Baseball: Northwestern bookends two Saturday wins with two heartbreak losses at Snow Bird Classic

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

Sometimes close games go your way, sometimes they don’t. For Northwestern so far this season, they decidedly haven’t.

The Wildcats (2-5) split four games this weekend at the Snow Bird Classic in Port Charlotte, Fla., dropping the first and last in heartbreaking fashion.

The Cats fell to Kansas 14-10 in 11 innings Friday, then beat Nebraska-Omaha 8-5 and Mississippi Valley State 12-4 on Saturday before blowing a ninth-inning lead in a 4-3 loss to Ball State on Sunday.

The defeats come a week after USC swept NU in a three-game series that included 11- and 15-inning games.

“It is (tough),” coach Paul Stevens said. “But I’m also seeing some really good things, and I’m trying to focus on those. … I’m not overjoyed about it, that’s for sure, but on the other side of the ledger, there’s a lot of good things happening.”

On Friday, the Cats trailed 5-0 and 8-2 before storming back to take a 10-9 lead into the ninth. But the Jayhawks knotted the game that inning and poured on 4 runs in the 11th to secure the victory.

Sunday’s loss to Ball State was even more difficult. NU led 3-2 entering the Cardinals’ final frame but ceded three straight one-out hits including a walk-off single.

But as Stevens said, the trip was far from a lost cause. The freshman class in particular provided reason for optimism.

Freshman Matt Hopfner was the offensive star of the weekend. The rightfielder went an incredible 9-18, including a 2-run double that tied the game against Nebraska-Omaha.

“I got my first chance last weekend, and seeing the guys in front of me going up and getting hits gave me a lot of confidence,” Hopfner said. “It’s always been something I wanted to be a part of, and I just tried to enjoy the moment. I’ve really enjoyed the last few weekends.”

Hopfner wasn’t the only freshman corner outfielder to make an impact in Florida.

Batting cleanup, leftfielder Joe Hoscheit scored two runs and drove in another. Though he was only 3-15 on the weekend, Hoscheit could be a major contributor going forward.

“He’s a guy that can make a difference with one swing of the bat,” Stevens said. “That’s the part of Hoscheit that is really, really interesting. He’s a very, very quick game-changer. Not that he’s hit any yet, but he’s got some big hits for us, and he’s going to have a lot more.”

A third newcomer also impressed over the weekend.

A week ago Joe Schindler debuted against USC with several uninspiring innings across two outings. But Saturday against Mississippi Valley State, the right-hander struck out nine batters in seven innings, allowing 3 earned runs.

“I wasn’t too nervous,” Schindler said. “I was pretty excited, actually, just because I started all my games throughout my high school career, so it was nice to get a start here. … And it was nice to see my stuff is good enough for the college level.”

Those performances — without star shortstop Kyle Ruchim, who is recovering from muscle strain in his leg — are the reason Stevens is so upbeat, even after the narrow losses.

“I’m not down on this at all,” the coach said. “I’m very excited because if you had told me we would have been in these ball games the way we are, I would’ve said, ‘I’ll take it every day of the week.’”

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