Baseball: Offense struggles as Northwestern gets swept

Jonah Rosenblum

It was quite literally three up, three down for the Wildcats.

For a second straight weekend, Northwestern’s offense was unable to produce, combining for two runs in three consecutive losses to Minnesota.

“We’re getting behind a little bit in counts and we’re not taking advantage of early situations at the plate,” coach Paul Stevens said. “When you’re not going and the hits are not falling, whatever the situation may be, you’re pressing. You’re looking for that perfect pitch.”

The Cats (10-22, 3-9 Big Ten) lost the first two games of the series in excruciating fashion, with the opening innings hurting them on Friday and the closing innings killing them on Saturday.

In the series opener, the Cats jumped out to a quick one-run advantage, but their lead was short-lived as senior pitcher Francis Brooke immediately fell into trouble in the bottom of the first. Center fielder Jake Bergren led off with a double for Minnesota and left fielder Andy Henkemeyer drove him in with a single, his first of three hits on the day. Third baseman Dan Olinger advanced Henkemeyer to third with a single, and the Golden Gophers (20-17, 6-3) took the lead on a double steal.

“Once they get people on base, they like to get people in motion and make things happen,” Brooke said. “I was able to get out of the jam and get a couple of guys out and from there, it was just focusing on getting the first guy out and not letting them get in a situation where they could hit-and-run and steal and put pressure on the defense.”

Despite Brooke’s finest performance in weeks, with just nine baserunners and two earned runs surrendered in six and two-thirds innings, he was unable to get the win due to a stagnant Cats offense.

The same theme carried into Saturday, as freshman hurler Brandon Magallones and Minnesota’s DJ Snelten traded zeroes into the eighth inning, in which NU finally got a run across on a sacrifice fly by senior first baseman Paul Snieder.

Again, the Cats’ lead would prove short-lived. Magallones, magnificent through his first eight innings, struggled in his attempt for a complete game, as he did in his last win against Nebraska. Bergren led off the bottom of the ninth with a bunt base hit, the Golden Gophers’ fourth hit of the game, and following a sacrifice bunt, Olinger singled him home to tie the score. Sophomore reliever Kyle Ruchim came in to try to send the game into extra innings, but he was unsuccessful, surrendering a game-winning single to catcher Kurt Schlangen.

After the game, Stevens had no qualms about his decision to leave Magallones in.

“I think he threw four pitches in the eighth inning and that ought to tell you about his command and the temperament that he brought in,” Stevens said. “In the eighth inning, I sat there and said in the ninth, we’re probably going to go with Ruchim to finish it out and I saw four pitches that were just absolutely ridiculous.”

Sunday’s game was less painful for NU, with Minnesota jumping out to an early 6-0 lead, with three runs in the bottom of the second and three runs in the bottom of the fourth. With the Cats’ offense once again absent, the Golden Gophers coasted to the series sweep.

Austin Lubinsky dazzled for Minnesota, surrendering just five hits over seven innings of shutout baseball, and Tom Windle and Drew Ghelfi added two innings of scoreless relief for the Golden Gophers. The Cats were set down in order four times on Sunday and never advanced a runner past second base.

“We just got to find a way to get that big hit,” Ruchim said. “It will come. We still get prepared and get ready in the same way. Right now, we’re in a little skid and it’s just finding some confidence and moving forward from there.”

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