Baseball: Northwestern meets Valparaiso halfway for showdown

Alex Putterman, Reporter

Two days after beating Purdue twice in a row to finish a three-game series against the Boilermakers, Northwestern (14-10) will venture 40 miles south to Crestwood, Ill., to face Valparaiso (11-19) at Standard Bank Stadium, home of the minor-league Windy City Thunderbolts.

Valparaiso has lost eight of its last 11 games, including two of three last weekend to the University of Illinois-Chicago, a team the Wildcats beat 3-1 on April 3. NU is 22-9 all-time against the Crusaders.

On the mound, the Cats will likely start one of their two freshman lefties, Matt Portland and Reed Mason. Portland has started three times this season, posting a 4.22 ERA with 9 strikeouts in 10.2 innings. The freshman struggled in his most recent outing, allowing 4 runs on 8 hits in three innings against the University of St. Francis on April 2.

Though Portland has been the Cats’ go-to mid-week starter, Mason out-pitched him last week, throwing seven scoreless innings against UIC in his first start of the season. Mason has a 3.12 ERA in 10 outings on the season.

Two NU players received Big Ten honors for their performances last week, the conference announced Monday. Junior catcher Jake Straub was named Big Ten Player of the Week after batting 10-for-15 against St. Francis, UIC and Purdue, including 8-for-11 against the Boilermakers alone. Straub is the first Cats player to be named conference Player of the Week since Paul Snieder in May 2011.

Additionally, NU first baseman Zach Jones was tagged conference Co-Freshman of the Week for the second time this season after batting .522 and hitting safely in all five games last week. Jones is the first Cats player to be named Freshman of the Week twice in a season.

Straub and Jones combined to go 15-for-22 in the two wins against the Boilermakers and will potentially open Tuesday against the Crusaders due to injuries to NU’s normal starters at those positions.