Sloppy inning dooms NU (BASEBALL)

Sam Hong

Getting hit by a pitch isn’t as easy as some may think — just ask Northwestern’s Mark Ori.

With NU (14-16) trailing Valparaiso 5-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning, the freshman was up to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. On a 1-2 delivery from pitcher Kyle Cummings, the right-handed Ori was hit on his right elbow on an inside breaking ball.

So Ori started his trot to first base, and Brandon Ackley, who was on third, started toward home to make the score 5-4.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, home plate umpire Jim Konecny disagreed.

Konecny — who is of no relation to NU pitcher Dan Konecny — ruled that Ori did not make an attempt to get out of the way before being struck by the pitch, and the sequence was thus ruled as a thrown pitch — a ball.

NU coach Paul Stevens jogged over to argue the ruling, but to no avail.

“That was just a tough call to swallow,” Stevens said. “You’re taught as a hitter to roll your body inwards whenever there’s an inside breaking ball thrown on you, and that’s what (Ori) did.”

Ori ended up striking out looking at another inside breaking ball to end the inning. NU squandered several more chances down the stretch as the Cats fell victim to a five-run third inning by the Crusaders (10-23-1) and lost the non-conference game 5-3 at Rocky Miller Park.

The controversial call on Ori’s sixth inning at-bat may have been the turning point.

Ori’s strikeout ended an inning in which freshman Anthony Wycklendt delivered a clutch two-run single with the bases loaded.

“That call (by Konecny) was a really, really huge factor in how the game progressed,” Stevens said. “If Ori goes to first on that hit by pitch, then the score’s 5-4, with the bases loaded and (Jon) Mikrut coming up. It’s a whole different story.”

But Mikrut had his own opportunity with the bases loaded later in the game.

In one of the Cats’ many missed opportunities, Mikrut came up to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning with the bases loaded and only one out.

He hit a 1-2 pitch sharply, but right at shortstop Caleb Kizmel, who caught the ball on two bounces and initiated a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

Afterwards, Mikrut slammed his helmet down in frustration.

“I think it’s frustrating and disappointing for all of us, not just (Mikrut),” Wyckledt said. “There’s no way we should have left that many men on base. There’s just no excuse for that.”

In the game, NU left 11 men on base, compared to only four by Valparaiso. NU had four at-bats with the bases loaded, and ended up only 1-for-4 with two strikeouts. Two of those at-bats belonged to Wycklendt, who struck out swinging his first time with the bases juiced before redeeming himself in the sixth.

“I was just looking to make up for what I did back in the fourth inning,” he said. “In the end, though, we’re all pretty disappointed.”

Lost in all the missed chances on offense was a respectable performance from sophomore Evan Blesoff, who made his first start of the season. Blesoff pitched seven innings and gave up only one earned run while striking out four.

He surrendered all his runs in the third inning, when three NU errors on three consecutive plays allowed Valparaiso to jump out to a 5-0 lead.

“I was OK with how I pitched,” he said. “Those were a couple of tough calls in a row. As a pitcher you hate to make more throws than you really need to.”

Blesoff committed one of the errors on a botched pickoff move. Ken Padgett had the next miscue on another attempt to pick off Eddie Hannan, who went from the batters box to third purely on NU errors.

The Cats now face the tough task of regrouping after a loss to a team that most of the players were expecting to beat.

“Honestly, I thought we were going to win. But that’s not to say that we didn’t take this team seriously,” Blesoff said. “This wasn’t a joke to us.”