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Rutgers heads back to Florida once again for weekend against North Florida

<p>Head coach Joe Litterio brings his side into the weekend hoping for its first series win of the season against North Florida.</p>

Head coach Joe Litterio brings his side into the weekend hoping for its first series win of the season against North Florida.

The quest for its first series win of the season just got a little tougher as the Rutgers baseball team heads into spring break with a four-game series against North Florida starting on Friday at 4 p.m.

The Scarlet Knights (4-7) will play a straight doubleheader, one game right after the other, on Saturday — accounting for the four games in three days. They will need to win three out of four if they want to leave Jacksonville with a series win. Friday’s game will be the first of eight games Rutgers will play during spring break.

Head coach Joe Litterio is excited for this weekend series and thinks the doubleheader should help his ballclub, rather than hurting it. However, he understands it’s going to be a long day.

“This year we have been lucky enough not to have to play doubleheaders,” he said. “Last year we had a lot of (them) early on because of the weather. But playing a doubleheader, we need to prepare a little bit more because it’s a long day, so it gives us an opportunity to prepare just in case that does happen in conference play in the future.”

Playing baseball while their classmates are relaxing at home or by the beach does not seem to bother the Knights at all, probably because they will be spending all of it in the state of Florida.

“It’s great being able to head down south for spring break,” said sophomore left fielder Luke Bowerbank. “We get to play in some nice weather and get out of the cold for a while.”

A while indeed. After North Florida, Rutgers will travel even further south — spring break central Boca Raton — to play Florida Atlantic University (FAU) for one game before heading west to another popular spring break destination, Fort Myers, to play Florida Gulf Coast for three games.

As of now, the probable pitching matchups against North Florida starts off with junior John O’Reilly (1-2, 4.82 ERA) taking the ball on Friday and sophomore Serafino Brito (0-3, 6.11 ERA) pitching Game 1 in Saturday’s doubleheader. The rest of the series will be announced later, but will surely feature some combination of seniors Christian Campbell and Gaby Rosa.

Brito has pitched better than his earned run average would dictate and probably deserved a win after going 6 and two-third innings and only giving up three earned runs in a game the Knights wound up losing by a score of 6-2. He did walk four batters during that game - almost half of his 2016 total — but said he didn’t let them get in his way.

“I was just missing strikes and not getting the calls,” he said. “But I feel like I didn’t let those walks affect my mental game.”

When asked about what he needs to work on to be more successful for this weekend, Brito stressed his pitch location.

“I know I have to locate better with my fastballs, and I have to do a better job of getting my slider over for a strike," Brito said.

Rutgers failed to score at least four runs in that game Brito started, only the fourth time that has happened this season. A big reason why the Knights have been so successful on the offensive side of things is their speed at the top and their depth all through the lineup.

Bowerbank, who when he starts, normally hits sixth, is hitting .360 — one of four starters hitting over .300 — with two steals in two attempts this season. He thinks the combination of depth and speed is the team’s strong suit and can be very dangerous.

“We’re solid one through nine no matter who is in the lineup that day,” Bowerbank said. “Speed is very important on this team because we have a lot of it. We like to be aggressive on the base paths and we are always looking to take extra bases whenever possible.”

Litterio has taken notice and has been impressed with his team’s overall offensive production so far this season.

“I just like the consistency,” he said. “We’ve done a lot with two-out RBIs and that’s a big part of what we preach. We try and explain how that helps the offense and hurts the defense when you can get that big two-out RBI. I like the way we’re putting the ball in play and we’re making things happen and coming up with big hits, and we got to continue to do it.”

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

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