Baseball: Northwestern looks for ulterior motivation for series against Indiana

Northwestern third baseman Colby Everett will play his final Big Ten series this weekend at Indiana. The senior is one of five seniors on the Wildcats’ roster.

Daily file photo by Meghan White

Northwestern third baseman Colby Everett will play his final Big Ten series this weekend at Indiana. The senior is one of five seniors on the Wildcats’ roster.

Alex Putterman, Reporter

The world’s biggest optimist would point out that Northwestern could still qualify for the Big Ten Tournament. Everyone else would concede the Wildcats have essentially no chance.

Entering the final in-conference series of the year, even the Cats acknowledge postseason play is not in their future. In order to qualify for the tournament, NU (21-21, 8-13 Big Ten) would have to sweep No. 16 Indiana (36-10, 13-5 Big Ten) — probably the best team they have faced all season — and have Illinois and Michigan each lose five of their last six conference games.

Whether or not the Cats are aware of these scenarios, they are treating the playoffs as a lost cause and motivating themselves for the upcoming weekend.

“I’ve been in this situation before where we go into the last weekend and we’re mathematically out of it,” senior Jack Havey said. “I and the rest of my team, we don’t care. We’re still going to go out there. It’s still exciting to play the 16th-ranked team. … It’s going to be fun to play a great team like that.”

Indiana, second in the Big Ten, will be the first ranked team NU has played this season. This weekend is important for the Hoosiers, who, with six games remaining, wish to secure a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament and potentially catch first-place Minnesota (11-4 Big Ten).

The boys from Bloomington did not come by that national ranking by accident. On the offensive side, Indiana leads the Big Ten in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs scored, home runs and total bases. They can pitch too, topping the conference in ERA, having allowed the fewest runs in the Big Ten despite pitching the second most innings.

The Hoosiers’ stature gives the Cats plenty of reason to be excited for their series.

“You don’t get to (play highly ranked teams) hardly ever in the Big Ten,” junior Kyle Ruchim said. “So that’s enough motivation as it is. It’s another Big Ten series. If you have pride in your game, you want to continue to get better and you’re not giving up anything.”

By the end of the Indiana series, NU will have played eight games in nine days. The team usually has at least two days off every week, but a makeup game Monday stole one afternoon that would have been free.

“Any time you’re playing every day, it’s tiring,” Ruchim said. “But we all go in summer leagues where the games are every day. So especially the older guys are used to the grind of playing every day.”

The Cats’ struggles holding leads have contributed to their current situation. NU gave back a 3-1 advantage April 28 against Illinois, then blew leads on two consecutive days in a pair of losses to Ohio State a week later. On Tuesday, the Cats allowed Illinois-Chicago 2 game-tying runs in the ninth inning before pulling through in the 11th.

Even if the Indiana series does not matter for NU in the standings, coach Paul Stevens said the team’s approach will be the same as always.

“One pitch, one at-bat, one inning, and we just keep banging away and keep playing hard,” Stevens said. “From Friday to Sunday, we just keep attacking, and I just believe that that’s who (we’ve) been. (We’ve) played a lot of great games for 8 innings. We’ve had a lot of success against really good teams, and Indiana’s going to be one of those.”