Baseball: Unlikely suspects help Wildcats take series from Boilermakers

Alex Putterman, Reporter

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“If your name’s on the lineup card, you go out and you play your backside off,” Northwestern coach Paul Stevens said.

No matter who you are.

After dropping Friday night’s game 13-4, the Wildcats (14-10, 4-5 Big Ten) took the final two games of their three-game series against the Boilermakers (11-18, 4-5 Big Ten), receiving widespread contributions from more than just the usual suspects.

In fact, the weekend’s heroes were two part-time players recently pressed into service by their teammates’ injuries. Freshman Zach Jones, previously an outfielder who occasionally started, began six straight games at first base in place of senior Jack Havey and was 7-for-11 with four RBIs in the two wins against Purdue.

“I was just seeing the ball really well this weekend,” Jones said. “Coach has been giving me the opportunity. The more at-bats I get, the more comfortable I feel up there.”

Jones’ weekend — and his .432 batting average and .914 OPS on the season — was outdone by a backup catcher with only 26 at-batsprior to the Purdue series. After sophomore starting catcher Scott Heelan left the game with one at-bat Saturday, his replacement, junior Jake Straub carried the Cats’ offense for the remainder of the series. Straub was a combined 8-for-11 with five RBIs on the weekend, raising his 2013 batting average to .432 and his OPS to .985 in 38 at-bats.

“My approach this weekend was just to go up and put the ball in play,” Straub said. “My focus was to either move the runners over or put the ball in play and get the runners in.”

Jones can play the outfield when Havey returns, but when Heelan is ready to play, Straub might be out of a job. Stevens said there would be no “controversies” regarding playing time but would not reveal his intentions for the catcher position. Straub said he isn’t concerned with future availability of at-bats.

“It’s up to the coach to make the line-up for every game,” Straub said. “As far as coach is concerned, he’s happy to have two catchers he can count on and get success out of.”

Redshirt senior starting pitcher Zach Morton stumbled Friday for a second consecutive day, allowing 9 runs, 3 of them earned, in four innings. Morton has now allowed 13 hits and 5 earned runs in five innings over his last two starts, after allowing only 3 earned runs through his first 39 innings of the season.

“There’s nothing about Zach Morton that I worry about,” Stevens said. “Because as far as I’m concerned, Zach is one of the fiercest competitors that I have, and if I want the ball in somebody’s hand at the end of the ballgame or at the beginning of the ballgame when everything is on the line, it’s Zach Morton.”

Saturday’s game was close throughout, as NU squandered a 6-3 sixth-inning lead and entered the ninth tied at a half-dozen, tallying four runs in the final frame to permanently retake the lead.

The next day was less dramatic but at least as encouraging for the Cats. NU dominated from the start, grabbing an 8-1 lead in the third and cruising from there. Sophomore Brandon Magallones earned the win with four runs allowed in six innings pitched.

“We’ve had some tough series,” Stevens said. “But I will tell you that, ever since Nashville (the second week of the season), I have seen a continuous growth in their mental and emotional commitment to what they believe they can do in any given scenario, and that was definitely the case again this weekend.”

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