Baseball: Wildcats expect pitching to carry them in Greenville and beyond

Senior pitcher Jack Harvey pitches during a game in 2012. Harvey and the rest of the pitching staff will be key to the team's success in 2013.

Daily file photo by Jim An

Senior pitcher Jack Harvey pitches during a game in 2012. Harvey and the rest of the pitching staff will be key to the team's success in 2013.

Alex Putterman, Reporter

It’s an unseasonably warm day. The sun has briefly emerged to bathe Evanston, and only patches of dirtied snow linger on the grass. For the time being, puffy jackets are closeted and hoods rest on the backs of sweatshirts.

It’s time for baseball.

The Wildcats, cooped up indoors for practice during the winter, will finally step on a real baseball field this weekend, traveling to Greenville, S.C. for the First Pitch Invitational, which begins Friday.

“We haven’t done any kind of fielding, hitting, catching fly balls on a regular field,” coach Paul Stevens said. “We’ve been inside. So as far as being ready from a scenario of what we’ve been given in here, we’ll catch ‘em with the best of them, we’ll play whiffle ball with anybody and then we got to find a way to sit there and put everything these guys have been working extremely hard at over the last few weeks into a situation on the field.”

In Greenville at Fluor Field, home of the Class A Greenville Drive, Northwestern will face Miami (Ohio), Furman and Michigan State to begin their season. The Cats were 18-36 in 2012, finishing 11th in the Big Ten with a 6-18 conference record.

The strength of that team and the presumed strength of the 2013 iteration, is its pitching. Despite the graduation of ace Francis Brooke, who posted a 2.51 ERA and 61 strikeouts in a team-leading 97 innings in 2012, the Cats expect to win games on the mound this season.

“Our three starters are awesome,” redshirt senior shortstop Trevor Stevens said. “They have experience, with Zach (Morton) and Luke (Farrell) both being seniors, and then Brandon Magallones is coming off of last year. So we just have a good core of guys coming back.”

Hitting will likely be a bigger concern for the Cats.

In 2012, no NU player batted .300 or hit more than 5 home runs. Only junior utility man Kyle Ruchim slugged over .400 or stole double-digit bases.

Morton, who, in addition to starting 13 games on the mound, led the Cats with a .297 batting average but earned extra bases on only 5 of his 62 hits. The senior stressed the need to “to get runners on base and move runners” because “we’re not going to hit very many home runs, I don’t think.”

Coach Stevens was a little more optimistic.

“We do have some guys who can sit there and run into a baseball,” he said. “I’m going to look for those guys to hurt a few of the baseballs along the way here and see that thing screaming out of the ballpark. But if we have to manufacture (runs), we’re going to manufacture.”

The return of Trevor Stevens, the elder Stevens’s son, from a back injury that cost him all of 2012, should help the Cats offense. In 2011, Stevens led NU in walks, hits, triples and stolen bases and was named third-team all-Big Ten, the second straight season he garnered all-Big Ten honors. Being physically unable to contribute in what should have been his senior year was difficult.

“It was really tough, just seeing especially the guys I was here all four years with play,” he said. “But it’s good to be back to have one more year, kind of like a final say I guess, of what I hope will happen this coming season.”