Baseball: Wildcats lose three in Arizona on balk, play at the plate, pickoff

Alex Putterman, Web Editor


Every February, Northwestern hits the road for opening weekend, escaping Evanston for a sunny locale where baseball is year-round. And seemingly every year, the Wildcats return north with some harrowing set of losses.

This weekend at the Surprise College Baseball Classic in Surprise, Arizona, NU dropped three games by a combined four runs, losing on a balk Friday, a play at the plate Saturday and a pickoff Sunday.

Despite the losses, coach Paul Stevens said he was pleased with the weekend.

“I liked the way we competed, I liked the way that we pitched, I liked the way we played defense for sure,” Stevens said. “Things were as close as what the scores were.”

Facing Oregon State on Friday, the Cats (0-3) entered the ninth inning in a 1-1 tie, but freshman reliever Tommy Bordignon allowed a single and two walks, then balked home the walk-off run.

After the game, senior catcher Scott Heelan was ejected for arguing over the umpire’s strike zone and suspended for the weekend’s final two games. Senior pitcher Brandon Magallones, who started the game, called the late-inning umpiring “definitely a little biased.” Stevens also had quibbles over the ninth-inning balls and strikes calls.

“The balk was legitimate,” Stevens said. “What wasn’t legitimate is how the big the strike zone was before that. It had been a pretty big strike zone, and all of a sudden it was shrunk.”

The following day, NU fell behind 5-2 against New Mexico on Saturday but threatened in the ninth inning. With a run already in and the bases loaded, pinch-hitter Luke Dauch attempted to score on a ball in the dirt and was thrown out at the plate to end the game.

“I don’t think the ball went quite as far as he thought,” Stevens said. “He made a decision and did what he felt was right and I’m not second-guessing any of that.”

Sunday’s weekend finale against Michigan State was similarly close. The Spartans took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, then shut the Cats down for the final two frames. The game ended when NU’s Cody Stevens was picked off at first base.

With Heelan out Saturday and Sunday and senior Kyle Ruchim suspended for the weekend, the Cats scored only 6 runs on 22 hits over the three games. Sophomore outfielder and catcher Joe Hoscheit attributed some of the offensive struggles in part to the transition outside after a winter of indoor practice.

“We didn’t score as many runs as we should have,” Hoscheit said. “We had a lot of opportunities in all three games.”

On the bright side of a difficult weekend were strong performances from the Cats’ pitching staff. Magallones pitched into the sixth inning allowing one run Friday, junior Matt Portland gave up only three unearned runs Sunday, and the bullpen was strong all weekend.

Magallones said despite the losses, the weekend provided some hope going forward.

“Obviously nobody’s happy with the results, but there was some good that came out of it,” he said. “It was definitely good to get those games out of the way, and hopefully those close games moving forward turn our way.”

Twitter: @AlexPutt02