Baseball: Northwestern needs to find bats against Chicago

Jonah Rosenblum

There have been times when Northwestern has had a hard time simply reaching base, such as a four-hit performance in a dreary 7-1 loss to Ohio State on May 5. There have been other times when the Wildcats have notched plenty of base knocks but had a hard time bringing runners home, as in their 15-hit showing in a 7-4 loss to Nebraska on March 30.

“A lot of it has to do with not getting a bunch of hits in a row, and that’s something you can’t always control,” senior outfielder Hamilton Wise said. “When you look up at the scoreboard and there are eight or 10 hits on the board but you never really had a guy on third base with less than two outs or something like that, that’s part of it.”

One constant has emerged: NU (16-29) has been unable to score runs in Big Ten play. The Cats’ inability to score has scorched them, with their pitchers bearing the brunt of the burden. With his second consecutive complete-game loss on Friday, senior hurler Francis Brooke fell to 1-6 on the season despite a 2.70 earned run average.

“The guy gives you everything he has every single time he has gone out and he has had some really hard-luck losses,” coach Paul Stevens said. “I’d love to see Francis next week have a chance to just breathe and pitch with a three-run lead or a four-run lead. I can’t even remember the last time I saw that.”

Brooke joins fellow hard-luck starter Zach Morton, who lost his eighth game of the season on April 29, despite a complete-game, three-run performance against Illinois. The redshirt junior, who also plays second base for the Cats, was held out of the starting rotation this past weekend in an attempt to spruce up the offense, according to Stevens.

Luke Farrell became the latest entry to the club on Sunday, picking up his fourth loss of the season despite a gritty six innings on the mound in Columbus, Ohio. The junior was doomed from the moment he gave up three runs in the first inning on a couple of balks and a throwing error from sophomore shortstop Kyle Ruchim.

“Any time you take the mound, you’re obviously trying not to let the opposition score, but we know that there’s maybe a little bit smaller room for error to be able to win a ballgame,” Farrell said. “We still have confidence in our hitters that we can score runs, but we’re just scuffling a little bit.”

After falling behind 3-0 on Sunday, the Cats loaded the bases with two outs, but Wise grounded out to second base to end the threat. In the third inning, Ruchim and senior first baseman Paul Snieder recorded base hits, but junior third baseman Colby Everett lined out to conclude the inning. NU recorded multiple baserunners for the third straight inning in the top of the fourth, but Wise again extinguished the fire with a 6-4-3 double play.

“Obviously we did have some chances, especially me,” Wise said. “The first at-bat, he got in on me a little bit and I got jammed, but I still feel like I had the right approach and I was confident and ready to go, and then the second at-bat, I hit the ball squarely, right on the barrel right like I wanted to, and it just went right to the shortstop.”

With their earlier threats turned to rubble, the Cats would notch just one hit over the final five innings. Snieder and Ruchim finished with two hits apiece, but the rest of the batting order went a combined 2-for-25.

With the Cats continuing to come up short on the basepaths (they’re currently tied for last in the Big Ten with nine stolen bases in conference play) and continually coming up short of the outfield walls (they have just 20 extra-base hits in Big Ten games, including just six long balls) they have been under heavy pressure to string hits together.

“When you get a bunch of singles, it’s harder to score runs,” Wise said. “We’re a team that is going to have to manufacture runs. We’re not going to have a lot of guys with five to 10 home runs, and we knew that coming into the year, and that never changed since day one, but earlier in the season, we did a better job of manufacturing runs and moving guys from first to third and doing the little things to score runs.”

NU has now recorded just four true road wins in 18 tries. Fortunately for the Cats, they return home for a Tuesday contest with the University of Chicago (22-12) and will play eight of their final nine games at Rocky Miller Park.

“It gets frustrating sometimes when everybody is working hard and it’s just not happening,” Wise said. “That occurs in all facets of life, especially baseball, but there’s a point where things just don’t fall your way and things aren’t working for you and you just have to work through that. Everyone who has ever played any sport, I guarantee you, knows that feeling very well.”

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