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Baseball: With one series left, looking back on the good and bad of Northwestern’s season

Freshman+Joe+Hoscheit+has+been+a+bright+spot+for+Northwestern+in+a+season+with+some+hits+but+more+misses.+The+utility+man+lead+the+Wildcats+with+four+home+runs%2C+but+the+team+stands+at+5-15+in+the+Big+Ten%2C+highly+unlikely+to+make+the+conference+tournament.
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Baseball: With one series left, looking back on the good and bad of Northwestern’s season

Freshman Joe Hoscheit has been a bright spot for Northwestern in a season with some hits but more misses. The utility man lead the Wildcats with four home runs, but the team stands at 5-15 in the Big Ten, highly unlikely to make the conference tournament.

Freshman Joe Hoscheit has been a bright spot for Northwestern in a season with some hits but more misses. The utility man lead the Wildcats with four home runs, but the team stands at 5-15 in the Big Ten, highly unlikely to make the conference tournament.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman Joe Hoscheit has been a bright spot for Northwestern in a season with some hits but more misses. The utility man lead the Wildcats with four home runs, but the team stands at 5-15 in the Big Ten, highly unlikely to make the conference tournament.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman Joe Hoscheit has been a bright spot for Northwestern in a season with some hits but more misses. The utility man lead the Wildcats with four home runs, but the team stands at 5-15 in the Big Ten, highly unlikely to make the conference tournament.

Alex Putterman, Sports Editor

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With one weekend left in the regular season — a three-game series at Ohio State starting Thursday — Northwestern (17-32, 5-15) is in all likelihood down to its final days.

For the Wildcats to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament, held in Omaha, Nebraska next week, they would have to sweep the Buckeyes, have Purdue sweep Iowa and have Michigan State beat Penn State at least once.

In other words, the odds are slim.

Thus, now is an appropriate time to look back on what the Cats can be happy about, in considering how the year has unfolded, and what was less encouraging.

What went wrong?

From the start this team wasn’t expected to be great, especially when star shortstop Kyle Ruchim was lost for the season with an arm injury.

In order for NU to make noise in the Big Ten, a lot was going to have to go right. But instead of good luck, the Cats were hit with bad luck, namely in the form of injuries.

Junior starting pitcher Brandon Magallones missed a chunk of time early in the season, and once he returned, fellow starters freshman Joe Schindler and sophomore Matt Portland went down, missing the rest of the season.

Besides Ruchim, the lineup was less battered than the pitching staff. Still, it was far from unscathed. Sophomore outfielder Jack Mitchell didn’t play until midway through the spring, and senior designated hitter Jack Livingston, sophomore first baseman Zach Jones and junior shortstop Cody Stevens all missed time toward the end of the season.

Injuries aside, run prevention was the Cats’ biggest concern.

NU allowed the most runs of any team in the Big Ten thanks to a defense that committed far more errors than any other team in conference and a pitching staff that walked more batters than anyone.

Even when healthy, Magallones saw his numbers drop dramatically. His ERA slipped from 3.30 in 2013 to 5.81 in 2014, largely because of control issues. The righty walked 14 more batters this season than last, despite throwing 15 fewer innings.

NU’s bullpen was thin this season, and — barring big contributions from freshmen next year — will likely get even thinner, as almost the entire relief corps is graduating.

If Magallones bounces back and everyone is healthy, a starting rotation of him, Portland and Mason with Schindler lying in wait could be excellent. Beyond that, the staff is stuffed with question marks.

What went right?

The biggest positive the Cats can take away from this season is the contribution of two freshmen.

Matt Hopfner led the team in batting average, hitting .330 while playing right field and first base. Hopfner also pitched here and there, flashing promise over seven appearances.

Fellow freshman Joe Hoscheit was up-and-down at the plate but bombed four home runs (he was one of only two hitters on the team with more than one) and played capably all over the diamond. Like Hopfner, Hoscheit tried his hand on the mound, allowing only a single earned run in eight innings pitched.

Overall, NU’s offense was fairly stout. The Cats are fifth in the Big Ten in batting average, though they haven’t drawn many walks or hit for much power.

To no one’s surprise, junior catcher Scott Heelan was the team’s best hitter, leading NU in on-base and slugging percentage, among those with 100 or more plate appearances.

Heelan will be back next year, as will Hopfner, Hoscheit, Ruchim, Stevens, Jones and more, in addition to the entire starting rotation. This year was never going to be one to remember, but much of how it unfolded suggests bright things for 2015.

Email: asputt@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @AlexPutt02 

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