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Rutgers seeks to dispatch Red Storm in Queens

Junior shortstop Melanie Slowinski batted in two runs in the Knights 5-2 win over Michigan State April 5. – Photo by Ruoxuan Yang

The Rutgers softball team is headed to Jamaica, but not for a tropical vacation to the Caribbean. 

On Tuesday, the team will be taking on St. Johns (13-13, 6-0) in Jamaica section of Queens, New York.

Winners of their first three series, the Scarlet Knights (19-9, 7-2) have hit their stride these last few weeks. Since the start of Big Ten play, they've posted a 9-2 mark and have won six straight.

“We’ve been hitting well and playing well,” head coach Jay Nelson said. “We keep after it. We try to take it one pitch at a time and we stress this at practices.”

This past weekend was a telling one for Rutgers. Going into extra innings in the first game, it went down in the 11th but was able to get a walkoff win in the bottom half of the inning.

In the next game, the Knights had an eight-run lead going into the fourth. But by the time the top half of the inning was over, they were down eight runs thanks to a 16-run inning by Michigan State. 

Behind senior outfielder Jackie Bates' home run and eight runs batted in, the team battled back and overcame the deficit to win a 22-17 thriller, scoring the most runs thus far this season.

“Your emotions are up and down, and you got to keep them in check and stay positive throughout,” Nelson said. “If they’re happy and having a good time, they’ll keep after it, so that’s the key for us.”

Few can say that they’ve played a game like that, but it showed the fight in this team.

“It was very interesting,” said senior pitcher Alyssa Landrith. “I don’t think I’ve ever been apart of a team that has scored that high. I’m really proud of them. A team that scores 16 runs in an inning — it’s easy to deflate, but we stuck with it and had the confidence in our selves.”

Although the pitching hasn’t consistently been there this season, the team is batting a staggering .314 on the season with 172 runs.

“It helps a lot because if you make a mistake at the plate, there are eight other girls in the lineup and you have the support from those girls in the dugout,” said junior shortstop Melanie Slowinski. “Everyone can hit on this team. There isn’t a doubt you can’t come back.”

Like Rutgers, the Red Storm are very strong at the plate this season. Senior shortstop Erin Burner leads with a blistering .449 batting average and first baseman Krystal Puga follows at .435. 

Due to the Red Storm's offensive prowess, the pitching will need to be there for the Knights, whether from sophomore right-hander Shayla Sweeney or junior right-hander Dresden Maddox. 

Landrith will not be available to pitch in the game on Tuesday, Nelson said. 

Going into this week's games, the team still remains brimming with the confidence surging from the recent hot streak.

“It feels wonderful,” Slowinski said. “You talk about going into the Big Ten all preseason and then once you get there and perform, you can’t help but be hype about it because you are competing and winning against these teams who have been in this conference for a while."

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

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