League to review Monday victories

Andrea Cohen

As things stand today, the Northwestern baseball team needs three wins this weekend to clinch a berth in the six-team Big Ten conference tournament.

But there is a possibility that things will look different for the Wildcats (22-25, 12-13 Big Ten) on Saturday, no matter what happens in their weekend series with Indiana (32-16, 13-12) at Rocky Miller Park.

After winning two of three in last weekend’s crucial series with Michigan, the Cats are sitting in sixth place in the league. But because two of the games – the two NU won – were rescheduled and played Monday, they have come under scrutiny.

According to Sue Lister, Big Ten associate commissioner, there is a conference rule that says once a series begins, it must be played on three consecutive days.

She said the athletic directors of NU and Michigan, along with those at Indiana and Purdue (the Hoosiers and Boilermakers also played an extended series last weekend), petitioned for a waiver of the rule.

The waiver was granted, but that has not been the end of the issue because the Penn State-Illinois, Iowa-Minnesota and Michigan State-Ohio State series were all limited to one game as weekend rain canceled Saturday and Sunday contests across the Midwest.

“Now the teams that didn’t get in all their games want to review the waiver,” Lister said. “Other teams might have been unaware that they could petition.

“The ADs are meeting Saturday to discuss these issues, then they’ll make a decision.”

With the tight current standings, all 10 teams are still mathematically alive, making the pair of wins against Michigan critical for NU’s playoff hopes.

If all the games that have been played are counted and the Cats win at least three games in this weekend’s series, they are guaranteed a spot in the tournament.

Even if NU takes two out of four from the Hoosiers, it would require a complex series of events (either Purdue or Michigan sweeping, along with Michigan State winning at least two games against Penn State) to keep the Cats out of the tournament.

NU head coach Paul Stevens said the issue with the Michigan games is irrelevant to this weekend.

“I don’t think anything with Michigan changes our approach,” Stevens said. “We play every game to win, and that will continue to be the approach. We aren’t playing Michigan this weekend, so they have no bearing on what we have to accomplish.”

NU’s task at hand is Indiana, and the Hoosiers could be a handful.

Indiana started the Big Ten season well, winning six of its first eight, but it then fell into a slump and lost nine of its next 11. In its most recent Big Ten weekend – which lasted until Tuesday – the Hoosiers took three of four from Purdue.

Much like NU, which features a solid starting rotation revolving around seniors Ryan Bos, Zach Schara and Gabe Ribas, Indiana has a strong pitching staff. Senior lefty Zach Otte has the second-lowest ERA (2.42) in the conference, and junior right hander Nick Vitielliss is 7-0.

“We know they have three very good starting pitchers, just like we have three great guys going out there,” sophomore Dan Pohlman said. “We’re just focusing on what we have to do.”

Offensively, the Hoosiers’ lineup includes both the leading hitter (Kennard Jones, .421) and the player with the highest slugging percentage (Vasili Spanos, .810) in the Big Ten.

Last year’s series between the teams was a major turning point in the Cats’ season. After a 1-7 Big Ten start, NU took three of four from the Hoosiers in Bloomington, Ind.

The Cats went on to make a run at the tournament, falling just short of sixth place when they were swept at Minnesota in their final Big Ten weekend.

“Honestly, (having beaten Indiana last year) really does give us confidence,” sophomore David Gresky said. “We played very well there last year, and I think that sits in the back of your head.

“If you’re thinking, ‘This team was really good last year,’ that puts a little doubt there, makes you weary of your opponent. I feel very confident about this weekend.”