to go on the road for its season opener to take on a familiar foe in No. 18 Miami.

Just like last season, the Scarlet Knights will open their season under the sun for a three-game series against the Hurricanes. Unlike last season Rutgers will be going into Miami with a preseason’s worth of training in its new state-of-the-art indoor training facility, the Fred Hill Training Complex, under its belt.

With a new training facility — fully equipped with six batting cages, a full infield turf and bullpen mounds — and an experienced roster and fourth-year head coach Joe Litterio at the helm, fans have a lot to be excited for this season.

“Practices have been going better than they ever have at this point in the year,” Litterio said to ScarletKnights.com. “With the new facility, we have been able to do a lot more in preparation for games. That’s the biggest thing. We have been focusing on the fundamentals and everything that goes along with that, but game-wise, we are more prepared.”

The Knights, who finished 27-28-0 last season, are bringing back 22 players while welcoming seven newcomers. The mixture of both experienced and unseasoned players has players excited for the upcoming season.

“I think we’ve got a lot of hitting, and a lot of depth offensively,” said sophomore outfielder Luke Bowerbank. “I think our pitching – we’ve got a lot of young guys, but I think a bunch of them will step up.”

Bowerbank, who hit .301 in 83 at-bats last season, looks to be the starting left fielder in an outfield that will also see fellow sophomore Jawuan Harris in center and senior Tom Marcinczyk in right. Sophomore Mike Martinez and redshirt freshman Tommy Genuario will also vie for some playing time and at bats throughout the season.

Like most of his teammates, Bowerbank has raved about all of the opportunities the new Fred Hill Training Complex, also known as the "castle," has provided.

“The castle has been great,” Bowerbank said. “It’s given all us hitters the opportunity to see live at bats before the season, as well as for the pitchers to be able to see live batters and work on live in-game situations.”

Around the infield, expect Rutgers to mix and match at almost every position. With juniors Milo Freeman and Kyle Walker at third, senior Gaby Rosa and freshman Kevin Welsh at shortstop, Welsh and sophomore Carmen Sclafani at second and seniors Mike Carter and Christian Campbell at first — there is enough interchange that guarantees plenty of playing time for each. 

As for catcher, it’s a three-way race between sophomore Nick Matera, junior Chris Folinusz and sophomore Tyler McNamara, with Matera to get the first shot behind the plate.

Among those players coming back to the Knights will also be sophomore right-handed pitcher Serafino Brito, who looks to be Litterio’s starter Saturday, right behind Friday starter, junior right-handed pitcher John O’Reilly. Brito, who made 18 appearances as a freshman last season, 10 of them as a starter, has already shown great control walking only 10 hitters in 58 1/3 innings as a rookie but is always looking for areas to improve on.

“Mostly I’ve been working on my off-speed command,” Brito said. “That’s where I feel I struggled the most last year, I wasn’t able to locate my off-speed (pitches) as well as I would have liked to.”

The starting spot on Sunday is still up for grabs with Campbell, sophomores Dante Scafidi and James Torres on the right side and freshman Eric Reardon on the left side.

Regardless, Litterio is happy about the arms he has both in the rotation and in his bullpen.

“We are getting more and more talented every year and that has to do with the assistant coaches going out and getting these guys,” Litterio said to ScarletKnights.com. “With them maturing and knowing what to expect, we are not going out there looking to throw the ball as hard as possible. We want to command the strike zone and have a plan on the mound. It is not always about strikeouts, but also forcing the type of contact we want.”

Overall, this Rutgers team is hungry to begin the season and is warning the competition not underestimate them.

“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people this year,” Bowerbank said.

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

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