Baseball: Hitters, hurlers set for in-state showdown

Jimmy Carlton

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With a team ERA of 6.19, Northwestern’s pitching staff has given up nearly two runs per game more than its opponents. That’s higher than coach Paul Stevens would like, but he is mindful that the number is inflated because of the Wildcats’ opening weekend tournament in South Carolina, when the team was outscored 58-9.

“When I think about (the pitchers), I extract the first weekend and just take what they’ve done since,” Stevens said. “And that’s been very good. I don’t really even look at ERA and that stuff. Our pitchers are challenging people and we’re learning what they bring to the table.”

Coaches and statisticians alike can applaud the Cats’ team ERA in their 26 games since that first weekend. Remove those four games from the calculation and NU (9-21) boasts a more respectable 4.78 ERA, only about half a run more than its opponents’ average. The team hopes its hurlers can continue their strong work tonight as the Cats take on Northern Illinois (11-19) in a non conference game at neutral Road Ranger Stadium.

The maturation of the pitchers was essential to the team’s successful series at Penn State last weekend. The Cats won two out of three games and gave up only 13 runs, holding the Nittany Lions to almost two runs below their season average.

Stevens said his role now is to continue to help the pitchers improve, whether that means tinkering with mechanics or simply letting them develop.

“I’m always looking at how we can augment and adjust to what they do best to help the team,” he said. “A lot of these guys are growing into their roles and doing whatever they need to do to win games. That’s been evident the past two weekends. I’m really pleased.”

Just as encouraging as the improvement on the mound has been the Cats’ proficiency at the plate. NU has five regulars batting better than .300, including sophomore Paul Snieder, who who leads the team with a .390 batting average and 46 hits. But Sneider’s teammates think he may be ready to start turning some of those base knocks into round-trippers.

“Snieder is going to start getting those power numbers up, start slugging more,” junior third baseman Chris Lashmet said. “He’s been hitting the crap out of the ball, but he keeps getting singles and doubles. He’s going to break out this weekend and hit a couple home runs. He’s been looking great at the plate.”

Another NU hitter that could punish Northern Illinois is utility man Geoff Rowan. The sophomore was the star last Saturday when he hit a game-winning RBI double in thre 11th inning.

“Geoff Rowan just came out and has been on fire,” sophomore Trevor Stevens said. “We’ve been hitting really well as a team.”

Rowan may be called on for more gallantry tonight. Last year’s game against Northern Illinois was won on a two-run, walk-off home run by Jake Goebbert in the bottom of the ninth. Trevor Stevens, though, will be happier if the dramatics are left out of this year’s contest.

“Last year’s game was really cool,” Stevens said. “But hopefully it doesn’t come to that again. We’d like to get the win easily.”