PISCATAWAY, N.J. (May 21, 2014) – The Rutgers softball team closed 2014 at 28-19 overall and 9-9 in its only season in the American Athletic Conference, posting one of the program’s best seasons in recent history.
The Scarlet Knights reached the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Championship after topping Houston, 5-1, in the first round (May 10) and had two players – junior outfielders Jackie Bates (Lincroft, N.J.) and Chandler Howard (Wilmington, Del.) – named to the NFCA Division I All-Mideast Region First Team for the first time since 1989.
RU’s postseason win over Houston was the program’s first since 1998.
“Patience and perseverance,” said head coach Jay Nelson in describing the 2014 team. “Our focus all year was to be better at the end of the season than the beginning. The team’s ability to learn from the mistakes of our losses and take the lessons and apply them to the rest of the season was key for us. They would be disappointed about a loss but always used them as a motivational force.”
Rutgers began the season at the UTSA Roadrunner Classic from Feb. 14-16 in San Antonio, Texas, posting a 3-2 mark in the tournament for the team’s best start since the 2003 season. The squad picked up wins over Wichita State, UTSA and Colorado State in that span.
Senior right fielder Loren Williams (Los Angeles, Calif.) hit most everything in sight en route to being named American Athletic Conference Player of the Week, going 13-for-19 (.684) with two doubles, a home run, four RBIs and a .974 slugging percentage.
After playing just two games due to inclement weather at the CSUN Tournament in Northridge, California, the squad headed back to Clearwater to take part in the Michelle Smith Spring Break Tournament from March 14-16. RU rattled off six-straight victories to improve to 11-7 on the year heading in the conference action, the first of two six-game winning streaks this season.
Both Howard and junior left-hander Alyssa Landrith (Vacaville, Calif.), who finished the year 17-8 with a 2.45 ERA as the Rutgers ace, were named to the conference honor roll for their performances during the streak. Howard went 10-for-22 (.455) and Landrith posted a 3-0 record to go with a 1.67 ERA.
At 9-9, the Scarlet Knights finished the season with their best conference winning percentage since the 1998 squad went 10-5 (.666) in the BIG EAST. RU began American Athletic Conference play by taking one of three games from Louisville (March 22-23), UCF (April 5-6) and Temple (April 12-13), respectively. The series against USF, scheduled for March 29-30 at the RU Softball Complex, was canceled due to inclement weather.
RU turned it on, however, in the latter part of its schedule, winning five of its final six conference games to pull to .500. Altogether, Nelson and Co. posted another six-game winning streak from April 30 – May 3, which included a three-game sweep of longtime league rival UConn (April 26-27).
Two of the six wins during the streak came by virtue of a walk-off home run. Howard smacked a game-winning, two-run blast in the eighth inning against Memphis (April 18) to win 3-1, while freshman Carly Todd (Deptford, N.J.) tattooed a walk-off grand-slam in the eighth inning of a 7-3 win over the Huskies (April 27).
In all, Rutgers won all five extra inning opportunities in 2014 and was 6-2 in one-run games.
Rutgers has 16 of its 19 players returning next season, including seven underclassmen. The Scarlet Knights’ top five hitters return for the squad’s inaugural season in the Big Ten Conference, including 77 percent of the team’s hits total, 78 percent of extra base-hit production and 78 percent of the squad’s RBI output.
Bates led RU with a .390 batting average, 16 doubles, 40 RBIs, a .483 on-base percentage and a .685 slugging percentage en route to being named NFCA All-Region and First Team All-American Athletic Conference. Howard, who was named to Second Team All-American Athletic Conference, finished second on the squad with a .389 batting average and led the team with 63 hits and 101 total bases. Bates and Howard tied for the team lead with nine home runs.
Senior first baseman Alexis Durando (Oakland, N.J.) and sophomore second baseman Stephanie Huang (Paramus, N.J.) were also named Second Team All-American Athletic Conference, giving RU the most all-conference members since 1999, when four players were honored by the BIG EAST.
“I believe the message this team sent to get better every game will be carried out next year,” Nelson said. “It will be our goal to finish in the top of the Big Ten Conference and give our team a chance to win the conference tournament and make it to NCAA regional postseason play. The team is really excited about how we finished this year and didn’t want to see the season end. I believe that attitude that will drive them again next year.”
The Scarlet Knights will lose the leadership of three seniors – Durando, catcher Emma Woo (Santa Monica, Calif.) and Williams – next season. Durando and Williams appeared in more than 350 games combined during their careers in Piscataway, while Woo served as the leader of the catching corps this season after transferring from Tennessee Tech in 2013. She earned 13 starts and saw action in 24 games over the last two seasons.
“They were strong motivational leaders,” Nelson said of the senior class. “They lead by teaching the newcomers how important it is to do everything correctly, and that cutting corners is not acceptable in the Scarlet Knight softball program. They had just the right amount of patience and discipline to help transition the freshmen into their new way of life at Rutgers and in our softball program. In the end they left our program in a better place than it was four years ago.”
- As a team, the Scarlet Knights’ .301 batting average, .435 slugging percentage and .375 on-base percentage were the second-best marks in the last 10 seasons.
- Rutgers finished with the second-most home runs (35) in a single season in school history.
- With 186 strikeouts, Landrith finished third on RU single-season list. She owns the single-season record of 192, set in 2013.
- Durando recorded the second-most walks (34) in RU single-season history.
- Bates notched the third-most doubles (16) in RU single-season history.
- Landrith became the fourth pitcher in school history with 50 wins, moved into third place in all-time RU history with 20 shutouts, moved into second-place all-time with 489 strikeouts (29 shy of first) and is now tied for second all-time with five saves.
- Williams moved into third place all-time with 55 steals for her career.
Follow Rutgers Athletics on Facebook (www.facebook.com/RutgersAthletics) and Twitter (@RUAthletics) for all of the latest news and updates. For specific updates regarding Rutgers softball, follow the program on Twitter (@RUSoftball) and Instagram (@RU_Softball). The team is also on Facebook (www.facebook.com/RutgersSB). Fans can receive timely information, including special offers and giveaways throughout the year on our social media outlets along with www.ScarletKnights.com.