Rutgers to compete in FIU Panther Invitational

The Rutgers softball team will play in warm weather as it heads down south to Miami. The Scarlet Knights (4-6) will play in the FIU Panther Invitational, a five-game series, where they’ll face off against Monmouth, Columbia and the host team, the Panthers (6-3), this weekend.

Rutgers faced a rough trip in Texas last weekend, losing multiple close games and coming home with only one win. The team will hope to have better results this weekend than it did in the Texas A&M Invitational. 

The Knights' first challenge will be against the Hawks (2-3), whose season just started this past weekend. Monmouth has kept each game close, except for a 10-0 loss against Delaware. Currently, the Hawks are on a two-game winning streak and have already played in Florida this season. 

Monmouth had an impressive 2018 campaign, finishing its season at 32-16 with a conference record of 19-1. Luckily for Rutgers, the Hawks' biggest weakness seemed to be in neutral sites, where they were only 7-11 last season.

Monmouth is led by junior outfielder Amber Wozniak, who is hitting .231 on the season. Wozniak started the season out slow, but is looking better now after a three RBI and 1 home run game against Holy Cross, batting in 3 of the team's 5 runs. 

The Knights' biggest challenge against the Hawks, though, will be their ace pitcher, Alyssa Irons. Irons has an impressive 1.75 ERA on the season with a 2-1 record, only allowing five hits in 20 innings pitched.

Look for Rutgers to try and beat Monmouth on the mound, as the Hawks are 1-3 on the season against righty pitchers. The Monmouth game will be a great opportunity for senior pitcher Whitney Jones to bounce back after a rough showing in a loss against Liberty in the Texas A&M Invitational. 

After the Hawks, the Knights will go up against the Lions. This invitational series will be the season opener for Columbia. Last season, the Lions went 21-19, their first winning season since 2002. They return 6 of their 8 All-Ivy League honorees.

When head coach Kristen Butler was asked about how she felt the past five-game series went, she gave clear insight on what looked good and what needs to be worked on.

“We were very pleased that we scored first and scored early against some very good teams," Butler said. "We’ll be working on a lot of defense this week because that’s the part of our game that wasn’t where it needed to be to back up our pitchers and our offense.” 

Finally, Rutgers will compete against the host of the series: FIU. The Panthers currently hold an impressive 6-3 record on the season. Their only losses so far came from Big Ten school Michigan State and Memphis, a week after sweeping them in a previous series. 

One player the Knights will want to look out for is outfielder Jackie Schoff. Schoff has a .355 batting average through nine games with 11 hits and three RBI’s. FIU is also a dangerous team offensively, as it has 20 stolen bases on the season with a 100 percent success rate. 

A key aspect Rutgers can improve upon if it plans on beating the Panthers is its late game pitching. FIU has won both of its past two games by scoring 12 runs in the sixth inning or later in its past three wins. 

The Knights, on the other hand, have allowed 8 runs in the sixth inning or later in their past five-game series, with half of those runs coming in the very last inning. 

Overall, Rutgers should enjoy a successful weekend in Florida as it plays against teams who are still brushing off their offseason rust and lack the offensive firepower it faced back in Texas. 

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

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