The Daily Northwestern

Baseball: Northwestern takes two of three, moves into third-place tie in the Big Ten

Christine Todd

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Before the 2010 season, prognosticators pegged Northwestern as the Big Ten’s bottom-of-the-barrel squad. One of the teams projected to take a spot at the top of that barrel was Minnesota.

Now, in a four-way tie for third place in the conference, the Wildcats have climbed up from their predicted preseason status. NU (12-22, 5-4 Big Ten) helped bolster its campaign-and throw a wrench into the Golden Gophers’-by taking two of three in its series against Minnesota (14-22, 4-5) at Rocky Miller Park last weekend.

One thing that has helped the Cats rise from where they were when they were outscored 58-9 in the opening weekend of the season is what coach Paul Stevens likes to call “intestinal fortitude,” or a never-give-in, never-give-up mentality.

“This is a group of determined young men who don’t understand the word quit,” Stevens said. “They battle.”

In the first game of the series, Minnesota jumped ahead to a two-run lead by the middle of the second inning. Then a string of four base hits, including two RBIs from sophomore left fielder Geoff Rowan and senior catcher Chad Noble, allowed NU to tie the game. But by the middle of the seventh inning, the Golden Gophers had pulled ahead 7-2. The Cats powered back in their side of the inning with a Noble triple and a homer off the bat of sophomore first baseman Paul Snieder. NU scored another in the eighth and didn’t stop battling until the last out of the ninth, when Rowan struck out with men on second and third trying to overcome a one-run deficit. The game ended with Minnesota on top, 8-7.

After that game, Noble said without a moment’s hesitation the Cats would “absolutely” take the next two from the Gophers.

The next day, junior southpaw Eric Jokisch took the mound and struck out six while walking just two in eight innings of work. The lefty had a shaky fourth inning, during which he threw 26 pitches-15 more than the average across his other seven innings-and allowed four runs, giving the Gophers a 5-4 lead. Jokisch attributed his performance that inning to a “little mental lapse.”

“Actually,” the 6-foot-3, 180-pounder said. “It was a pretty big one. Four runs isn’t ever what you want to do. But I got back in the right mindset and went right back at them, got the ball in the strike zone again.”

Jokisch allowed just three more base hits and no runs in his final four innings. Stevens commended the hurler’s ability to “flush (the inning) from his memory bank.”

The rest of the Cats followed suit and stayed focused to score the tying run in the sixth inning. The contest ended with sophomore right fielder Hamilton Wise scoring from third on a passed ball.

The next game, NU jumped to a 2-0 lead before Minnesota scored in the fourth. The Cats widened the gap a little further in the sixth, when Noble hit a single to score sophomore right fielder Chris Kontos. The Gophers came back to score two more in the seventh, knotting the score at three. It looked like it would be another battle for NU.

But the Cats’ final fight of the weekend started winding down early, when junior third baseman Chris Lashmet blasted a 2-2 solo homer down the left-field line in the bottom of the seventh. Then Rowan hit a single to right, scoring sophomore second baseman Zach Morton. Snieder blew through the Gophers in the eighth to leave room for sophomore shortstop Trevor Stevens to hit his second collegiate home run. Stevens’ long ball scored three insurance runs, giving Snieder some breathing room in the ninth. The Cats’ closer didn’t need the extra padding; he struck out three to end the game.

Coach Stevens said he is confident in the stability of the Cats’ lineup and in the ability of each player to perform with a battling spirit on the diamond.

“There’s a litany of people that have found a way to get on the field and do their job, and I’m proud of all of them,” Stevens said. “All of them. Not just one guy, all of them.”