Baseball: Wildcats drop close one on bittersweet Senior Day

Alex Putterman, Reporter

Northwestern’s close loss in a nearly must-win game was not what had Wildcats coach Paul Stevens on the verge of tears.

It was Senior Day at Rocky Miller Park, and a particularly meaningful group of seniors was leaving the program. Five NU mainstays — redshirt seniors Zach Morton and Trevor Stevens, Paul’s son, and seniors Colby Everett, Jack Havey and Luke Farrell – were honored in ceremonies both before and after the 5-3 loss to Ohio State (31-14, 13-7 Big Ten).

“This team plays with emotion,” Stevens said. “They play with a lot of heart. It’s a great day, and it’s a sad day.”

The Cats’ (20-19, 8-12) Senior Day loss was the second game of a three-game set that will end Monday. NU won 8-0 Saturday behind another terrific performance from its best pitcher.

In his final home start, Farrell continued his dominance of Big Ten hitters, throwing eight scoreless innings and striking out eight hitters while allowing no runs on 2 hits. In his last four starts, all against conference teams, the right-hander has allowed only 2 earned runs in a remarkable 33 innings.

“I’m just kind of in a routine right now,” Farrell said. “I walk out there with confidence based on previous starts. I’m trying to carry one over to the next.”

The offense Farrell needed came early. NU scored 6 runs in the second inning, half courtesy of junior Kyle Ruchim’s 3-run double. Havey drove in 2 runs on the day, knocking home Ruchim with RBI singles in two different innings. The Cats’ second through fourth hitters – Ruchim, Morton and Havey – combined to bat 6-for-14 Saturday, and sophomore nine-hitter Walker Moses broke from a slump with a 2-hit afternoon.

Sunday’s game was at least as exciting but lacked Saturday’s happy ending.

Down 2-1 in the sixth inning, the top of the Cats’ order produced a rally. With Stevens on first, Ruchim pulled a line drive just past the third baseman’s glove. The ball rolled to the wall, where it bounced around long enough for Stevens to score as Ruchim cruised into second. After Ruchim advanced to third on a wild pitch, Morton flew a sac fly to right field, and NU led 3-2.

But an inning later, Cats freshman reliever Reed Mason loaded the bases with 1 out and ceded the game-tying run on an infield single that produced a close play at first base. Mason escaped further damage, but the teams entered the seventh-inning stretch knotted at 3.

With the score tied in the ninth inning, Ohio State’s Pat Porter, who had homered earlier in the game, led off with a 3-2 walk, 2 pitches after a borderline 2-strike pitch was ruled a ball. Two batters later, with runners now on second and third and the infield in, Aaron Gretz lashed a low liner to second. Morton, playing nearly on the infield dirt, attempted to scoop the ball on one hop but let it squirt behind him for a 2-run single.

“If I’d stayed in front of it I could have gotten him, probably,” Morton said. “I tried to back-hand it, got past me, and they got some runs.”

The disappointment of losing quickly gave way to another type of sadness, as the seniors ran around the bases in a Senior Day ritual. Their accomplishments were recapped over the public address system, and a row of teammates waited at home plate with hugs.

Hence Paul Stevens’ misty eyes.

“They’re special guys,” he said.