Baseball: Wildcats counting on bats to overcome Fighting Illini pitching staff

Jesse Kramer, Reporter


Northwestern has barely had a chance to breathe traveling from coast to coast the last six weeks, playing 27 road games to open the 2015 season.

The Wildcats (8-19, 2-1 Big Ten) would have finally had a chance to settle down for some home games this weekend. However, renovations at Rocky Miller Park moved NU’s series with Illinois to Champaign.

That may not be a problem, though, as the Cats have found success on the road recently. NU beat Minnesota in the final two games of a three-game set last weekend and then defeated Chicago State on Tuesday.

That sets NU up for a historic opportunity Friday. Although the Cats won four games in a row last April, they have not had a winning streak of five games or more since the 2006 season.

Additionally, NU has not won three straight Big Ten games since 2010.

Continuing the winning streak will be no easy feat, as the Fighting Illini are 21-6-1 and took two out of three games from Michigan State last weekend in their Big Ten opener.

Illinois has a deadly pitching staff, led by left-hander Kevin Duchene. The southpaw led the Big Ten last season with a 1.80 ERA and is hunting for that title again this year at 0.82.

In Duchene’s most recent appearance, he tossed 7 innings and earned a win against South Florida while tallying 8 strikeouts.

The Fighting Illini’s bullpen houses Tyler Jay, the Big Ten’s best closer. Jay is second in the conference with seven saves and has allowed just three runs in 30 innings pitched this season.

Considering NU’s pitching staff has struggled — of the team’s three probable starters, junior Matt Portland has the lowest ERA at 4.46 — the Cats’ bats need to be ready.

Senior Kyle Ruchim, who missed almost all of the 2014 season with an injury and was suspended in the first six games this year for an NCAA rules violation, has come back strong, leading the team in batting average (.351), home runs, RBI and on-base percentage.

The Cats have four other players hitting .289 or better, and they will need all of them to find more success as the visitor.

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