Baseball: Wildcats blow late lead, fail to send Paul Stevens out with a win


Daily file photo by Brian Lee

Paul Stevens counsels one of his players. The veteran coach’s career ended with Northwestern surrendering a late lead and losing to Maryland.

Jesse Kramer, Reporter


When Maryland infielder Kevin Smith’s throw Saturday beat Northwestern freshman third baseman Connor Lind to first base for the game’s final out, 11 careers ended with a 4-3 Wildcats defeat. Among the 11 were a father-son duo: coach Paul Stevens and senior shortstop Cody Stevens.

After 31 seasons with the program, including 28 as head coach, Paul Stevens announced in April he would retire following the 2015 season.

Cody Stevens had no such choice — he is one of 10 players on the roster exhausting his eligibility.

“It’s been a blessing,” Paul Stevens said on coaching his son, who faced a serious injury after being hit in the head by a pitch two summers ago. “You have to understand that we thought there was a life-and-death thing in there. For me to sit here and watch him do what he does … Take something that’s so special that you grew up with and all of the sudden, you lost it or thought you did, and then you have it back.”

The unique experience does not go unnoticed on the other side of the father-son pair either.

“It’s one of those things I’ll cherish forever,” Cody Stevens said. “We haven’t gotten a ton of time to spend together throughout our lives, just because he’s been traveling so much. Everything’s not the easiest thing when your dad’s the coach, but he’s there with me every single step.”

Knowing they could not qualify for the Big Ten Tournament, the Wildcats were trying to end the season and send both Stevenses and the nine other seniors off on a positive note.

For seven innings Saturday, it appeared the Paul Stevens era would receive that storybook ending.

The Cats had already won a pair of pitcher’s duels to start the series.

Senior Brandon Magallones tossed a complete game, two-hit shutout Thursday as NU outlasted Maryland 1-0.

Junior Matt Portland followed with seven stellar innings and a career-high nine strikeouts Friday. Junior reliever Jake Stolley shut the door with his seventh save of the season, allowing just one base runner and striking out four batters in two frames.

With the Cats going for the three-game sweep, junior southpaw Reed Mason turned in seven scoreless innings, and NU led 3-0 entering the eighth. Then a bullpen combination of Stolley, graduate student Nate Walker and sophomore Joe Hoscheit allowed four runs, surrendering the lead.

After sophomore outfielder Matt Hopfner and Stevens worked walks in the bottom of the ninth inning, sophomore outfielder RJ Watters advanced them into scoring position with two outs as the tying and winning runs.

The rally — and season — ended when Lind’s groundball failed to get through the infield’s left side.

“We gave it everything we could, and that’s all you could really ask for at the end of the day,” senior catcher Scott Heelan said. “Unfortunately (Maryland) had one big inning.”

During the senior day ceremony following the game, in which each graduating player runs the bases one final time, Paul Stevens intently watched each senior take his turn.

“They’re all my sons,” the coach said. “I may have one by blood, but I have a lot by sweat and tears, along with shedding some blood.”

When Cody Stevens finished his turn around the bases, he and his coach shared a final embrace before returning full-time to son and father.

“We were just kind of taking a deep breath, taking the moment in,” Paul Stevens said. “I know I was.”

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Twitter: @Jesse_Kramer