Baseball: Early deficits crush Cats vs. Illini

Jonah Rosenblum

The Wildcats fell behind early in all three games against Illinois this weekend, en route to losing their third straight home series.

“You never want to play from behind and definitely giving up all those runs in the first inning gave us that mindset,” junior outfielder Chris Kontos said. “We battled back, but you’re not going to win a lot of games when you’re down 4-0, 5-0 in the first inning.”

After coming back from an early 2-0 deficit to pound the Fighting Illini 9-2 on Friday, the Cats were able to put up only seven runs for the rest of the weekend, as the offense was silenced by Illini starters John Anderson and Corey Kimes.

On Friday, however, NU was the beneficiary of a powerful pitching performance, as junior pitcher Michael Jahns rebounded from a difficult first inning to record one of his best outings of the season.

“I told (Jahns) he was on a plane back to Hawaii if he didn’t get his act together,” coach Paul Stevens said. “He was in a pretty nerve-wracking position. He’s been there before and we’ve seen him have a good side in Minnesota and we saw an interesting side last week and it was raising its ugly head again.”

NU struck back with one run in the fourth on an RBI single by freshman right fielder Jack Livingston and another run in the sixth on an RBI double by freshman left fielder Nick Linne.

The Cats notched seven runs on seven hits in the seventh and eighth innings to break the contest open. Senior third baseman Chris Lashmet led the way, atoning for an earlier error with two RBI singles.

On his final base hit, Lashmet was helped out by some inside information from Stevens, who knew Illini pitcher Ronnie Muck from when he pitched at nearby Maine South High School.

“I went up with a plan and executed,” Lashmet said. “Our coach kind of knew him, said he was a power pitcher so I looked fastball first pitch. He threw a pitch I could handle.”

On Saturday, sophomore hurler Luke Farrell allowed the first four batters who faced him to reach base, ultimately surrendering four runs in the first and another run in the second. While he shut Illinois out the rest of the way, the damage had already been done, and the Cats were unable to muster any offense.

Aside from a rough fourth inning, Anderson held NU in check, surrendering just one earned run on six hits in posting his third consecutive complete game.

“Anderson’s a young man that just goes after you,” Stevens said. “Take a look at the amount of walks he had today. Did he have one? Because if he did, I don’t think so. Did he hit anybody? No.”

On Sunday, NU once again fell behind early, as freshman pitcher Dan Tyson surrendered singles to four of the six batters he faced. He left with runners on first and second and nobody out in the second .

“He’s going to be very successful but right now, it’s a little bit of a rough going,” Stevens said. “Four of the first six guys you see get base hits. That’s not exactly the start I’m looking for.”

Freshman reliever Ethan Bramschreiber was unable to extricate the Cats from the situation, surrendering a three-run home run to Illini leadoff batter Pete Cappetta, which gave Illinois an early 5-0 lead.

NU was unable to muster a serious threat to the Illini’ lead, as the Cats’ offense was hampered by three double plays in the first three innings. With a little bit of early help from his defense, Kimes never looked back, taking a shutout into the seventh inning.

“He’s pretty hard to hit,” Kontos said. “He definitely knows how to pitch, that’s for sure. He spots up and he definitely knows that taking some on, putting some off will keep hitters off-balance and keep them guessing.”

At the very least, Kontos and his teammates can take a clear lesson from this weekend’s games.

“We’ve got to start putting zeroes up and then getting ahead,” Kontos said. “Definitely playing ahead is going to give us a different mindset and more confidence in the later innings instead of being behind and trying to catch up.”

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