With only three more conference matchups and six total games left in the regular season, the Rowan softball team is looking to stay at the top of the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC).
The reigning conference champions sit at 29-3 overall and 12-0 in the conference, which puts them in first place entering the home stretch.
This season, Profs’ sophomore ace, Rylee Lutz has amassed 122 strikeouts, putting her at the top of the conference. This included a career best of 14 strikeouts against Stockton on Tuesday. She also boasts a 16-2 record with a 1.88 ERA, where she stands at first and fourth in the conference, respectively in those categories.
Lutz, who picked up her fourth straight NJAC Softball Pitcher of the Week, discusses what has led to her success in the circle thus far.
“Definitely mindset. Obviously mechanics and working out and preparing for it plays a huge role,” Lutz said. “But definitely the mindset of ‘I have to be a leader on the team and I have to know what I’m doing’ so I can’t relax for one minute, I have to be alert for what’s to come and stay focused all of the time.”
Although Lutz is dominating the conference, there are improvements she would like to make before the start of the conference tournament.
“I want to be able to move the ball more,” Lutz said. “Teams are going to be scouting and knowing how I throw, so I definitely want to throw more pitches I don’t usually throw, mix speeds and height and try to get them chasing a lot more.”
Mary Murray, the Profs’ primary pitching coach has been front and center for Lutz’s career so far at Rowan.
“She’s matured on and off the mound for sure. In the circle, she’s seen the NJAC one time around last year, she saw what Emily [August] did and she saw the work that Emily put in throughout her career and she’s putting in the same work,” Murray said. “She’s learning how to spin the ball and be a pitcher, not just a thrower. She came in and she was dominant in high school and she’s realized she doesn’t have to be dominant in the same way, she can be dominant in a different way and I think she’s coming into her own and finding her groove.”
With the arsenal of pitches that Lutz possesses, she has the ability to change speeds and heights to keep batters guessing at the plate. Coach Murray notes Lutz’s ability to work in and out of the zone, which aids in her success as a pitcher.
“We’ve talked a lot about, ‘it doesn’t all have to be a strike, it doesn’t have to be hitting a certain spot’ it can be effective out of the zone, so she’s starting to see how she can be effective in the zone and out of the zone and how to play with that too,” Murray said.
While Lutz’s efforts are going to be crucial in the Profs’ chase for back-to-back titles, the entire team is gearing up for the playoffs.
“We definitely have a target on our back all of the time, every NJAC team thinks we’re their rivals while we’re just trying to have fun and win at the same time,” Lutz said. “We never really know what to expect coming out of each game, we can’t relax, we need to put in our best efforts 24/7, there’s definitely a target on our backs seeing our record and everything.”
Rowan ranks fourth in the conference in batting average with a team mark of .336. Individually, Payton MacNair is fourth in the conference in hits with 45, while Cat Thomas leads the NJAC with seven homers and 35 RBIs. Liz McCaffery is also second in the conference with 35 runs scored and first in walks with 21.
Defensively, the Profs leads the NJAC with a .981 fielding percentage and in ERA with a 1.70 ERA. The pitching staff has pitched in nine shutouts and is currently holding opponents to a .221 batting average, which are both section leaders.
Although Rowan looks sound in the stat sheet, Coach Murray discusses what the team has to key in on prior to the playoffs.
“Everyone wants to beat us, and I think our team knows that and embraces that and we don’t make the moment too big,” Murray said. “Rylee’s done a good job of knowing that she needs to do her part, but our offense needs to do their part and our defense needs to do their part.”
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