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Weekend Preview: Indiana Softball welcomes Rutgers

Taylor Lambert rounds second base on April 10th against the Purdue Boilermakers (Kurt Spitler/HN).

Following an 0-3 weekend against Wisconsin, Indiana Softball (31-18; 6-11 B1G) now welcomes Rutgers (24-20; 8-9 B1G) to Bloomington for a three-game set. First pitch times are set for 6:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. Saturday, and 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. 

Over the weekend, Indiana was shut out for the fifth and sixth times this season; finding rhythm at the plate will be key if the Hoosiers want a chance to top a hot Rutgers team.

Following up a five-game home stand, the Scarlet Knights have now won seven of their last eight games. This matchup will be their last road trip of the regular season, as they look to create some separation from conference foes in the standings.

Rutgers is a tough but crucial matchup for the Hoosiers in order to regain some momentum and move up at least one spot in the Big Ten standings before the season’s end. Let’s take a look at what the Scarlet Knights bring to Bloomington.

New coach, no problem

Most of Rutgers’ recent success comes back to one person, and it isn’t one of the players of the field. Though only in her first season with the program, Head Coach Kristen Butler has already become the the winningest first-year coach in Rutgers softball history with 24 wins to her name in 2019.

Those numbers may not be absurdly high, but when taking a look at where the program was at this point a season ago, it’s a total turnaround. Last season, the Scarlet Knights finished dead last in the Big Ten and only managed a 4-16 record in conference play. With still six games remaining on the Big Ten calendar, the team is already 8-9 in conference play this season.

Rutgers has found its footing especially in conference play as of late. The team was swept in two straight series by Northwestern and Michigan to begin, but those two teams have only one loss collectively against all Big Ten opponents. Since then, Rutgers secured a quality win over a formidable Ohio State team, and has meanwhile won series against Penn State, Iowa, and Maryland.

Simply put, this team is having its best season in years. With Indiana looming just below the Scarlet Knights in the Big Ten standings, both sides will surely be playing with a little extra punch this weekend.

Late game heroics

In Rutgers’ most recent games, a doubleheader Tuesday with Maryland, the team’s offense posted zero runs prior to the fifth inning. Once the bats get rolling for this team, however, the production has a ripple effect.

The top three of the batting order seem to have separated themselves from the rest of the pack in particular; Jess Hughes is nearly a guarantee for a hit every game, with her .356 average and a six-game hitting streak prior to Tuesday’s action.

Katie Wingert, third in the order, may not be quite as consistent as Hughes, batting .307, but she is a true slugger. Wingert leads the team in home runs with 15 and has upheld a slugging percentage of .709 on the season. After hitting the walk-off homer in game two against the Terps, she, along with the rest of her team, will try to ride that momentum into Bloomington.

Battle in the circle

Although the Scarlet Knights may be able to perform under pressure on the offensive end, the pitching has been a weaker link for the most part. The team relies heavily on Corah Price and Whitney Jones, and the team overall posts an ERA of 3.62. For comparison, the Hoosiers have a team ERA of 2.31. Though control issues have been well documented with Indiana as of late (IU walked 31 batters across three games in Madison), the battle in the circle is still favorable for the Hoosiers this weekend.  

Another aspect Hoosier fans should find comforting is how reliable the Indiana staff has been when closing games out. If the Scarlet Knights plan to come out swinging as they have, Indiana’s staff will once again be called upon to keep a clean slate. So far this season, Indiana’s staff has tallied a total of seven saves.

If IU wants to take advantage of its opponent’s habitual slow start on offense, Coach Stanton’s group should hope for some early offense bolstered by strong outings from both Tara Trainer and Emily Goodin.

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