Baseball: Wildcats enter weekend looking to make Big Ten Tournament push

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Baseball: Wildcats enter weekend looking to make Big Ten Tournament push

Sophomore pitcher Pete Hofman throws a pitch. Hofman and the Wildcats welcome Nebraska to Evanston for a three-game series this weekend.

Sophomore pitcher Pete Hofman throws a pitch. Hofman and the Wildcats welcome Nebraska to Evanston for a three-game series this weekend.

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Sophomore pitcher Pete Hofman throws a pitch. Hofman and the Wildcats welcome Nebraska to Evanston for a three-game series this weekend.

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Sophomore pitcher Pete Hofman throws a pitch. Hofman and the Wildcats welcome Nebraska to Evanston for a three-game series this weekend.

Tim Balk, Reporter

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On the heels of Wednesday’s extra-inning win over Chicago State, Northwestern heads back into Big Ten play this weekend. The Wildcats (14-29, 4-11 Big Ten) will face Nebraska (31-16, 6-9 Big Ten), with both teams looking to pick up their first Big Ten win in about two weeks.

The Cats hope to earn a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, which expanded from six to eight teams last year. NU, which currently sits at 11th in the Big Ten standings, last made the conference tournament in 2010.

A visit to the Big Ten Tournament would be especially sweet for coach Paul Stevens, who is set to retire after 31 seasons leading the Cats’ program.

NU will be celebrating Stevens on Sunday with Paul Stevens Day. Stevens, however, is more focused on the players in the push for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament.

“The team has to handle it, not me,” Stevens said. “What happens on the field, yes, reflects on me ultimately, but the bottom line is the guys in the uniforms have to take accountability for what does or doesn’t go on.”

The play of junior first baseman Zach Jones, who has been tearing the cover off the ball lately, will be key for the Cats. Jones is hitting .329 on the year and is tied for a Big Ten best 17 doubles with Cats senior catcher Scott Heelan. Since April 21, Jones is hitting .435. He provided a walk-off single in NU’s win over Chicago State.

Jones emphasized the importance of the upcoming stretch for the Cats’ chances of making it to the conference tournament.

“These are huge for us,” Jones said. “All season, we’re off and on, been a little bit inconsistent. We’ve had our good days and our bad days. We’ve really just got to make sure we focus up, put it all together every day. I think we’ve got a good chance … if we can stay focused.”

The Cats’ first chance to establish some consistency will come against a Nebraska team that enters the series licking its wounds. The Cornhuskers have lost five straight Big Ten contests entering the series. Nebraska, which currently sits in seventh in the Big Ten standings, is 0-6 this year on the road in Big Ten play. The series is the third-to-last regular season Big Ten series for NU.

NU has not played Nebraska in more than a year. At their last meeting, the teams split a doubleheader.

Jesse Kramer contributed reporting.

Email: timothybalk2018@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @TimBalk

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