Baseball: NU searching for hits and runs, looking to stop the skid

Steven Montero and Steven Montero

Coach Paul Stevens says hits and runs are contagious. For Northwestern, losing has been too.

The Wildcats (10-22, 3-9 Big Ten) have dropped seven straight games, whether they played at home or on the road, a nonconference opponent or a familiar Big Ten foe. Tuesday NU returns to Rocky Miller Park for a mid-week stint against Wisconsin-Milwaukee (13-19).

Stevens said the Cats will treat this game just like any other, and he doesn’t expect anything less from his players during this “good tune-up.”

NU’s main problem lies at the plate, where it accumulated 10 runs over that same seven game stretch while its opponents racked up 37 runs total in those contests.

“It is frustrating especially when you think you played a good solid game defensively and on the mound, and you look up at the scoreboard and you lost,” sophomore reliever Kyle Ruchim said. “But at the same time there’s not a whole lot you can do but get ready for that next game. We’re obviously not out there trying to lose. It’s just a matter of building some confidence. We’re all looking forward to getting back out there; I know nobody’s hanging their head too much.”

Despite the huge gap in runs, Stevens said the defense and pitching staff are playing well and are performing at the level they should be. He said offensive faults are to blame, as well as the quality of the opponents.

He pointed to last Saturday’s game at Minnesota, where the Golden Gophers shortstop, Matt Puhl, stumped the chance of an important insurance run for NU during the eighth inning. Puhl dove and caught the ball after junior first baseman Jack Havey hit a line drive down the middle, granting Minnesota the chance to come back and win it in the bottom of the ninth.

Havey said there’s nowhere for the team to go right now but up.

“One of the main problems has been we’re not stringing together some timely hits with runners in scoring position,” he said. “It’s kind of more plate discipline, being more focused up there while runners are in scoring position.”

The junior said Wisconsin-Milwaukee will be a game to prepare NU for its matchup with Michigan this weekend. The overall series record against the Panthers is 18-8 in the Cats’ favor, but last season Wisconsin-Milwaukee handed NU a 10-4 loss at home. The Cats also dropped last week’s nonconference game against St. Xavier, 9-3.

Havey said the optimism on the team is still present, but the two close losses against Minnesota this weekend, where NU lost 2-1 Friday and Saturday, have been tough on the club. He said the Cats’ new goal is to use this Wisconsin-Milwaukee match as a step toward sweeping the Michigan series and building momentum within the Big Ten.

“If we can sit there and find a way to find some green out there instead of somebody’s leather, we’ll find a way to do it,” Stevens said. “The recipe for success is just continuing to show up and give it everything you have. You may fall short one day, but it’s like a lot of things. All of a sudden, one hit, two hits, are contagious. One run, two runs are contagious and you can find a way to overcome some things that haven’t been going too well.”

For Stevens, however, the consecutive losses demonstrate a strong NU team, one which is able to come back and bring the same amount of energy to the field even after a defeat.

“We can sit there and say they’ve lost ‘x’ number of games,” he said. “But these guys have been in some dog fights and a lot, a lot of tough ball games. If you look at the teams that we’ve played over the last couple weeks, they rank in the best in the country and the best in the conference right now. To sit there and have some of the games we’ve had with them, 3-1, 2-1, 2-1 ball games … I like the fight in my dogs.”