Baseball: Northwestern looks to get on the board early and often against Ohio State

Jonah Rosenblum

When Nick Friar took to the mound for the second inning of Wednesday’s contest against Oakland, the sophomore hurler found himself in a rare and enviable position for a Northwestern pitcher: He had been staked to a three-run lead.

“It’s huge,” junior left fielder Jack Havey said. “It helps the pitcher the most. I mean, the pitcher gets to go out there afterwards and just cruise.”

Those three runs would have been enough to give senior pitcher Francis Brooke a win on Friday afternoon against Illinois.And they all came courtesy of one big hit: a long drive from junior third baseman Colby Everett that sailed over left fielder Todd Dunham’s head.

“You know how it is at this park. It’s hard to hit balls over the fence here,” Everett said. “It’s tough to get it over, but I knew that it had a chance to get over his head. I was just glad to get the runs in. That’s all that mattered.”

Redshirt junior Zach Morton, NU’s unluckiest pitcher with a 1-8 record despite an impressive 3.88 earned run average, would likely have enjoyed having that kind of support this season.

“We’ve kind of dealt with that throughout much of the year,” Morton said on Sunday. “You can’t put added pressure on yourself. I don’t think that really helps, but you know you have to make big pitches. It actually hones in your focus a little bit more, which is good. You have to be on from the beginning.”

Yet while pitcher’s duels might be conducive to helping Brooke and Morton get into a rhythm, Everett said that he still feels a burden to provide his teammates with some runs.

“The pitchers, they’re keeping us in the game, and we’re totally grateful for that,” Everett said. “We need to focus on giving them support this week.”

Thus far this season, NU’s meager offense has led to a rotation full of hard-luck pitchers. The Wildcats’ batting order, which ranks last in the Big Ten in batting average and runs during conference play, reached a new low this past weekend, when it failed to pick up a win despite three complete games from their starting staff.

“I was just happy that we were able to square balls up throughout the game even if they were able to make plays,” Everett said. “That’s a good sign coming into this weekend.”

After jumping out to an early 3-0 lead over the Golden Grizzlies, the Cats (16-26, 5-13 Big Ten) fell silent once again. They didn’t pounce until the bottom of the seventh, when Havey belted a two-strike pitch into the left-field gap.

“We were asking that in (the dugout),” coach Paul Stevens said. “Is it all right that we’re used to being in tight ballgames, so we’re going to make this tight all the way until the end? Or are we going to try to string some hits together and try to put some distance between them and us? And they responded.”

With Wednesday’s effort arguably marking the Cats’ most convincing midweek performance of the season, they can now take a little jolt of confidence into their three-game series with Ohio State (24-20, 8-10) this weekend.

“It’s huge, a lot of confidence,” Havey said. “Especially with the types of games we’ve been having midweek, which have been kind of troublesome so far, this is huge to get two in a row and go in the series with six runs this game.”

As Stevens pointed out, however, this weekend will call for further fireworks. While six runs against the Grizzlies, who are from the Summit League, is worth noting, Ohio State presents a far greater challenge. And while Chris Van Dyke had pitched just two innings prior to Wednesday’s game and was making his first start for Oakland, the Buckeyes boast one of the league’s top pitchers in Jaron Long. Stevens said that he is confident that his team is ready for the challenge it will face in Columbus.

“It’s all good and well,” Stevens said, “but they’re experienced enough to know that Friday creates a whole ‘nother animal, and it’s a battle to jump in the lion’s den when you’re going into Ohio State.”

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