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Rutgers hosts Nebraska after ending brief losing streak

The Rutgers baseball team snapped a three-game losing skid on Tuesday, giving it momentum heading into the weekend and a chance to start a new winning streak.

The Scarlet Knights (19-14, 4-5) host Nebraska (16-19, 3-7) for a series at home starting today. Despite the losing record, head coach Joe Litterio knows he can’t take any opponent lightly, especially a conference foe.

“We got a tough weekend ahead of us,” he said. “They’re going to come in hungry, so we’re going to have to do what we do best, and hopefully we can get a series win.” 

Rutgers is 1-5 against the Cornhuskers since joining the Big Ten, but players said they won’t let the results of past seasons define their current success.

After suffering a sweep against Illinois last weekend, the Knights rebounded with a win at Monmouth on Tuesday. Now, the team hopes to win its seventh series out of its past eight. 

Despite the win, Litterio pinpointed some areas to work on heading into the weekend.

“We need to work on certain situations,” he said. “We had guys on third base late in the game with less than two outs and didn’t get them in.”

One positive of playing non-conference games interspersed with conference games is that the team can learn more about itself and be more prepared for when it plays Big Ten foes.

The team is 15-9 against non-conference opponents this season.

“It’s easy to come out in the Big Ten and be pumped up when you’re going to Illinois or Penn State’s coming to town, but every game counts the same,” said graduate student Karl Blum. “You got to be ready for anything.”

If Rutgers ends up triumphing this weekend, then its pitching will likely play a big role. The combination of senior John O’Reilly and freshman Harry Rutkowski has been lethal recently, and they have almost always pitched the first two games of a three-game series. The Knights are 13-5 in games that either of them has started.

In contrast, the team is 3-6 in Sunday games, and has experimented with different starting pitchers. At first it was freshman Eric Heatter, but now sophomore Eric Reardon is the one who gets the ball in series finales. 

He’s started on the past two Sundays, and has one won game. But, his last start didn’t go so well, as he gave up 7 runs to Illinois, all in the third inning, and was removed before recording an out in the frame.

Like many of Rutgers’ previous opponents, Nebraska hasn’t fared well recently. The Cornhuskers made the NCAA Tournament last year, but have lost 11 of their last 15 games. 

The team’s offense goes through Scott Schreiber, who leads the Big Ten in hits (57), is second in home runs (11), third in runs (39) and fourth in batting average (.399). 

On the other hand, the Knights’ offense is balanced, as three players are batting over .300, five have more than 30 hits and six have 20 or more RBI's. One of the team’s strengths is its ability to have anyone produce during any game, and players know they can come out on top when everything comes together.

“We have a lot of guys who have proven that they can do a really good thing for us,” Blum said. “I think it’s just a matter of being consistent. We got to remind ourselves that we are really good and we can win in the conference.”

The players also know exactly what they have to do to be successful both this weekend, and in general.

“We’ll just come out early and continue with our approach, on the mound, in the field and at the plate,” said fifth-year senior Chris Folinusz. “We’ll stick to what we do best and keep playing our game. Every Big Ten game counts a lot.”

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

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