Baseball: As skid continues, Wildcats search for answers

Alex Putterman, Sports Editor

After losses to Penn State on Friday and Saturday, Northwestern finally avoided defeat on Sunday — when the game was cancelled by rain.

The Wildcats (4-19, 1-4 Big Ten) dropped both its games to the Nittany last weekend, making a total of 15 losses in the team’s last 17 games.

“I’m getting a whole heck of a lot of effort and energy,” coach Paul Stevens said. “I’m just disappointed with the final result. We just can’t find a way to put the W up there. We keep falling short.”

On Friday, NU grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first inning but was outscored 7-1 from the fourth on. Junior Brandon Magallones, who missed time earlier this season with a leg injury, allowed seven hits, five walks and five runs in 5.1 innings.

Magallones said Monday that he’s still getting readjusted after the time off.

“It was a little bit difficult,” he said. “Going from not really throwing at all to getting back playing again. It’s a little bit of a transition when you’re so used to practicing and throwing every single day to try to get back into it. I’m starting to get the rhythm back.”

Saturday, the Cats hung around all game on the strength of 12 scattered hits but eventually lost 10-6. Freshman Matt Hopfner, one of NU’s biggest bright spots during what has been a rough season, continued his impressive hitting. The outfielder went 3-5 with a double on Saturday, improving his batting average to .368, a team high, and his OPS to .836.

The weekend losses were far from anomalous. All season, the Cats have stayed close, before inevitably taking the loss. They’ve already lost nine games by one or two runs.

“We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve had leads, we’ve given them up, we’ve come back, we’ve given them up again,” Stevens said. “We just seem to not be able to put that final nail in the coffin to nail things down.”

Stevens says other than an ugly double-header March 14 (losses to Maine and LIU-Brooklyn) he’s been happy with the team’s effort. That, he says, is all he can ask. Whether the season turns around will depend on health and luck — will everyone stay on his feet, and will the close games turn the Cats’ way?

There’s plenty of time to find out. NU has 18 conference games remaining and plenty of opportunity to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament, which includes only the top eight teams.

“We’re still staying positive and are just excited for the rest of the season. The good news is we’ve got a big chunk of the season left,” junior catcher Scott Heelan said. “We can still make something special of the season. We’ve just got to learn from the past and apply it to the future.”

NU’s game against Western Michigan, scheduled for Wednesday at Rocky Miller Park, was postponed indefinitely as the field recovers from recent rain. On Friday, the Cats begin a three-game series against Illinois, the team’s first home dates of the season.

After playing 23 consecutive games on the road, including a “home” series played 322 miles from Evanston due to poor field conditions, the team will play eight straight games in their own ballpark.

Stevens said it will be nice for the Cats to sleep in their own beds before games and play in front of their friends and family.

“We’re a little tired of being on the road,” he said. “It’ll be good to be home.”

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