Baseball: Pitchers, offense aim to keep the heat coming at home

Steven Montero

Northwestern’s pitching staff is on fire, and it could once again prove key for a win this weekend.

Facing their first ranked opponent since 2008, the Wildcats (10-15, 3-3 Big Ten) host the No. 19 Boilermakers, who have the best overall record in the Big Ten. Both teams come in fresh from wins: NU out-hit Nebraska on Sunday to clinch its first conference series against the Cornhuskers, and Purdue went two out of three to outlast Penn State and then took down non-conference opponent Anderson University.

“A lot of good things, a lot of bad things happened, but we feel that Nebraska is a very good team,” sophomore Kyle Ruchim said. “We’ve beaten them and we’re feeling confident moving forward. Our pitching staff is hot right now, so we’re going to try and ride that as long as possible.”

The Cats’ pitching staff limited the Cornhuskers to 13 hits in their victories last Saturday and Sunday. Freshman pitcher Brandon Magallones earned his fifth consecutive win Saturday after receiving the honors of Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week and Co-Freshman of the Week for his performance at Iowa.

Coach Paul Stevens said Purdue’s pitching staff poses a threat, too, but its whole offensive lineup will be tough to hold off.

“It’s like any other club,” Stevens said. “You just sit there and try to continue to keep lead-off hitters off the bases, fill the zone with strikes and your position guys find ways to make plays. If you can pitch and play defense, you’ve got to find a way to scratch a run here or there to win. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Purdue (21-5, 4-2) leads the Big Ten with a .323 batting average and is second to only Nebraska in runs, hits and RBIs.

“We know they’ve got a great lineup,” Ruchim said. “They’ve got as good as a lineup as there is in college baseball. We’re definitely looking for that but we know good pitching can beat good hitting so we’re hoping to get the same performances out of our starters this week.”

NU’s offense is on solid ground as well. Junior Colby Everett went 4-for-4 from the plate last Sunday against the Cornhuskers. Everett said he hopes those hits can keep coming, but in baseball it depends on the day.

“We try to keep our confidence up whether we’re winning or losing,” he said, “but winning is definitely contagious and there’s something subconsciously about winning the last series that is motivating going into the next weekend.”

Last spring, home runs propelled NU to its only win over Purdue and dealt the Boilermakers a steep 14-1 loss. But the Cats have only 10 homers recorded this season, the third-lowest in the Big Ten. Despite the landslide victory, NU’s fielding collapsed that Sunday, suffering five errors and allowing Purdue to take the series.

Ruchim contributed four RBIs to help the Cats’ efforts throughout the weekend and said past success may give him a stronger mentality against the Boilermakers this time around.

“You always want to continue success wherever you can,” he said. “Find something mentally in baseball that can kind of uplift you a little bit. Right now we’re just focused on winning games and if I can help them by having another good game, I hope I can. But otherwise I’m just hoping to come out with some wins this weekend.”

Stevens said he looks forward to seeing what the Cats can do against “a power” like the Boilermakers.

“I don’t think about last year,” Stevens said. “Last year is last year. There are a lot of different nuances. All I keep focusing on is what we’ve done recently, how we can build on it, how we can get better. At the end of the day, coming off last weekend, there were a lot of positives as there has been all year.”

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