Baseball: Northwestern can’t shake off winter rust, drops 3 against USC


Daily file photo by Meghan White

Senior Jack Livingston pitched 4.2 scoreless innings of relief Saturday in Northwestern’s 15-inning loss to USC. The Wildcats were swept over three games, two of which required extra innings.

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern’s 2013 season ended with an extra-inning loss. This weekend, the Wildcats picked up right where they left off.

NU (0-3) lost three straight games to USC in Los Angeles, the first two being extra-inning heartbreakers. Though losing hurts, especially after such an effort, the team can be satisfied to have played a competitive series against a quality team, after months of indoor practices.

“Overall, the tone of the team is positive,” senior pitcher and designated hitter Jack Livingston said. “There are a lot of things we can build on for the rest of the season.”

Friday night, junior pitcher Brandon Magallones allowed two runs in six innings and left the game in a 2-2 tie. After USC plated a run in the eighth inning, NU knotted the score in the ninth when junior catcher Scott Heelan singled home senior shortstop Kyle Ruchim.

But the Trojans won the game in the 11th when Cats’ third baseman Jake Schieber’s throw to the plate was off line.

The next night was just as dramatic and, for NU, at least as disappointing.

Saturday’s contest was similarly low-scoring, with each team tallying a single run in the fourth inning. NU sophomore Matt Portland and USC’s Bob Wheatley pitched five and six innings, respectively, leaving the bullpen to carry the burden the rest of the way.

Relievers from both sides threw up zero after zero, and the game continued deep into extras without another run. For the Cats, Livingston was heroic, allowing only one hit and two walks in 4 2/3 scoreless innings.

“When you’re the away team in an extra-inning game, the game can end at any moment, so you really have to go out there with your best stuff,” Livingston said. “My career-high before that was two innings, and coach told me as long as I want I can go.”

But eventually, with senior Ethan Bramschreiber on the hill for NU, USC broke through, winning in the 15th inning on a sacrifice fly off the bat of USC’s Joe Corrigan.

Despite the two hard-fought losses, at least one NU player doesn’t regret the extra innings.

“It was a blast,” said Heelan, who caught all 26 innings of the series’ first two games. “It’s always tiring, but I love being out there. It’s always great to be able to help the team. You get caught up in focusing on doing what’s called upon you that you ignore everything else until you’re at school the next week and you can’t feel your legs.”

The series finale was a bit more one-sided.

USC scored seven runs in the fifth inning to break a 5-5 tie and eventually prevailed 13-6. Sophomore Reed Mason, freshman Joe Schindler and senior Dan Tyson combined to allow 12 runs — nine of them earned — in five innings. 

The Cats’ bats did manage 14 hits, salvaging a weekend in which the offense was largely impotent. Heelan, who got a well-earned rest Sunday, said he isn’t concerned about the team’s hitting, as shaking off a winter’s worth of rust against fresh arms can be difficult for everyone. 

“It’s always tough (to hit) early in the season,” Heelan said. “The pitchers have the advantage. Our lineup’s really deep this year. I think we’re going to put up a lot of runs.”

NU hopes the wear and tear of all those innings doesn’t cause problems going forward. The Cats play again Friday morning in Florida at the Snowbird Classic.

Last season, eight of the team’s games went into extra innings, with three lasting 13 or more. That’s not a pattern any team hopes to repeat, especially if the outings end in defeat.

Extra play or not, Heelan isn’t worried the opening weekend losses will get the team down.

“Between our coaches and our captains, they’ve done a really great job of really instilling a positive attitude,” Heelan said. “We have great team chemistry and camaraderie right now, where it’s only going to help us down the road.”

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Twitter: @AlexPutt02