Baseball: Inconsistent Wildcats look for complete performance against Boilermakers

Alex Putterman, Reporter

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The Wildcats are capable of piling on runs, and they’re certainly capable of preventing them. Now if only they could do both in the same game.

After beating University of St. Francis 14-12 on Tuesday and University of Illinois-Chicago 3-1 on Wednesday, Northwestern (12-9, 2-4 Big Ten)  travels Friday to West Lafayette, Ind., for a three-game series with Big Ten foe Purdue (10-16, 3-3).

Through the season’s first 16 games, the Cats won with their pitching, beginning 10-6 while allowing opponents only 3.2 runs per game. Then, over three games against Nebraska and Tuesday’s match against St. Francis, NU ceded 38 runs, an average of nearly 10 per game, before returning to the low-scoring lifestyle Wednesday.

NU’s offense has roughly varied with its pitching. After scoring more than five runs per game only four times during those pitching-dominated first 16 games, the Cats scored five or more in each of their next four games making up, to some degree, for the decline in pitching.

The result of the correlation between runs scored and runs allowed has been lots of close games, including four decided in extra innings. Producing simultaneously in both aspects could turn coin-toss games into easy wins.

“I know everybody sits there and talks about our pitching and all that all the time,” coach Paul Stevens said after the win against St. Francis. “We pitch, we play defense, we hit. Some days you do some of them better than others. But at the end of the day, if you don’t do them all, you’re not going to win.”

Purdue will be a litmus test of NU’s standing in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers are 10-16 on the season and 3-3 in conference play, a week removed from a sweep of Penn State, one of the Big Ten’s weaker teams.

“Obviously we need to go in very excited, motivated, ready to go,” sophomore centerfielder Luke Dauch said. “It’s Big Ten ball. You got to bring you ‘A’ game, and we all got to be ready, we got to be clicking defensively, offensively, and we all got to be mentally ready for that.”

Stevens said ace redshirt senior Zach Morton will start Friday, with senior Luke Farrell and sophomore Brandon Magallones to follow Saturday and Sunday. The trio keyed the team’s early successes in run prevention and, even after substandard performances against Nebraska, have combined for a 7-3 record, with 90 strikeouts and a 2.01 ERA over 112 innings.

But, as NU has learned, hitting matters, too. Regulars Morton, junior Kyle Ruchim, redshirt sophomore Scott Heelan and senior Jack Havey have hit well, all batting at least .340 and slugging above .420, but other key players have struggled. Redshirt senior Trevor Stevens, the Cats’ leadoff man, has posted an unimpressive .263/.333/.326 slash line — batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage — and starting senior third baseman Colby Everett is hitting a team low .171.

If NU hopes to finish in the top half of the Big Ten, this weekend is important, and the Cats need hitters and pitchers at their best. Stevens said he expects NU to win all three games, though he likely wouldn’t admit if he didn’t.

“Every time you put a uniform on you expect to win,” Stevens said. “We put on the uniform on Friday, and we expect to win, and you do the same thing on Saturday and Sunday. Our scenario never changes. You got to pitch, play defense and find a way to score some runs.”