Baseball: Sweep at Wichita State costs Northwestern .500 season

Alex Putterman, Reporter

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A once-promising Wildcats season once again yielded a sub-.500 record.

Northwestern lost three straight games to Wichita State (34-25) this weekend to finish the year 22-26, its 10th consecutive losing season. The Cats were eliminated from contention for the Big Ten Tournament last weekend against Indiana, making a .500 record a chief remaining objective.

“It was definitely a goal,” junior Kyle Ruchim said of finishing .500. “The overall record isn’t as important to us as conference success. Once the conference tournament was out of reach that was a little bit of a more likely thing for us as a team.”

After falling 8-2 on Thursday, the Cats needed to win Friday and Saturday to reach .500. Friday’s game was winnable almost to the end. Sophomore Brandon Magallones submitted his second-straight strong start, throwing 7 innings and allowing only 1 run, in the seventh. Until that point, neither team had scored, despite scattering a handful of hits.

When Magallones exited with a 1-0 lead, the Cats were very alive. When freshman Reed Mason was through with the eighth inning, they were not. Thanks in small part to an error by Ruchim — playing third base, a secondary position for him — Mason allowed 4 runs in one-third of an inning and NU lost 5-0.

Mason played a key role in the loss the following day as well. On Saturday, neither team scored for 7 innings, until the Cats broke through in the eighth. NU scored 3 runs on 5 consecutive singles, first taking the lead on a hit from redshirt sophomore catcher Scott Heelan, who went 4-for-5 on the day to finish the season with a team-best .366 batting average.

Junior Ethan Bramschreiber gave two runs back in the eighth without recording an out, but Mason escaped further damage, facing four batters and recording 3 outs. After allowing a leadoff double in the ninth, Mason was removed for junior Jack Livingston, who allowed a single and a game-tying sacrifice fly before retiring the side.

With Livingston still on the mound the following inning, Wichita State knocked three consecutive singles to walk off with another victory.

Blown leads in the bullpen have burned the Cats in recent weeks, as several potential wins slipped through the hands of the relievers. Heelan, however, was hesitant to lay blame on the relief staff.

“Our bullpen’s been great all year,” the catcher said. “Baseball’s such a team game that you can’t really blame anyone. You can easily say that we lost those games because the hitters didn’t keep adding on to the scoreboard or there wasn’t a play that could have been made. Our bullpen did everything they could.”

The Cats ended the year on a four-game losing streak. They lost eight of their final 10 games and 16 of their final 24 after starting the season 14-10.

“Baseball is such a difficult game, and sometimes momentum carries over,” Heelan said. “It happens both ways, for winning and losing. We just lost a couple one-run games. … Most of the games came down to one little ball sneaking through the hole for their team and we don’t get that hit. It kind of just ran away from us at the end.”

NU last finished .500 in 2003 and last finished better than .500 in 2000.

“A lot of us were caught up in it being the last weekend for the team,” Ruchim said. “And because of that, it was a little less disappointing. We want to value every moment we have.”