Baseball: Northwestern’s offense comes alive at Penn State

Jimmy Carlton

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Sophomore Paul Snieder and his teammates had just dropped the finale of their three-game series at Penn State, a 6-5 nailbiter that thwarted Northwestern’s attempt at a sweep, and they were in the midst of a ten-hour ride back to Evanston. But if they felt dejected after the loss, one would never know it from the rollicking atmosphere on the bus.

After all, the Wildcats had pocketed two impressive wins and taken their first Big Ten series.

“We’re really not that down,” Snieder said. “Of course we wanted the sweep, but we played well and won the series. Guys are pretty happy right now.”

NU won the first two games of the series before falling Sunday, and coach Paul Stevens said the team was pleased with that result.

“I’m really proud of the guys,” Stevens said. “On the way (to Penn State), if you’d asked them if they were OK with winning two of these games, they’d be pleased with that.”

The success of the weekend was due in large part to Snieder’s productivity at the plate.

The sophomore designated hitter/first baseman hit .571 over the three games and drove in three runs in the first contest to help lift the Cats to an 11-5 victory.

Batting a team-high .390 from the cleanup spot, Snieder is the middleman of what has become NU’s powerful heart of the order. Against the Nittany Lions, the Cats’ 3-4-5 hitters went a combined 19-for-42 with nine runs batted in. Snieder said he has been more selective at the plate and has been getting good pitches to hit-no doubt a product of catcher Chad Noble’s propensity to be on base when Snieder comes up. Plus, opposing pitchers know they have to face the Cats’ RBI leader Chris Lashmet after Snieder.

“I’m seeing the ball a lot better and improved my pitch selection,” Snieder said. “And I’m not swinging at bad pitches.”

Stevens warned against relying heavily on a few players while noting others-including Saturday’s 11th inning hero, outfielder Geoff Rowan-have been equally important for the team.

“We need contributions from everyone,” Stevens said. “Rowan had a huge hit for us and we’re getting contributions from other guys. If we’re relying on just the guys at the top (of the order) we’re going to be in trouble.”

Rowan’s late-game miracle, a two-out RBI double, was a dramatic climax that scored the player who had arguably the biggest impact on the game to that point. Sophomore Zach Morton started the game playing second base, then got on base four times with an RBI and a run scored. He had provided the scoring margin that he would later protect on the mound when he came on in relief and struck out five in three no-hit innings. Stevens said Morton’s versatility, as well as his productivity, has been crucial.

“Zach has been thrown into a tough situation, trying to find his way onto the field,” Stevens said. “We’ve been moving him around a little bit, but what he did Saturday was nothing short of spectacular.”

For his part, Morton said he doesn’t care where he plays as long as it’s on the baseball field.

“Any way I can play is fine with me,” he said. “But I think I’m settling in at second. I’m finding my stroke (at the plate) and getting more comfortable.”

NU has played .500 baseball over its past two series, both conference matchups, and Snieder said the team can use the victories at Penn State as a springboard for success.

“I hope so,” he said. “That would be great. We’re starting to get everyone involved, coming together. We really feel like we can win some games.”