Freshman hurler salvages dismal Big Ten opener

Marcelino Benito Jr.

As Northwestern opened its Big Ten season against Purdue, the Wildcats were headed the wrong direction. Coach Paul Stevens’ squad entered the series having dropped five consecutive games, but the Cats managed to win one of four matchups with the Boilermakers this past weekend.

It was only the Cats’ fifth win in the month-old season and their first in Big Ten play.

The Cats pulled off an 11-3 win in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader in West Lafayette, Ind.

“That game was very important to our team,” sophomore first baseman Jake Goebbert said.

The top of the batting order put pressure on Purdue’s pitching staff early on. Kyle Cook took the mound for the Boilermakers and allowed two runs in the first inning off big hits by senior outfielder Aaron Newman, senior infielder Jake Owens and Goebbert.

Cook had entered the contest having allowed a single run in 13.1 innings this season.

NU’s first three batters continued to beat up on Purdue pitchers throughout the game. Newman, Owens and Goebbert went a combined 11-for-11 with nine RBIs and nine runs scored. Goebbert finished with six RBIs, matching his career high.

“We had got shut out the day before and we know our team is a good offensive team, so we didn’t want that to happen again,” Goebbert said. “The six RBIs are more of a credit to my teammates who got on base then it is to me.”

Freshman pitcher Erik Jokisch, who has a 3.86 ERA, threw his third complete game of the season and picked up his second win. He allowed only three runs on five hits and struck out five.

Saturday’s win was the Cats’ first victory since March 14. NU’s 5-3 loss to Illinois-Chicago in the second game of a doubleheader that day began a 2-9 stretch for the Cats.

“Those losses give us some frustration, but the only thing we can do right now is to use that frustration to produce some momentum and success,” Owens said.

The Cats’ offense, which helped notch convincing wins early in the season against Oklahoma State and Cal State Northridge, has not been as potent in recent weeks. NU mustered only one run in two games against Northern Iowa, to the Panthers’ eight.

NU swung the bats better against Kansas on March 23. The Cats erupted for 11 runs but eventually lost the game after allowing the Jayhawks a two-out rally in the top of the eighth inning.

“Over break we had a lot of one-run losses, and it just seemed that we couldn’t get anything right,” Newman said. “[The Purdue game] came then and everyone was hitting on the right cylinder.”

Despite the ups and downs of the early season, the Cats’ pitching has started to show signs of consistency, putting the team in a strong position to win. Jokisch tossed a two-hitter in one of NU’s two losses to Northern Iowa.

Sophomore pitcher Joe Muraski pitched a complete game against Purdue, taking the loss despite giving up only one earned run.

The Cats are hoping to use their win as momentum in upcoming series’ against Big Ten foes Michigan State and Minnesota. Players are trying to build off the positives, said Newman.

He added that in many games the season, the offense and pitching staff have not gelled at the same time.

“That usually ends with us not being successful,” he said. “We got to put it all together if we’re going to win a lot of games, and we’re really confident that we’re going to do some good things in the Big Ten right now.”