There was a buzz stirring in the air Saturday in Piscataway.
Just beyond the RAC off of Hospital Road, the Rutgers baseball and softball teams both wrapped up their respective series finales. While the softball team's seventh inning rally fell short in a 4-3 loss to Memphis, the baseball team sealed the deal with a three-game sweep over Cincinnati -- its first series sweep of the season.
As both teams wrapped up their solid weekend series, there were a few Scarlet Knights from both squads that put together some pretty big numbers and clutch performances that were recognized by the AAC.
AAC Softball Player of the Week: Chandler Howard
It wasn't this easy two weeks ago. The junior left fielder was 0-for-14, hitless in four consecutive games after seeming invincible with a 13-game hitting streak and batting average that was best in the conference. On the Banks even profiled Howard's rise to the top in an article before the series with Central Florida on April 5 that began her drought at the plate.
But just as head coach Jay Nelson assured to me over the phone when we talked about the her struggles in the series in a recap for the Daily Targum, there was no doubt that Howard would be back at some point.
That point came this past weekend. Despite having not played any games throughout the week after a rainout at Monmouth, Rutgers and Howard didn't miss a beat when they hosted Memphis.
After getting it together in a series at Temple where she went 7-for-12 in three games, Howard continued to put up big numbers against Memphis. The two-hitter in the lineup batted .500 (6-for-12) and came up big for the Knights time and time again.
Out of all of her at bats, the biggest one had to be her walk-off home run in game one. Howard ended an extra innings duel with the Tigers by getting all of a fastball on the inside of the plate and ripping it over the right field wall to give Rutgers a big win that eventually proved to be big at the end of the series.
Howard is beginning to heat up at the right time. With her fellow outfielders around her at the top of the lineup in senior Loren Williams at the leadoff spot and junior Jackie Bates in the three-hole, the offensive attack becomes that much more potent not only at the top, but it opens it up 1-9.
AAC Softball Weekly Honor Roll: Stephanie Huang
The softball team's sophomore second baseman has showed some serious signs of getting ready to take that next step and become the next big thing in the Rutgers lineup. After a weekend where she did the most damage to Memphis pitching by going 6-for-10, including a game two performance where she went 3-for-3 with two RBI in a 14-2 rout, Huang was recognized for her efforts with AAC honors.
Clearly, in the company of Bates, Williams, Landrith, and Howard -- who have all earned AAC honors throughout the season -- Huang is on the right track. She is now third on the team in batting average (.366), behind two of the best hitters in the conference in Bates and Howard.
So kudos to Huang. As previously mentioned, with the top of the lineup hitting its stride, others like Huang filling out the remainder of the order make this Rutgers lineup a dangerous one going into tournament time.
AAC Baseball Weekly Honor Roll: Mike Carter and Gaby Rosa
These two exemplify the direction that this young Rutgers baseball team is headed.
Gaby Rosa continues to wow on the mound. The freshman righthander went eight and one-thirds innings -- the longest outing recorded by any Rutgers pitcher this year -- Friday in a 3-1 win over Cincinnati. He scattered eight hits, striking out three and the one run he surrendered was unearned. Get an idea of how the number two starter in the Rutgers rotation looks on the mound in a recap of Friday's game here.
For Rosa, it's the second consecutive week and third time this season that he has garnered weekly AAC honors.
Coming into his freshman year, Rosa relatively wasn't expected to play much as a middle infielder -- the position he was recruited for -- behind a pair of seniors in shortstop Pat Sweeney and second baseman Nick Favatella. With the noise he's made on the mound, posting a 2.74 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 46 innings, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.
Mike Carter, meanwhile, was named to the AAC Weekly Honor Roll for the first time. The freshman center fielder has been on the rise as of late, tearing up opposing pitchers by going 9-for-17 in four games with five runs scored and four RBI.
Like many of the other 19 freshmen on the team, Carter has been thrown into the fire. The Bloomfield, N.J., native won the starting center fielder gig and was thrown into the leadoff slot in the lineup and has not disappointed. On the season, Carter is third on the team with a .328 batting average behind a pair of seasoned vets in senior first baseman Brian O'Grady and Sweeney.
Moving forward from a week where he was 4-for-5 against Lafayette and 3-for-4 in the series opener against Cincinnati, Carter continued his dominance at the plate yesterday against Rider. By going 1-for-4 with a walk and 3 RBI, Carter extended his hitting streak to eight games.
So, there you have it: A pair of freshmen leading the way with AAC accolades for a Rutgers baseball team that is above .500 for the first time all season (19-18, 6-5) after an 0-4 start to the season. There's still a while to go for these two phenoms and this young team, but consider the weekly accolades and five-game winning streak to get the team over the .500 hump a good place to start.