Baseball: Northwestern finally healthy on the mound

Dan Ryan

Tucked into a cozy back corner of Trienens Hall, Northwestern’s baseball team goes through its pre-practice routine. As players warm up with throwing sessions on the fringes of the facility, the trainer barks at the rest of the team about the necessity of proper stretching technique – which is not exactly what comes to mind when one pictures baseball practice.

It’s too cold and wet for an outdoor practice, but the team’s season has already begun with a series in Florida. And with another upcoming in California, it’s business as usual for the Wildcats, indoor or out.

Last season did not go quite as planned, to say the least. Injuries to junior Zach Morton, who was coming off an All-Big Ten selection playing at second base and pitcher, and senior starting pitcher Francis Brooke made losing pitcher Eric Jokisch to the pros much tougher to swallow.

Rather than allow themselves to get frustrated, however, the Cats fought through the setbacks admirably, junior pitcher Jack Havey said.

“It speaks volumes about our team that we kept battling last year despite all the adversity we faced,” he said. “This year, now that we’re all ready to go, we’re excited about the prospects of the season.”

This time around, a healthy NU squad has as deep a staff as ever, and coach Paul Stevens stressed the importance of this fact.

“Any time you look at any baseball team, they’re only as good as their pitching staff,” Stevens said. “It’s really important that our pitching staff is healthy at this point, where we’ve got some guys who we were depending on last year, and we’ve got guys that are still doing some things to recover. But for the most part, we’re sitting in a pretty good place.”

The injury bug, however, has not left the Cats for good just yet. This season senior shortstop Trevor Stevens, who led the team in runs scored, triples and stolen bases last year, is fighting injury, leaving NU without a key member of its offensive attack.

In their Florida series, however, the Cats displayed the attitude and fight they showed all last season.

“We were juggling a little bit because of an injury right now to a very key member of our team,” Paul Stevens said. “But the thing that I loved was that guys stepped up and showed some really good things last week.”

Despite the 1-2 showing in their only action so far this year, the Cats put on a solid hitting performance in Florida, recording 10 or more hits in all three contests.

“It kind of surprised us how well we saw the ball and hit,” Morton said. “But I definitely expect us only to get better. We had good approaches at the plate.”

Paul Stevens, however, saw the performance from a personal perspective.

“I have my own expectations of every single guy I put out on the field, and I don’t really care what other people think,” Stevens said. “I just sit there and say, ‘This person’s in there for a reason,’ and when guys do what they did last week, I was very pleased, whether it was guys who were starting or guys that came in and embraced the role that they were in.”

With health, hitting and pitching all seemingly lining up for the Cats, junior pitcher Luke Farrell said he expects the season to be a good one for NU.

“We have a really cohesive unit this year,” Farrell said. “We have one mindset, and that’s to win the Big Ten Championship. There’s a new attitude around here that’s really exciting. It’s going to be a fun season.”

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