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Rutgers Baseball faces an important test this week

With 15 games left of regular season baseball and 4.5 games back in the Big Ten Conference, Rutgers (20 – 20, 5 – 7 conference) is running out of opportunities to make a postseason run. Currently in 11th place out of 13 teams in the Big Ten, Rutgers is sitting on the outside looking in for the eight team conference tournament which begins on May 25th.

Joe Litterio’s group has done a good job at Bainton Field posting a 11-2 record this season, but the Scarlet Knights have struggled on the road putting up only 8 wins and 18 losses. This week will be critical in building momentum, as Rutgers will be playing at home in four out of five games. If Rutgers can sweep, or at least win two contests against 6th place Nebraska in a three-game series, coupled with Ohio State, Iowa, and Illinois taking a couple of losses in upcoming conference action, the Scarlet Knights will have a chance for a Big Ten tournament bid.

RU will need for its standout players to produce in key games and improve upon its team batting average of .262, which ranks 182 among 295 teams in Division I ball. This will be vital in next week’s matchup at Michigan, a team that has a batting average of .304, ranking 35th among all Division I teams. Rutgers will have to drive in runs to keep pace with the Wolverines.

During this difficult stretch of the season, look for senior catcher R.J. Devish  (Beachwood, NJ), freshman outfielder Jawuan Harris (Pembroke Pines, Fl), along with hurlers Howie Brey (Middletown, NJ), senior, and Serafino Brito (Oakland, NJ), freshman, to shine.

R.J. Devish

Devish was recently added to the Johnny Bench Award watch list – a prestigious award that is presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate catcher as voted on by Division I coaches. According to NCAA statistics, the Rutgers senior, as of April 21, ranks 80th in Division I batting average at .381, 34th in runs per game with 1.11, 32nd in runs with 40, 8th in on-base-percentage at .538, which is tops in the Big Ten, 33rd in stolen bases per game at .53, 25th in stolen bases with 19, 45th in bases on balls per game at .83, 38th in base on balls with 30, and 136th in toughest to strike out at 10.7.

Jawuan Harris

Harris has been extremely dangerous once reaching base, as he ranks 5th in Division I with 27 stolen bases and ranks 6th with .73 stolen bases per game. He currently has a .285 batting average, a .416 slugging percentage, 5 doubles, 3 homeruns, and 16 RBI’s, but leads the team with 44 strikeouts. Keep swinging Jawuan, good things will happen.

Howie Brey

Brey is the pitching staff’s ace and has a 5 – 3 record this year in 10 starts. In his senior year Brey has produced a 2.61 ERA in 72.1 innings pitched and allowed 64 hits, 22 runs, and 13 walks. As of April 21, he ranks 104th in strikeouts with 54, 105th in walks allowed per nine innings with 1.71, 87th in strikeout-to-walk ratio with 4.5, 27th in complete games with 2, and 34th in games started.

Serafino Brito

Youngster Brito has put up great numbers  in his debut season on the banks, posting a 5 – 2 record in 7 starts and 14 appearances with a 3.66 ERA. His walks allowed per nine innings ranked 33rd in Division 1 averaging 1.24 and the freshman’s strikeout-to-walk ratio ranked 54th producing 5.33. He is third on the pitching staff with 34 strikeouts.

Here are previews of the three opponents Rutgers baseball takes on this week:

Columbia Lions

Baker Athletic Complex, New York, NY

Tuesday April 26 3:30 p.m.

Eighty-percent chance of rain

The matchup against the Lions (13 – 23, 7 – 9 Ivy League conference), who rank just 251st among 300 teams in scoring, is an important game for Rutgers. RU has a difficult time in away games and faces extremely tough road competition next week; they must gather road victories against less formidable opponents when the opportunity presents itself. The Lions are on a three-game winning streak.

Villanova Wildcats

Bainton Field, Piscataway NJ

Wednesday April 27 3:30 p.m.

Partly Cloudy

The Wildcats (15 – 24, 3 – 6 Big East Conference) are on a three-game slide and tied with Butler in the Big East for last place. Villanova has struggled with hitting throughout the entire season, only ranking 268th among 300 teams with a team batting average of .239. The pitching staff is a little better with a staff ERA of 4.20, good for 114th nationally.

Nebraska Huskers

Bainton Field, Piscataway NJ

April 29 – May 1

Mostly cloudy during the 3-day series

This is a critical test for Rutgers. Nebraska (25 – 15, 7 – 5 Big Ten Conference) is 2.5 games back in the Big Ten and is just as motivated as Rutgers in climbing over Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, and a few others for a bid in the tournament. This will be a tough out for the Scarlet Knights as the Huskers are ranked 64th in team batting average, hitting .292. As of April 21, sluggers Jake Placzek and Ryan Boldt are beasts, each scoring 36 runs (tied rank of 85th in Division I) along with 56 hits (43rd) and 54 hits (62nd), respectively, this season. Placzek has a sharp eye drawing 41 walks in all of Division I baseball, ranking 4th nationally. Nebraska’s pitching can be soft at times, only ranking 152th among 300 teams with a staff ERA of 4.72. The Big Ten competitor is particularly terrible with accuracy, allowing an average of 4.69 walks per nine innings. RU will have to capitalize against Huskers pitching in order to keep pace on the scoreboard.