Baseball: Optimism abounds as Wildcats look to the year to come

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Baseball: Optimism abounds as Wildcats look to the year to come

Senior Zach Morton leads the Wildcats with a 2-0 record and a 1.29 ERA.

Senior Zach Morton leads the Wildcats with a 2-0 record and a 1.29 ERA.

Rafi Letzter/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior Zach Morton leads the Wildcats with a 2-0 record and a 1.29 ERA.

Rafi Letzter/Daily Senior Staffer

Rafi Letzter/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior Zach Morton leads the Wildcats with a 2-0 record and a 1.29 ERA.

Alex Putterman, Reporter

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Wildcats coach Paul Stevens talks about baseball like some people talk about a favorite television show. Smiling throughout, he exudes an increasingly perceptible cheerfulness, gaining vocal momentum and inflection as he shares  the virtues of the game and his team.

Unless you mention last year.

“I was very disappointed with last year’s (result),” he said of 2012’s 18-36 campaign. “I really don’t have too much to say about it. It’s in the past, and that’s where it’s going to stay with me. If I had something good to say about it, I would, but it’s behind me, and we need to look forward and talk about this group.”

And it’s with that as a backdrop that Northwestern begins Stevens’ 26th year as coach.

Like their predecessors of a year ago, the 2013 Cats, 4-2 two weeks into the season, will rely on starting pitching. Sophomore Brandon Magallones, who struck out a team-high 67 batters his first season in purple, and senior Luke Farrell, who struggled in 2012 after an excellent 2011, will pitch plenty in the upcoming months, but it’s fifth-year senior Zach Morton who, early in the season, has assumed the role of “ace.”

In 2012, Morton kept runs off the scoreboard, posting a 3.46 ERA over 14 appearances — 13 of them starts — and 83.1 innings. But behind a defense that made more than 1.5 errors per game and an offense that produced less than 4 runs per game, the righty went 1-10, by far the team’s worst record among starting pitchers.

The early days of 2013 have wrought Morton spectacular results and even some run support. The veteran has allowed only 8 hits and 2 runs in 14 innings this season, for a 1.29 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. In his two starts, the Cats have scored 13 runs and haven’t made an error. Pitching better than ever and finally getting help from his teammates, Morton is 2-0.

Morton and shortstop Trevor Stevens are NU’s oldest players and possibly the team’s best. Stevens hit .305 in 2011 with an impressive .425 on-base percentage and a team-high 10 stolen bases before losing all of 2012 to injury. Now he’s back, batting first, playing shortstop and, with fellow fifth-year senior Morton, leading a Cats team with high expectations for 2013.

“I want to make sure I want to take in everything on my last go-round, have a good time,” Morton said. “I’ve been around a while — Trevor and I — so I think both of us have responsibility, along with the other seniors and upperclassmen, to lead the way a little bit.”

NU has a variety of expectations for 2013, ranging from realistic—outfielder Walker Moses said the team would like to qualify for the Big Ten tournament—too far-fetched—Coach Stevens said that winning a national championship is “what you put on a uniform for.”

Everyone, however, expects improvement.

“We have such good team chemistry this year,” Moses said. “It’s a lot different than last year. Everyone works a lot harder, people are getting in here early to work out more. Everything’s looking really good.”

While Moses, a sophomore, pointed to the team’s “young talent” as a reason for high hopes, Magdallones suggested that the experience of NU’s “older guys” could be the team’s catalyst.

Maybe that balance—between talented youth and seasoned old guys —is why the Cats express such optimism about 2013. That, plus the type of intangible spirit that gets their coach excited.

“This group has got a phenomenal approach,” Stevens said. “Their attitude, their work ethic, their ability to sit there and see strengths and weaknesses in themselves and the people around them and help each other be accountable for what you do, when you do it and how you do it. I think this is absolutely a stellar group of guys.”

He’d much rather talk about this year.

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