Baseball: Northwestern beats Miami (Ohio), loses one to Michigan State and one to snow

Redshirt senior Zach Morton bats during a home game. Morton started at pitcher for the Wildcats this past weekend.

Daily file photo by Rafi Letzter

Redshirt senior Zach Morton bats during a home game. Morton started at pitcher for the Wildcats this past weekend.

Alex Putterman, Reporter

Score one for the Wildcats, one for the opponent and one for Mother Nature.

At the season-opening First Pitch Invitational in Greenville, S.C., Northwestern (1-1) beat Miami (Ohio) 8-1, then were snowed out of an in-progress game against Furman before losing to Michigan State 7-4.

Results aside, it was a pleasure for the Cats just to return to an outdoor field after a winter of indoor batting practice.

“It’s always great to get back on the diamond again. There’s nothing like being outside and hearing the words ‘Play ball’ over the loudspeaker,” centerfielder Luke Dauch said. “You’re seeing the ball on clouds and real sky, and everyone’s out there having a good time.”

Once on the field, the Cats looked far from rusty. Down 1-0 to Miami (Ohio) in the second inning on Friday, the Cats put runners on first and third for Dauch, who singled to right field to plate NU’s first run of the season.

“To be the first one of the season (to drive in a run) it’s kind of a special moment,” the sophomore said. “Especially because they were up one run on us when that happened, so it broke our barrier of no runs scored and we were able to get that one run on the board.”

The Cats didn’t score again until the sixth, but once they did the runs kept coming. NU took the lead on a squeeze bunt from catcher Scott Heelan, then tallied six more runs in the final three innings.

Starting pitcher Zach Morton didn’t need the support, yielding only 3 hits and a walk over 7 innings to earn his first win of the season. Kyle Ruchim, who was 4-4 at the plate as the starting second baseman, pitched the last 2 innings to close the Cats win.

The next day, NU led Furman 4-2 in the top of the fifth inning, when Furman, the event’s host, deemed the snowy conditions unplayable and delayed, then cancelled, the game.

“We were extremely disappointed that the decision was made not to play because it got awful nice. We had been playing in a lot worse up until that point,” coach Paul Stevens said. “We were in a very advantageous position, and it’s just too bad that our team did not get what they were working so hard for that day and that win.”

Not only did the Cats lose the opportunity for victory Saturday, they lost two key players to injury. Ruchim, who was 2-3 with 2 triples before the cancellation erased all statistics, suffered a separated shoulder, Stevens said, and Heelan, NU’s starting catcher, exited with what the coach called a “hamstring issue.” Stevens said further word on both injuries will be available later in the week.

On Sunday the Cats took the field again to meet the Spartans, who lost to Furman on Friday and were snowed out Saturday. Neither team scored through four innings, but Michigan State notched three runs in the fifth. Then, after an NU score in the sixth, the Spartans brought home three more in the seventh. The Cats bounced back with three of their own in the seventh to tighten the score, 6-4, before the Spartans scored again in the ninth and quashed an NU rally to preserve their victory.

The Cats struggled in the field, making four errors, including two from leftfielder Walker Moses.

“We had a few bumps in the road with some fly balls and things with the high skies and the sun,” Stevens said. “So that’s something we’re going to have to address this week and try to get out and get a little bit more of that and hope the weather cooperates with us.”