Baseball: Northwestern still looking for Big Ten breakthrough

Jessie Cai

On the heels of an eight-game losing streak, Northwestern was plagued with late-inning losses. Things only got worse when the Wildcats stumbled to a 1-4 Big Ten record.

But after two solid midweek performances, the Wildcats will travel to Minneapolis to face Big Ten opponent Minnesota with more confidence as they seek to improve their Big Ten record.

The task will not be easy though. Minnesota (17-10, 3-2 Big Ten) is tied for second in the conference, while NU is in last.

Despite being swept by Michigan State in its last Big Ten series, coach Paul Stevens is optimistic about where the team is heading.

“I thought (Tuesday’s 16-0 win over Elmhurst was) extremely good for our mental, physical and emotional state of where they have been at,” Stevens said. “I am really excited about the opportunity to play this team going into this weekend.”

But the team has much to be optimistic about. NU has struggled this season with late innings and relief pitching. But Wednesday, a trio of relief pitchers gave up zero runs and one hit to help steal a victory.

“We’ve just finally found a way to stop the bleeding in the seventh and eighth innings, and to find a way to score,” Stevens said.Sophomore Chris Lashmet and junior Jake Goebbert, two of NU’s leading hitters, have also begun to find their groove after rocky starts.

Lashmet hit his second home run of the season after coming off of a 5-for-5 performance the day before. Goebbert went 5-for-10 with five runs and three RBIs in the midweek games, including Wednesday’s game-winning home run in a 6-5 win over Northern Illinois.

The entire team has also been contributing. Freshman Quentin Williams was batting .226 entering the week, but hit 4-for-7 in the non-conference games this week. The performance raised his average to .289.

The bullpen, which has struggled holding onto leads this season, gave up zero runs and two hits in a combined six innings during the two games this week. NU will need a similar effort the rest of the season.

“A lot of the times in midweek games, we get them on pitch counts,” senior Tommy Finn said. “A lot of guys working there, it was a great group effort by the bullpen.”Despite the increased confidence, the Cats are not taking this weekend lightly. Finn realizes the challenge NU will face.

“Minnesota is always a tough weekend, and obviously there’s a sense of urgency there for us,” Finn said. “We’re 1-4 in the Big Ten. We go out there, expect to win, and play hard. These two games are behind us, this weekend’s games will mean a lot more than these two games.”

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