After months of preparation, the Rutgers baseball team is ready to showcase what it can do in games against another opponent.
The Scarlet Knights kick off their 2016 season this weekend down in Coral Gables, Florida, as they will take on Miami in a three-game series.
It marks the second straight year the Knights will open their season against the Hurricanes, who are coming off a College World Series appearance, at Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park.
Rutgers is looking to avert what happened last season when they met with Miami, as they were swept in a four-game series to start the season and outscored 48-14 in the four losses.
But with an offseason of training and a mix of newcomers and veterans has created a renewed hope for the Knights, who are anxious to get back on the field against another team.
“I’m looking forward to seeing us compete this weekend,” said head coach Joe Litterio, who is set to open his third season at the helm for Rutgers. “I want to see how our pitching holds up. We’ve got some experience pitchers coming back and some young talent that I want to see go against another uniform.”
That experienced pitching begins with senior Howie Brey, who has earned his third straight Opening Day start for the Knights.
After starring in 2014 with a 2.36 ERA in 76.1 innings, the southpaw had some struggles last season and finished with a 5.58 ERA.
But he finished last season by pitching a complete game to beat No. 13 Iowa and was named one of the Big Ten Players to Watch list for his senior campaign.
For the senior captain, the goal for opening the season is the same goal as for any game.
“We want to win every game we play, no matter against who it is,” Brey said. “Miami is a really good team and we will take it one game at a time. Like Coach (Litterio) has told us since the start of workouts, we need to take things one game at a time and not look too far ahead. If we can do that, the wins will come.”
Right-handed starters Kyle Driscoll and John O’Reilly will follow Brey in the rotation in the final two games against Miami.
The outfield appears to be another solid area for Rutgers which should help them early on in the season.
Juniors Mike Carter and Tom Marcinczyk will roam center and right field, respectively, for the third straight season.
The pair was also named to the Big Ten Players to Watch list and should give the Knights an offensive spark along with solid defense.
Carter is joined on the list of team captains with senior infielders John Jennings and Chris Suseck, along with Brey.
He believes the team’s core leadership has helped get their younger teammates acclimated to college baseball, and that it should serve them well from the outset of the season.
“I feel like our team has been coming together really well, and the other captains and I are doing a good job of keeping things in order and making sure everyone is focused,” Carter said. “I’m hoping to help keep this team focused and doing as much as I can to make an impact on the field.”
Rutgers has played six inter-squad games along with practicing indoors and outdoors but are anxious to return to the diamond to play another team.
As they enter their second season in the Big Ten, they will have a very tough challenge in non-conference play right out of the gate down in South Beach but are excited for the opportunity.
“I want to see all the work they’ve put in come together against another opponent,” Litterio said. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen another opponent and I know the guys are excited about it, and I want to see them put it all together.”