Baseball: Wildcats struggle in South Carolina, start season 0-4

Christine Todd

Last Wednesday at practice, the Wildcats huddled into a meeting room to talk about the upcoming season. Among other things, coach Paul Stevens stressed the importance of moving on from what he called “trials and tribulations.”

After dropping four consecutive contests by a combined score of 58-9 at the Bojangles Baseball Classic in Rock Hill, S.C., Northwestern is forced to practice what Stevens preached sooner than he expected. Now, Stevens’ mantra remains the same.

“We’re going to have to forget about it,” Stevens said. “Because if you don’t, it’s just going to eat you up and tear you up. It’s too long of a season to let something like what happened this weekend to fester.”

Though Stevens says he won’t let it happen, it would be easy for the Cats to allow a weekend like this to have a lasting impact. NU (0-4) scored an average of 2.25 runs per game and let up an average of 14.5 on the weekend. The last time NU gave up as many runs in a four-game span was in April 2007, when it was swept by Big Ten foe Iowa.

It would also be easy for Stevens to put blame on any particular aspect of the game, but the 23rd-year coach has been around long enough to know better.

“I’m not going to sit there and say it’s one phase of the game or it’s not, because obviously we didn’t score enough runs to come back from things that happened on the mound or in the field,” Stevens said. “We have to pitch better. We have to play defense better. We have to find a way to score more runs.”

Before practice last Wednesday, catcher Chad Noble said the pitching staff would keep the team in games-the hitters just needed to find ways to light up the scoreboard. Noble held up his end of the bargain, producing nearly one-quarter of the team’s 29 total hits. The senior’s contributions included one home run and a triple.

While Noble paced the team offensively, fellow senior and expected starter Kenneth Avila did not travel with the team for an undisclosed reason.

A pair of sophomores, second baseman Trevor Stevens and first baseman Paul Snieder, also collected four hits apiece. Though other players didn’t stuff the stat sheet, coach Stevens said he isn’t worried about the team’s approach at the plate.

“There were a lot of guys who swung the bat pretty well and hit balls right at people,” he said. “I’m not uncomfortable at all with what I saw people doing at the plate.”

On the mound, only Snieder and fellow sophomore Francis Brooke managed to work through two or more innings without giving up one run. Brooke pitched two hitless innings of relief in NU’s 8-4 loss to Winthrop and 2.2 innings in the following night’s 10-2 loss to Marist, using what Stevens called “intestinal fortitude” to pitch when the team trailed by a significant margin.

“(Brooke) just went about his business,” Stevens said. “I couldn’t even tell you how absolutely awesome what he brought to the table was.”

Snieder pitched three innings in the Cats’ final game, their second contest against George Mason, allowing no runs on two hits. Snieder said his success might have been the result of a handicap.

“Maybe (George Mason’s) mentality was different, picking up so many runs that they’re kind of like, ‘We don’t want to be here anymore,'” he said. “Maybe they were just kind of playing as opposed to trying to really kick it into gear.”

NU hopes it will get a chance to do the same next weekend, when the Cats travel to St. Petersburg, Fla., for three games at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.

For now, the losses sting. Dropping four games by a combined 49 runs would strike a nerve in the heart of any team. But Noble isn’t worried just yet.

“We did lose all four and we did lose them pretty bad,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s time to panic. … We just need to keep working on the little things in practice and just get ready for Florida.” [email protected]