Baseball: Wildcats drop two of three in weekend series


Lauren Duquette/The Daily Northwestern

Matt Portland fires a pitch toward home plate. The junior pitched all nine innings Saturday in Northwestern’s lone win of the series.

Tim Balk and Sammy Esparza


Northwestern returned to Big Ten play this weekend with a three-game series against Nebraska, dropping two out of three to the Cornhuskers.

NU was hampered by the absence of senior star Kyle Ruchim, who is dealing with a strained oblique. Coach Paul Stevens said he didn’t want to take any risks with Ruchim’s long-term health and elected to keep him on the bench for the series.

The Wildcats (15-31, 5-13 Big Ten) lost the series opener with the Cornhuskers (33-17, 8-10) 4-2 Friday in a contest featuring strong performances by both starting pitchers.

NU senior Brandon Magallones pitched eight complete innings with eight strikeouts, allowing 3 runs. Nebraska senior Chance Sinclair tossed seven innings with no earned runs.

“He had a solid outing,” head coach Paul Stevens said of Magallones. “But there are still some things in that outing that I think if you ask him, he will tell you there were a couple of things he did that he would love to take back.”

One such instance came in the top of the fifth. Nebraska senior right fielder Austin Darby smacked a single on a 2-2 count to right with the bases loaded to give Nebraska a 3-2 lead.

“I threw a curveball there, and I was just a little up with it,” Magallones said. “I wanted to get it down in the zone, and I was probably about four inches up, and he hit it pretty good.”

Darby’s hit proved to be the game-winner, as the Huskers added an insurance run in the ninth.

The weather was nearly perfect on Saturday, and NU put forth a nearly perfect performance, rolling to a 5-0 bounce-back victory.

Junior Matt Portland pitched a complete game shutout, striking out eight.

“Portland threw the best game of his life, so we’re really thrilled about that,” Stevens said. “(He’s) just the kid who’s coming into his own, and you’re going to see him around the game for a long, long time not only at this level but at the next level.”

Senior catcher Scott Heelan and sophomore left fielder Joe Hoscheit led the way for the Cats offensively. Each posted a pair of hits and an RBI.

“It’s easy to hit in this lineup when there’s so many guys who always put up great at-bats,” Heelan said. “We just feed off each other well as a lineup and it was my turn to come through.”

On Sunday, the Cats celebrated Paul Stevens Day in honor of their coach, who announced earlier this season he will retire after 31 years with the team.

But the celebrating stopped after the pre-game ceremony, as Nebraska rolled past the Cats.

Junior Reed Mason got the start, but lasted only three innings, giving up 5 earned runs. While the Cats’ offense sputtered, Nebraska kept building on their lead, scoring in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of an 11-0 victory.

One bright spot for the Cats was Heelan, who was again productive. He finished the day with a pair of hits.

Stevens felt the pre-game ceremony had something to do with the poor performance.

“There was too much hoopla in the beginning,” Stevens said. “I’m very grateful, and … very humbled, but at the end of the day we needed to go to battle. I told them I take the blame for what happened today, and I know that they’ll be back going to war on Tuesday, Wednesday and next weekend at Michigan. I can’t wait to get back at it with them.”

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Twitter: @TimBalk

Email: [email protected]