Baseball: Freshman takes center field, proves central to NU

Jonah Rosenblum

If things had gone according to plan, Nick Linne would be a mainstay on the Northwestern bench, with plenty of time to develop and adjust to Big Ten baseball.

But things didn’t go as they were supposed to, and as a result, the freshman is starting in center field for NU.

The chain of events that eventually landed Linne in center field began when Arby Fields, the team’s center fielder and leadoff hitter last season, transferred, and outfielder Quentin Williams left the team, to concentrate on football. Suddenly NU had spots to fill in the outfield.

The Wildcats began the season with junior Trevor Stevens playing center field, freshman Kyle Ruchim filling Stevens’ old spot at shortstop and freshman Patrick Miller at second base.

But Miller struggled, batting .161, and soon he lost his starting job. Stevens moved back to shortstop, Ruchim went to second, and Linne filled the center field vacancy.

It hasn’t always been easy. After last weekend’s series against Penn State, Linne was hitting .189, but he has become a mainstay in the lineup after his recent play.

“He provides somebody that can run into the ball for us,” coach Paul Stevens said.

Linne’s success started with a double and a run in Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to UIC. His play carried into the Minnesota series.

Linne had three hits on the weekend, all crucial. Saturday, he tied the contest at one with a single, then instigated the go-ahead rally with a single in the eighth. Sunday, he scored the tying run in a game NU would win 4-3.

According to Linne, experience is beginning to reap rewards in the clutch.

“When you’ve been through that so many times, you come through at some point” Linne said. “I was lucky enough to come through in a big situation.”

When Linne hits, the team scores runs. As the number nine hitter in the lineup, Linne has the team’s three best hitters right behind him: Trevor Stevens, Paul Snieder and Chris Lashmet. All three are hitting above .300, so the challenge is simply for Linne to find a way to get on base.

“It’s really important that the nine hitter, and that’s what I was this weekend, be able to get on base,” Linne said. “I know after I’m up, if I’m on base, the top of the order is always going to pull through for me.”

And a veteran like Snieder knows he needs the bottom of the order not only to get on base, but also to drive in runs.

“If the top gets on, the top can’t drive in the top,” Snieder said. “The bottom drives them in, whether it’s the top or the bottom driving them in, everyone contributes.”

The Cats have just seven home runs in 32 games this season, so it’s important that they work as a team, from top to bottom, to score runs. That’s where Linne factors in.

“We did a really good job playing as a team this weekend,” Linne said. “We really pulled through in situations when we needed to and linked together at the most crucial points.”

The team will work to maintain the momentum against Northern Illinois.

“It’s a real confidence booster for us,” Linne said. “We’ll obviously be confident going in because of the way we played this weekend.”

[email protected]