Baseball: Northwestern struggles for hits, falls to Western Michigan


Daily file photo by Meghan White

Northwestern center fielder Kyle Ruchim went 2-for-4 at the plate and scored both runs for the Wildcats. The junior leads the team with a .347 batting average and is second on the squad with 27 runs scored.

Alex Putterman, Reporter

In a game full of light blows, the Wildcats took more punches than they landed.

Northwestern (19-18) fell 5-2 to Western Michigan (14-29) on Wednesday, as both teams left numerous runners on base and neither posted a multi-run inning.

Western Michigan scored a run in five different innings, the first four of them charged to Cats starting pitcher Matt Portland. The freshman exited one batter into the sixth after allowing the Broncos’ 10th hit of the day, ending one of the less impressive performances of his young career.

Conversely, NU couldn’t muster anything early against Broncos’ starter Will Nimke. He entered the game with an 8.53 ERA and promptly retired the first 10 Cats batters before a fourth-inning infield single by junior Kyle Ruchim.

Ruchim would score two batters later, then again in the sixth inning when the Cats stranded the bases loaded, trailing 4-2. NU never seriously threatened again.

“You go through stretches as a team where you’ll hit well, and you go through stretches where you don’t,” Ruchim said. “Right now we’re kind of in that stretch where we can’t string the hits together.”

Nimke exited in the seventh, having allowed 2 runs and 7 hits in 6 2/3 innings. The right-hander struck out 4 and seemed to benefit from the Cats’ difficulty in finding holes in the defense.

“The wind’s blowing in, he pitches backwards, he kept the ball down all day, we hit balls right at people,” coach Paul Stevens said of the reasons for NU’s lack of offense. “(We) squared the ball up. (We) hit them at somebody. Wind blowing in this hard, it is what it is.”

A rare home-team highlight came in the fifth inning when the Cats defense, relatively sharp all afternoon, found an unconventional means of securing two outs.

With runners on first and third and one out, Broncos first baseman Hunter Prince bunted down the third base line as the runner on third broke toward home. Cats senior third baseman Colby Everett charged the ball and flipped to redshirt sophomore catcher Scott Heelan, who tagged the runner at the plate for the inning’s second out. Meanwhile, Western Michigan’s Jared Kujawa, who had already advanced from first to second on the play, sensed an opportunity to exploit the confusion and took off for third. Heelan fired to Portland, alertly covering the bag, who applied the tag to complete an unorthodox 5-2-1 double play.

“I’ve never been a part of something that out there,” Heelan said. “Colby did a great job of reading the bunt early and charged. … Matt Portland did a great job of realizing where the runner was at and covering third. So that was just really good awareness by both of them.”

The Cats went down quietly in the late innings, failing to record even a hit off Western Michigan reliever David Brennan, who retired each of the seven batters he faced. After the game, Stevens gathered his team and communicated what he thought was the problem.

“I told them we got to be a little bit more prepared,” he said. “We’ve got to be better prepared right out of the chutes. That’s tough for some of the guys because they’re running from class, and they’re trying to get here, and they’re doing a lot of things. … But when they get here, we got to come to play, and we’ve got to have a sense of urgency.”