Baseball: Superstitious Cats stay on top

Matt Forman

Row, row, row your boat.

With freshman third baseman Chris Lashmet facing two balls, two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning against Robert Morris (Ill.) on Tuesday, Northwestern’s bench started rowing.

With baseball bats in their hands, the team’s task was to help paddle Kenneth Avila down the river, and score him from second base.

“It’s superstition,” senior second baseman Jake Owens said. “A lot of teams do it, but it’s something that we’ve adapted here over the past couple weeks. We tried it and it ended up working for us.”

Lashmet plated Avila with a hard line drive single to left field for his only hit of the day. His teammates cheered “yeah” at the crack of the bat, as NU picked up a 12-8 victory. The win was the Cats’ fourth in their last five games, and Owens said its all a part of the Wildcats having fun heading into the second half of their Big Ten schedule.

As NU (14-17) has been having fun, its play on the field has improved.

“That’s probably the most important part about baseball at this point of the year because the season starts to get a little long,” Owens said. “Everyone’s got to enjoy coming out here, and you can’t look at it like it’s a job. It’s got to be a game.”

Senior Rob Campbell was one of the guys who took the win over the Eagles as “a game.” Campbell went 3-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs.

“With these mid-week games its a lot lighter and a lot looser atmosphere,” Campbell said. “It’s just nice to have an opportunity for people who wouldn’t normally play in a Big Ten weekend.”

Campbell’s contributions against Robert Morris (5-25) went beyond his offense. In the top of the fourth, Stevens moved Campbell to catcher and was impressed with his versatility.

“I can’t say enough about the job he did today at first and then going behind the plate,” Stevens said. “He definitely did a phenomenal job and he deserves some accolades.”

Along with Campbell, Stevens started Avila at shortstop, Tony Vercelli at catcher and Max Mann at right field to give much-needed rest to the starters.

The Cats have played nine games in the last five days. Center fielder Aaron Newman got his first day’s rest of the season, while shortstop Tommy Finn missed only his second game.

“To give Newman and Finn and Noble some rest today was huge,” Stevens said. “We’ve played a lot of baseball in two days the last two weekends.”

But playing a lot of baseball means seeing live pitching, which is a key to staying hot. The Cats have scored 34 runs combined in their last three wins.

Stevens said a big part of that is that the team is seeing the ball well right now, as evidenced by its opposite-field hitting.

The inside-out offense even brought the coach to the history books. Stevens recalled former NU star and current Houston Astros starting second baseman Mark Loretta as the best player at hitting the ball to the opposite field.

“I’m a firm believer in staying inside the baseball and hitting it the other way,” Stevens said. “Your athleticism isn’t going to allow you to turn the field. When you see that ball on the inner half, you sit there and get excited and your eyes light up, because it’s something you can drive.

“I think the guys that are most successful are the guys who go with the pitch.”

The 8-8 Cats hope to continue swinging their hot bats in conference when they face Ohio State. The Buckeyes have only played 15 games this season, but sit one half game ahead of NU in the standings at 8-7.

But Stevens and his players will continue to row at Rocky Miller Park, one game at a time.

“I’m excited as heck about what these guys are accomplishing but I feel like I can’t worry about that,” Stevens said. “I need to continue to worry about Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I expect them to win every time they step between the white lines.”

[email protected]