Baseball: Northwestern cannot find timely hits against Indiana

Steven Montero

It was too little, too late.

As Northwestern mustered up one run and three hits in the bottom of the ninth Sunday, there was a big enough threat for Indiana to worry its 2-0 advantage might slip away. The Hoosiers made two pitching changes throughout the final minutes of the series. When the third Indiana pitcher, Ryan Halstead, came onto the mound with two outs and two NU players in scoring position, pinch hitter Patrick Miller had reason to believe a good swing might turn the Wildcats’ final Big Ten game of the season into a long-awaited series win, after NU held onto a 4-3 victory Friday at home.

What came next was exactly the play the Cats executed all game and all season. The sophomore hit a ground ball to the second baseman, who mechanically threw it to first base, and it was all over. NU’s Big Ten season blipped out of sight with a routine out.

The play that would have given NU its first run and perhaps have tied the game happened a few moments before Miller came to the plate. Freshman Luke Dauch was pinch running for junior second baseman Colby Everett when coach Paul Stevens waved him home on a single by freshman right fielder Walker Moses. Indiana’s catcher, Kyle Schwarber, tagged Dauch out at the plate.

“I told him to go,” Stevens said. “I’m not laying that on him. That’s me. That’s my call and obviously I’m never going to lay something like that on the doorstep of somebody else.”

The two-run deficit on Sunday came in the top of the second inning as redshirt junior Zach Morton was unable to control the Hoosiers or his pitches. The two runs he let slip by would prove too enormous in a Sunday game in which NU went hitless for five consecutive innings.

Linne said the team just laid flat and couldn’t help Morton.

“We’ve been struggling a little bit this year with hitting,” sophomore third baseman Nick Linne said. “(At the) beginning of this season … our pitching was kind of off and it flip-flopped after the first couple weekends and we’ve just been struggling a little bit. Baseball is a weird sport like that. It’s just sometimes you’re hot and sometimes you aren’t.”

Stevens said the main problem with NU’s offense is a lack of hits when they matter most and letting balls land directly in the opponent’s leather.

NU left 25 runners on base in the Indiana series and a total of 390 this season. Sunday was also the 19th game the Cats have won or lost by only one run. Although early runs Friday gave NU room to maneuver, Stevens said he wants to “put some crooked numbers” on the scoreboard, not just the single-run innings he witnessed this weekend.

“They’re getting better over the last few weeks,” he said. “We’re not just collapsing on stuff. I like the way that Snieder and guys have been swinging the bats better, like I said, we’re just not getting enough of the two-out base hits to drive in runs.”

Showing development this late into the season doesn’t secure success for the Cats. Stevens said he is disappointed with how NU’s season turned out, with the team losing three times as many conference games as it won, but he said he’s confident in his team’s future.

“Even in a day like (Sunday) where we’ve had all these close games, they still found a way to keep clawing and scratching and coming back,” he said. “They haven’t just cashed it in. They do find ways of getting back in the ballgame and keeping things suspenseful. Maybe it isn’t this year, but maybe those gut-wrenching losses or the lessons that they’ve learned this year are going to pay off for them down the road. I just like the way these guys battle.”

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