Baseball: Fireworks in Ann Arbor: Northwestern pounds out hits, wins

Steven Montero

More than six hours after the opening pitch of the series, Northwestern grasped its goal.

Due to a rain cancellation Friday, the Wildcats (13-23, 5-10 Big Ten) were forced to compete in a grueling double-header against Michigan (17-24, 4-8) Saturday. The first game stretched to 11 innings with the second beginning shortly thereafter.

Saturday, NU would claim its first Big Ten series victory since April 1, sweeping the twinbill with the Wolverines 6-5 and 8-5. Michigan salvaged its weekend Sunday with a run in the bottom of the ninth, edging the Cats, 5-4.

Senior first baseman Paul Snieder said Saturday was exhausting, but NU persevered.

“It was just a long day, ” he said. “It’s just so taxing on your body because you’re not used to going out and playing six and a half to seven hours in a row. It’s just a long day, but we went out there, did it, stayed tough and got both games that day.”

With NU snapping its seven-game losing streak with its mid-week win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee last Tuesday, the Cats appear to have attained the offensive momentum they were searching for.

Despite Michigan out-hitting NU over the entire weekend, with an especially impressive 16 hits during Saturday’s second game, they were unable to find their way back to home plate as often as they touched first base.

Coach Paul Stevens said the Wolverines’ offense looks phenomenal when you look at the hit column, but what’s more important is when the hits occur.

“At the end of the day, it’s the people that string the hits together when you have people in scoring position that are going to win,” Stevens said. “That’s the thing that happened Saturday and the thing that helped us come back (Sunday). It’s not always the team that gets the most hits, but the team that gets the hits at the most opportune times.”

Stevens said the Cats brought key hits and made the plays they needed, from bunts to home runs.

Sophomore shortstop Kyle Ruchim contributed two round-trippers on Sunday and junior left fielder Jack Haveyadded his own. Ruchim had only hit one previous homer this season and hasn’t delivered a multi-home run performance since the end of last April.

Senior catcher Geoff Rowan said NU tried to force the Michigan pitching staff into the strike zone by waiting for opportune moments, but at the same time being aggressive and attacking the pitches that came within reach.

He added that the offensive performance was a step above what the Cats brought to the plate in previous series.

“This weekend we can’t question it,” he said. “We made a lot one-out, two out-hits with runners in scoring position. We haven’t gotten any big moments, and I think this weekend we did. We also made their pitchers walk a lot of guys. We were very patient at the plate, and I think that helped us out this weekend.”

Snieder said the win gives the team confidence moving forward, and he hopes the lineup comes out swinging as hard as it did this weekend. After winning two of three games against Michigan, Snieder said he thought he swung the bat well.

Stevens said he saw Snieder hit the ball harder than he has all season. Snieder, who was key to NU’s success in past years, has not delivered the same level of offensive power within the last few weeks.

In total Snieder contributed two hits, two RBIs and one run this weekend, as well as a ball deep into center that would have brought in the leading run Sunday had it not been caught by center fielder Patrick Biondi.

“These guys have been through a lot of tough, tough ballgames, winning and losing,” Stevens said. “I definitely know we were tired, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell me that during the game because they were warriors. They just kept getting out there and getting back after it. Whatever lead changes there were, somebody found a way to do something to lift us up and elevate us.”

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