Baseball: Northwestern takes two of three from rival Illinois

Jimmy Carlton

When asked how to describe freshman Arby Fields’ play against Illinois last weekend in one word, coach Paul Stevens opted for a lot more.

“Magical,” Stevens said. “I don’t even know how to describe him. He was just on fire. He was scorching the baseball, hitting lasers all over the field. He hit one ball that if it didn’t go over the fence, I swear it would have gone right through it.”

Fields was the story of the series, torturing the Illinois pitchers by going 8-for-13 over three games with three home runs and eight RBIs. He blasted two home runs, including a grand slam, and drove in seven in the Wildcats’ 11-4 win over the Illini (20-20, 6-9 Big Ten) on Friday. Then for an encore, Fields went 3-for-4 with another home run the next day, a 4-3 loss. By Sunday, Stevens said the Illini pitchers didn’t even want to give Fields a chance, throwing cautiously to the centerfielder and issuing him two walks. Fields said the power surge was not a result of a different approach at the plate.

“I was just trying to help the team win,” Fields said. “That was the most important. Baseball is a weird game-sometimes you’re hot, sometimes you’re cold. I was just trying to put a good swing on the ball.”

The Cats (18-25, 9-6) socked eight home runs and had 34 hits over the series.

“Guys have been hitting the ball hard all year,” Fields said. “Nobody’s doing anything different, we’re just putting it all together. We’re having a lot of fun.”

NU took the first game on the strength of Fields’ home runs and Francis Brooke’s pitching. Brooke hurled a complete game, giving up just one earned run with four strikeouts. The sophomore was happy to have a strong outing after being displeased with his last couple of starts.

“It was good to get back in stride after a couple rough outings,” Brooke said. “I was hitting my spots better and felt really good out there.”

Brooke was happy to get run support and said it was important the Cats didn’t let up.”When the other team’s down, it’s important to keep on them and keep pouring it on,” he said. “You could see (Illinois’ pitchers) were getting really demoralized, and so was the whole team.”

In game two Saturday, junior Eric Jokisch pitched beautifully for the better part of eight innings before giving up two runs in the bottom of the eighth. NU’s normally balanced lineup faltered, as Fields and junior Chris Lashmet accounted for six of the team’s nine hits and two of its three runs. In the bottom of the ninth, sophomore Paul Snieder entered and gave up the game-winning home run to Craig Lutes.

The Cats’ 7-5 win Sunday was another example of what Stevens called the “perseverance” of his team, and he said NU’s character was on full display in the series.

“On Saturday, seeing the anger in their faces coming off the field after the loss, you could really see that it hurt, that it meant something to them that they lost,” he said. “I’m tremendously proud of the way they came back (Sunday) and competed.”

Snieder powered the Cats to the win, hitting two homers, driving in three runs and scoring three. Stevens said the pitchers in the series were “the deciding factor this weekend.”

“Our pitchers were tremendous,” Stevens said. “I’m excited about what this team’s been doing.”[email protected]