Baseball: Wildcats head west looking for upsets at Nebraska

Alex Putterman, Sports Editor

In literature, heading west often means freedom and self-discovery. Northwestern just hopes it means winning baseball games.

The Wildcats (8-24, 2-9 Big Ten), victors in four of their last six games, head to Lincoln, Neb., this weekend for a three-game series against Nebraska (25-14, 7-2 Big Ten).

The Cornhuskers have won 10 of their last 11 games, including their last six in conference.

“I’m really excited to see us go play such a hot team as Nebraska is right now because I want to see how these guys handle that kind of intensity and heat,” coach Paul Stevens said. “Nebraska is on a roll right now. I’m really, really looking forward to the challenge that this weekend presents.”

The Cats are hot in a sense as well, sweeping Chicago State on Wednesday and making it four wins in six games. But three of those wins have been against non-conference foes, and NU hasn’t played a team as good as Nebraska all season.

The Cornhuskers sit in second place in the Big Ten, led by starting pitcher Chance Sinclair, who leads all Big Ten players with at least 40 innings pitched in ERA, and outfielder Michael Pritchard, among the conference leaders in total bases, slugging percentage, runs scored and runs batted in.

“It’s got a lot of upperclassmen that are very good players,” Stevens said. “Their pitching has been on fire. Their hitters are some of the better ones in the league. And they just play the game hard.”

Nebraska always enjoys a substantial home field advantage. Last year, NU’s games in Lincoln drew as many as 4,000 spectators. So far in 2014, the Cornhuskers are 13-5 at Hawks Field.

The trip marks a return to the road for the Cats, who have played nine straight, over two weeks, in the Chicago area.

Stevens said the excursion could be good for the team.

“I think it gives them the chance to bond a little bit more on the road,” he said. “I think we’re growing up a lot over the last few weeks. There’s a lot of components to this team that are starting to fall into place. And there’s a little more room for that growth when you go on the road.”

Every series matters for the Cats if they hope to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament, which features the conference’s top eight teams. NU currently stands in 11th, two and a half games back of eighth, with 12 games to play.

The schedule gets easier after Nebraska, with games against fifth-place Michigan State, sixth-place Michigan and ninth-place Ohio State, but the Cats will be underdogs throughout.

That means some upsets are necessary, starting immediately. Stevens, who after every win predicts it will be the start of a streak, sees high potential for the weekend.

“I’m really, really excited to get our guys and this team, with where we’re at right now, to that kind of intensity and to see how they respond,” he said. “I think it will be a really exciting weekend for Northwestern baseball.”

Jesse Kramer contributed reporting.

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