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Baseball: Balanced pitching and plate presence help NU take down Northern Illinois

Jimmy Carlton

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Baseball players are fond of reminding people it’s a long season, and they take it one game at a time. Even the most heavily-stocked cliché dispensers, though, would find it difficult to look back at the last couple of weeks and not wax poetic over how well Northwestern has played.

After beating Northern Illinois (11-20) on Wednesday by a score of 6-3, the Wildcats (10-21) have won three of their last four games and four of their previous six. For a team that had won only six times in their first 15 contests, there is reason to be excited.

“We’re real confident, real loose right now,” freshman centerfielder Arby Fields said. “At the beginning we knew we had a good team, we just weren’t playing well. Now we’re really coming into our own and starting to win games.”

Freshman pitcher Jack Havey said the team is “finally coming into stride offensively,” and NU has momentum entering this weekend’s series with conference rival Minnesota.

The victory over the Huskies at neutral Road Ranger Stadium came courtesy of an offensive power surge and another strong performance from the Cats’ relief corps.

Fields led off the game with a single to right field and was promptly escorted home on sophomore Zach Morton’s first collegiate home run, giving NU an early 2-0 lead. Freshman Luke Farrell, who was making his first collegiate start for the Cats, pitched three innings and gave up two runs. Havey, who got the win Wednesday, relieved Farrell in the fourth inning. Havey combined with two other NU relievers to hold the Huskies to one run over the last six frames.

Though he was making his debut, Farrell had made seven appearances out of the bullpen, and coach Paul Stevens said he wasn’t nervous sending the young righty to the mound.

“Luke’s not a jittery kid,” Stevens said. “He’d impressed me enough throughout the season that I felt confident giving him the baseball. He settled in and did a pretty doggone good job.”

Fields and Morton had a productive night at the top of the order, reaching base six times with four hits. The duo scored five of the Cats’ six runs, allowing NU’s power hitters behind them to produce. Fields said he takes an aggressive approach at the plate from the start of the game.

“(Teammates) tease me all the time because I like to swing at the first pitch,” he said, “But me getting on base sets the table for the guys behind me. It gets the pitcher nervous and sets the tone for the whole game.”

NU’s three relievers locked down the Huskies, combining to allow just four hits in six innings of work. The Cats got an insurance blast in the eight inning from junior Chris Lashmet, who sent a solo home run to right-center. But the hurlers hardly needed it, showing the kind of dominance that Stevens said has made the group one of the team’s biggest strengths.

“The relievers come in and just slam the door,” Stevens said. “(Junior) Matt Gailey has been special and has really started to come into his own and been an asset for us.”

Fields said the bullpen’s work has allowed the Cats to breathe easier late in games.

“I’m a full believer in ‘pitching wins games,’ and we have a ton of confidence in those guys to shut teams down.”

jamescarlton2010@u.northwestern.edu

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