Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Padgett proves he can play

Fatigued by a long day behind the plate, all Ken Padgett wanted to do Tuesday was end the game and go home.

And with a swing of the bat, he did just that.

While starting catcher and team leader Joe Hietpas watched from the bench with an injury, Padgett stepped in and played the hero, drilling a solo home run in the bottom of the 10th inning against Western Michigan to hand the Northwestern baseball team a 10-9 midweek win.

It made his first start at catcher all season a memorable one.

“I figured I would (start) since Joe kind of tweaked his hamstring on Sunday, ” Padgett said. “We didn’t want to get him hurt, especially with the biggest series of the year coming up this weekend. I was hoping to get one game behind the dish this year.”

Padgett occasionally filled in at catcher last season, usually during nonconference games when the Cats moved Hietpas to designated hitter or first base. This season, however, coach Paul Stevens groomed Padgett for the starting shortstop role to fill the void left by Jeremy Kurella, who starred there for three seasons before transferring to Central Florida for his senior campaign.

But things did not work out as well as Stevens had hoped. Padgett struggled in the field early this season, committing a number of costly mistakes on a team that leads the Big Ten in errors.

Stevens then moved Padgett to third base, where he has shared time with senior Wes Robinson and others.

Hietpas pulled up lame during last weekend’s series against Penn State, however, giving Padgett the opportunity to move back to the position he was recruited for at NU.

And after Padgett’s play Tuesday, Stevens has reason to be encouraged when Padgett takes over as the team’s starting catcher next season.

“He’s an outstanding catcher,” said Stevens, adding that Padgett would be starting at most schools because he wouldn’t be in Hietpas’ shadow. “We’ll be sorry to see Hippo leave, but I will tell you that with Kenny Padgett behind the plate right now, this program is in good hands.”

SHARING THE CROWN: Meanwhile, another Cats player who has platooned off the bench made an impact Tuesday as a starter – junior Matt Thompson.

Thompson popped a home run and had three RBIs as the starting first baseman against Western Michigan, giving him seven RBIs in his last three games.

He was the hero over the weekend before Padgett donned the mantle Tuesday, stroking a pair of pinch-hit doubles, one of which lifted the Cats to victory over Penn State Sunday.

“After that game was the high point of the season,” Thompson said.

The win pushed NU into fifth place in the Big Ten standings, throwing the team into playoff contention with a four-game series against Minnesota left. The top six teams make the conference tournament at the end of the season.

Thompson has been the Cats’ hottest hitter of late. He was five for his last seven pinch hitting opportunities before Tuesday’s 1-for-3 performance at the plate.

KING OF THE HILL: Starter Mike Nall was named Big Ten pitcher of the week Tuesday after blanking the Nittany Lions Saturday with a complete-game shutout.

Nall struck out six batters in seven innings and won his seventh decision of the season.

It was the Cats’ first Big Ten honor of the year and the first for Nall, who was NU’s closer last season.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Padgett proves he can play